I got quite behind watching Once Upon a Time so had to do my various season round-ups before I’d finished it, so loyal readers will already know that I’ve been pretty impressed and would consider it one of the most entertaining new series of the year.
There are a few ingredients that have to be brought together to bake a successful television series, miss out any of those components and you’ll end up with something disappointing. Once Upon a Time successfully brings the ingredients together, and not just to make a boring Victoria sponge, it’s got unusual stuff in there that makes something that you may feel uncertain about at first, but turns out to be rather inspired.
The universe of Once Upon a Time is both unique and fascinating. On one hand there’s the fairy tale world which mixes together just about every fairy tale character that you know in a way that impressively maintains their own stories while merging everyone together into a new story over the top. Then you’ve got all those characters relocated to the ‘real’ world (well at least, small-town America real) where they can’t remember who they are, yet still have similar characteristics.
Each episode focuses on one of the characters, revealing their backstory in the fairy tale land and linking them in with the wider, gradually developing story of how everyone came to be exiled to the real world. Meanwhile, the rival forces for good and evil (and all the shades of grey in between) in the real world are hatching schemes and counter-schemes, forming conspiracies and constantly changing allegiances. Everything is carefully inter-twined and paced, making each episode satisfying to watch, while constantly building into the overall storyline. It’s definitely a show that you need to watch each episode in order, and I’d strongly recommend watching in chunks rather than week by week. But despite dozens of characters and storylines, I never lost track or got confused.
The cast is absolutely superb. In the fairy tale land they’re all gloriously over the top and in the real world, well they tone it down a bit but are still, shall we say, enthusiastic. Lana Parrilla and Robert Carlyle are deliciously conniving as the Evil Queen and Rumpelstiltskin, both clearly thoroughly revelling in their evilness. Ginnifer Goodwin’s Snow White is more warrior princess than wilting princess and in the real world she has a similar strength and power, all be it buried within a slightly soppy primary school teacher. Jennifer Morrison probably feels a bit hard done by, not having a fairy tale land counterpart (she could maybe form a support group with Joshua Jackson from Fringe) but is a wonderfully relatable character, the normal person thrown into the weird stuff but desperately trying to keep up for the sake of her friends and son. In fact, this is a great set of characters for female actors, they dominate the cast and if there’s a weak link at all, it’s Prince Charming who’s rather wishy washy, never really getting the chance to be heroic!
The icing on the cake (to go back to my metaphor) is that the series is beautifully designed, the costumes, locations and sets in the fairy tale world are glorious, while even the real world has plenty of visual clues and details that bring everything together. Even the title card is changed each week to highlight the focussed character.
This is a really lovely series, full of great characters and a fun blend of drama, humour, romance and action. It’s one of those shows that is just plain nice, bringing a little touch of magic to your living room.