As an enormous fan of the awesome Fables comic series, I approached this show with trepidation. Hadn’t Bill Willingham been approached several years ago to develop a tv show based on Fables? And hadn’t that studio been ABC (after NBC had worked on one)? Hmmm, it all seems a little convenient to me. Fairytale characters living in the US – yep, I’ve heard that one before. But hey, they assure me that this is different – this is not a rip off of an already brilliant premise, this is new. So sure, I’ll give it a whirl, after all, I love fairytales and I think Ginnifer Goodwin is pretty fantastic.
This is a pretty complicated premise to set up in one 45 minute episode, and it feels that way – it is labored, clunky, and very slow moving. I understand why it takes so long to pick up momentum, but I think that anyone who stuck with it had to really be on board with the fairytale idea. It quickly became clear to me that to properly review this show, I was going to have to commit to more than just the pilot – the format the episodes would generally take was not altogether apparent, and neither was the direction the show was going to take. Everything felt a little bit like the writers putting feelers out there to see what the audience responded to.
What Once Upon a Time unfortunately does, that the much better Fables avoids, is that every piece of the original fairytales that is brought into the show, is done so in the most camp, over-the-top, downright silly way. Everything looks silly. Even in the ‘real’ world the melodrama is laid on so thickly you think you might drown in the ridiculousness of it all. The evil queen in the ‘real’ world is sooo evil you wonder how no one else noticed before now. On top of the unbelievable, clichéd writing, we have appalling CG effects. It looks worse than the CG in Buffy at times, at that was over a decade ago.
On the plus side, the casting doesn’t suck. Robert Carlyle is inspired – I have loved him since Hamish Macbeth and he very rarely disappoints. It is great to see him back on TV after Stargate Universe failed to get the ratings of its counterparts. Lana Parrilla is also brilliant as the evil queen (although I’m sure she’d be even better if the writers lifted their game). Ginnifer is good, although I don’t feel she is stretching herself much – not that there’s much to work with. Jennifer Morrison looks tired and her acting is wooden, disappointing for someone I felt worked very well in House (and even back when she was briefly Pacey’s girlfriend on Dawson’s Creek!).
The character of Emma Swan, however, I think does work as the central character. She is relatable and flawed in just enough ways to make us care. She is smart and skeptical, and has a good amount of ‘troubled past’ to hold some question marks over her future. Unfortunately, the show just doesn’t take it anywhere. Everything is predictable and far too melodramatic without being fun. It is like a bad soap opera with some magic thrown in. Maybe it will get better with time – given the positive ratings elsewhere on the internet, I’m hoping it does, but I hold little hope for it.
Verdict: Decidedly below average, but inoffensive.