Monday, October 24, 2011

Pilot Thoughts: Once Upon A Time

Fairy tales and their characters are real, but a curse from the Evil Queen transports them to the "real world" with their memories of their past lives erased and imprisoned in our mundane reality. This is the premise of ABC's Once Upon A Time and the pilot is not subtle about making sure that the audience understand that this is what is happening right in front of them. It all comes to head 28 years later when a young boy (Jared Gilmore) visits Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) telling her that he is the son she gave away for adoption ten years ago and that she must now accompany him back to Storybrooke, Maine aka the "real world" prison the fairy tale characters now reside. We find out early on that Emma is actually the child of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) who they gave up to protect from the evil witch's curse all those years ago. The little boy's new mom is of course the Evil Queen played rather one dimensionally (for now) by Lana Parrilla.

It all sounds quite exciting and fun, but the problem I had with the pilot was that it wasn't nearly as exciting nor as fun as I expected a show about real life fairy tale characters to be. In fact the whole episode felt a bit too bogged down and humorless, which would not be the way to treat this kind of show. In fact it reminded me a lot of another high-risk, high concept show that debuted this season, Terra Nova. Other than being high-concept, both shows were also groomed to be the next big thing as evident by the enormous amount of publicity their respective networks devoted to them. All of this generated a ton of hype and expectation that their respective pilots just couldn't live up to. In the end, their characters suffered by the immense exposition that had to happen making it hard to care about any of them. Terra Nova has been trying to fix that with their subsequent episodes to varying degrees of success, so I fully expect Once Upon A Time to do the same with hopefully more success. They certainly have the cast for it.

At the moment though, I'd have to say that most of the emotional beats fell flat for me. Were we supposed to immediately root for and care about Snow White and Prince Charming? Were we supposed to cower at the Evil Queen's threats or get creeped out by Rumpelstiltskin's (Robert Carlyle) predictions? Were we supposed to feel something for Emma about how she was orphaned or how she gave up her own baby for adoption? I think the show wanted us to feel all of these feelings in the pilot, but unfortunately I just didn't. There's just too much we still don't know and the pilot was muddled enough that the info we did get didn't really help. Fortunately for the show, it got solid ratings last night so it'll have time to find itself. Despite what I said I'm fairly hopeful for this show to be quite magical. B-

ETA: One thing I did find hilarious/brilliant in the pilot was that "Prince Charming" turned into "John Doe" in the real world.

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