We’ve been watching a couple of new TV shows with firm contemporary fantasy roots: ABC’s Once Upon a Time and NBC’s Grimm. They are similar in that they juxtapose well-known fairy tale characters and stories in the really real world, feature reluctant non-believer protagonists, and have intriguing bad-guys in the mix.
Once upon a Time takes place in the town of Storybook, Maine, where skip-tracer Emma Swann has arrived at the request of her 10-year old birth son, Henry, to investigate his claims that she’s the one who can the curse. What curse, you ask? The one cast by the wicked Queen (of Snow White’s tale) on the denizens of the magic kingdom, causing them to all forget who they are while transporting them to a ‘horrible place’ (i.e., Maine). So, in the context of the story, the wicked Queen is now the control-freak Mayor with a thing for apples, Jiminy Cricket is Henry’s Shrink, Snow White is an elementary teacher, etc. So far the show has balanced on the crux of Emma believing in Henry’s explanation and playing along with him for the sake of his therapy. However, we know she has a part to play because we also know she is the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, the only person who can break the curse and send everyone home.
A couple episodes in, and this show is, well, charming in its way. The question will be how much mileage can they get out of the little subplots involving these fairy tale characters now living in smalltown USA, and whether they can manufacture some good chemistry between the main characters.
Grimm is Set in present-day Portland, Oregon, the series puts a new twist on the stories of the Brothers Grimm in which Nick, a homicide detective, learns that he is a descendant of a group of hunters known as “Grimms”, who fight to keep humanity safe from the supernatural creatures of the world. Upon learning of his destiny, he has to protect every living soul from the sinister storybook characters that have infiltrated the real world. Nick quickly enlists the aid of one of these creatures, a reformed werewolf-creature named Eddie.
Immediately the show has featured good interplay between Nick and Eddie in the classic Holmes/Watson tandem. Grimm is also darker and more sinister than the other show, with more violence and that paranormal vibe reminiscent of the X-Files or Buffy. Of the two, this show is more to my taste, so I’m hoping they build off the promising start and develop a good sense of mythos and conflict.
No word yet on whether these two shows’ creators are paying royalties to Bill Willingham, creator/writer of the Vertigo Comics series, Fables. I’m guessing probably not, as all these stories are in the public domain. Fables has been around about ten years now and features is a similar contemporary fantasy premise. It’s won critical acclaim and lots of awards, and while I can’t recommend it personally (it’s on the reading list), if you like the feel of these two shows, you might want to give it a look.