Last fall we picked the NBC series Grimm as one to try out, and one we initially enjoyed. While the idea of police drama and fantasy stories from Grimm’s Fairy Tales isn’t all that novel – cops and monsters have been around in some fashion for decades – the effective creation of such a show has proven more elusive. In earlier posts we’ve referred to the Twilight Effect, wherein a high percentage of new drama shows have included some element of the fantastic of a science fiction aside. You might think that as proponents of sci-fi and fantasy, we would appreciate this trend. But here’s the thing: many of these shows are just bad.
Not so with Grimm. Although I had initial concerns about ‘monster-of-the-week’ issues and whether the basic formula of giving Detective Nick Burkhardt a new fairy tale inspired creature and mystery to confront each week would grow stale, the series’ producers and writers have mostly avoided this by adding elements of a larger hidden-world struggle. This struggle involves the power structure and traditions of the various creatures, a hidden multi-layered history (which Nick can discover along with the viewers), and how these elements intersect for Detective Nick.
This is classic Chris Carter territory; the fully functional X-Files model.* You mix your elements of a larger conspiracy and greater powers at work with the more conventional weekly mystery, all the while developing the characters and their relationships.
The development of the Grimm narrative also reflects prevailing trends of the urban fantasy/contemporary fantasy sub-genre: the hidden world of the creatures and others. Any storyteller working in this medium is more or less familiar with these rules. Your main characters need a way to explain the laws, customs, and history of the hidden world. And the denizens of the hidden world prioritize and work in concert to keep their existence or true nature separate from the general public. On rare occasions such as with True Blood, the creatures announce themselves to the world; but even then, the true goals and power structures of the vampires remain secret and separate.
Of course none of this matters if the viewer or reader doesn’t identify with the main characters. Grimm gives us a somewhat vanilla but honorable policeman in Detective Nick. His dry humor and determination to treat all the people and creatures fairly, as individuals, are positives. Monroe, Nick’s (vegan) werewolf-ish sidekick, is great fun and provides background and comedy. Captain Renard is suitably ruthless and foreboding as string-pulling ally/villain, and Julliete is OK as the girlfriend who doesn’t know what’s really going on (or does she).
If you’ve missed Grimm or need to catch up, you’re in luck because the channel formerly known as Sci-Fi (now the ridiculous SyFy) has started running earlier episodes, which will likely continue into the summer. And unlike other recent Beemsville picks, the series has actually been picked up for a second season next fall.
*I know, I know, we always seems to go back to the X-Files for comparison sake around Beemsville, but that show was just so damned effective…