Stars: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Robert Carlyle, Lana Parrilla, Jared Gilmore, Josh Dallas, Raphael Sbarge
Writer: Adam Horowitz, Edward Kitsis
Director: Mark Mylod
Network: ABC, Sunday nights, 8 p.m.
Original Telecast: October 23, 2011
Once upon a time, back in 1987, ABC put on a situation comedy called THE CHARMINGS in which the Evil Queen (Judy Parfitt), in a fit of rage that Snow White had survived after all, cast a spell so powerful, it sent Snow, Prince Eric (Christopher Rich) and their two boys, the Queen and a Dwarf, to modern suburbia. Their confusion with their fairy tale beginnings and real life made for much merriment, but not enough that the show barely lasted a season and a half.
Now, take that same premise, turn it on its ear with a really dark sensibility. Add a bunch more story characters and put them all in a town where no one knows who they were, and a young woman destined to find them and begin the battle, and you’re pretty close to ONCE UPON A TIME, ABC’s new drama series.
It starts with Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) rescuing Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin). At their wedding, the Evil Queen (Lana Parilla) drops in to let them know that her curse is coming – and she will be the one with the happy ending. Fast forward to the present, where Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) is celebrating her birthday by picking up a bail bond skip, then lighting a candle on a cupcake to celebrate.
Surprise, Henry (Jared Gilmore), the boy Emma gave up for adoption, shows up at her front door to take her back to Storybrooke, Maine, where everyone from the Enchanted Forest ended up after the queen’s curse went through. Snow is now teacher Mary Margaret Blanchard, Charming is a coma patient listed as John Doe, and the Queen is now Regina, the town’s mayor and Henry’s adopted mom.
The story alternates between the fairy tale world where we see how Emma ended up safe from the curse and the town of Storybrooke, which seems normal enough, but remains a little strange.
What works with the pilot is that it does set up a really interesting take on the whole “what if the stories were true?” theme. The story characters and their modern day equivalents are nicely outlined – Granny (Beverly Elliott), the innkeeper (who we’ve seen earlier as Red Riding Hood’s grandmother) is first seen accusing Ruby/Red (Meghan Ory) of sleeping her way up the Eastern Seaboard. Grumpy (Lee Arenberg) the dwarf becomes Leroy, the town ne’er-do-well. And so on.
The show’s creators, Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, are LOST alumni and have said that LOST guru Damon Lindelof’s DNA is all over the show. Certainly, LOST junkies will recognize the little references here and there in the pilot, but it’s the Disney references that are the most jarring. The Evil Queen enters the wedding a la Maleficent’s entry to Aurora’s christening in Sleeping Beauty. Leroy is heard whistling “Whistle While You Work” when we find in him the modern day jail cell. This is a world in which Gepetto (Tony Amendola) and Jiminy Crickett are part of the castle.
The other problem with the pilot is that it has so much to do, establishing not just one, but two worlds of the show. It’s interesting enough and it’s a nice mix between the fairy tale world and Storybrooke. At the same time, it leaves the feeling that the show isn’t going anywhere. And one does have to wonder how, if the point of Emma’s arrival on the scene is to break the curse, they are going to sustain the show.
We have been told that we will find out very soon why Henry knows what’s going on with the town, but the town’s inhabitants don’t. And whether Regina is aware of things or not. But this being an offspring of Lost, as it were, decent odds the mysteries will only grow – hopefully not on the same scale as Lost (endless mystery being the show’s only real failing). ONCE UPON A TIME does have promise, however, and is certainly worth checking out more than one or two episodes.
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Article: TV Review – ONCE UPON A TIME – Season 1 – “Pilot”