Once Upon a Time: Pilot Review

A brief explanation of the concept of this is actually pretty tricky as it involves three entirely different realities colliding. First up you have the land of fairytales, with dwarves, Snow White, Prince Charming, Pinocchio, Rumpelstiltskin, the whole lot of them. The Evil Queen throws a strop and sends everyone to “somewhere horrible”. That takes us to reality number two – Storybrooke, a quaint little American town where all the fairy tale characters have forgotten who they are and are living their lives. Except there’s something weird going on with time not moving and people not aging.

The final reality that comes crashing into all of this is Emma Swann, a Boston Bail Bondsperson who’s tough, but lonely and suffers some abandonment issues. She’s dragged to Storybrooke by the child she gave up for adoption ten years ago, seemingly the only person who knows the truth. It would seem that Emma is Snow White and Prince Charming’s daughter, and the only one who can lift the curse.

It’s all a bit complicated to explain (I note that the trailer didn’t even really bother), but the first episode does a rather good job of getting it all to hang together. In fact the first episode does rather a good job of everything. I’ve watched the episode twice now and each time I’ve been utterly enthralled.

First off, it looks fantastic. The fairy tale stuff is as good as any Disney film, all bright colours, rousing music and slight cartoonish quality. The small town America stuff meanwhile is quaint and adorable while Boston is modern and full of noise and bright lights. The three locations have beautifully contrasting styles, right down to the music and the directorial styles whereby fairy tale land feels like you’re in a Disney movie, the city feels real and Storybrooke feels like you’re somewhere in between.

The casting is great. Ginnifer Goodwin (Big Love) is perfect as Snow White, she has that weirdly other-worldly adorable thing going on, but also exudes strength. Jennifer Morrison (House) as Emma Swann meanwhile is all strength and cockiness on the outside with barely hidden neediness beneath. But it’s the 10 year old Henry (Jared Gilmore, Bobby Draper from Mad Men) who steals the show, somehow he’s both precocious and NOT annoying, which is pretty impressive.

My only pause on the show is that I have no idea how they’re going to pull it out into a series. The similarities to Enchanted are obvious and that worked beautifully as a film, but I can’t see how it could stretch out to 15 hours for a season, let alone multiple seasons. I can’t imagine the writers didn’t spot that problem though and it’s already been picked up for a full season, so I’m hopeful they’ve got some plans up their sleeve.

I really did love this pilot. Yes, it’s a bit adorable and cute in places, but there’s also some dark humour and snappiness to it that stops it from becoming too saccharine. There’s just enough mystery and depth there to keep things interesting, but not so much that you feel there are more questions than answers. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this one goes.

Other reviews
CliqueClack – with the TV landscape littered with attempts to reinvent the multi-layered Lost … this drama, which puts a novel twist on fairy tales, is a risk, but it’s one I’m willing to take, at least based on the promising pilot episode and given the fact that Lost scribes are on board.

TV Fanatic – Once Upon a Time is a beautiful, stunning, magical journey. I may never have been a huge fan of fairy tales, but like the three bears and their porridge, I want more.


2 thoughts on “Once Upon a Time: Pilot Review

  1. It looks interesting, so I’ll keep an eye out for it. My main concern is “from the writers of Lost”, since I gave up on that after season 3.

    Actually, this reminds me of the comic “Fables”, which has various characters from fairy tales living in modern day New York. They’ve been publishing one issue a month since 2002, along with various spin-offs (including a prose novel), so there’s certainly potential for this type of series to keep going.

    In “Fables” everyone in the mundane world has heard of Snow White etc., whereas in “Enchanted” nobody had heard of Princess Giselle. (In “Fables”, this raised questions like “Can we bring someone back from the dead if we hire a novelist to write that story?”) How does “Once Upon A Time” handle that?

  2. Pingback: The Upfronts 2012 – ABC « Narrative Devices

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