Fairy Tales: Primetime Edition

We all grew up watching and reading fairy tales. They have sparked the imagination of countless generations and are some of the foundations for all of today’s fantasy. It is hard to find a child who does not know Cinderella or Snow White. They are ingrained in our collective minds. There are two new adult shows that started this season that use this common thread to tell engaging stories. On ABC, there is Once Upon a Time, by the producers of Lost. NBC has started a series called Grimm which has a similar overall idea behind it. Both shows revolve around the concept that all the characters from fairy tales are not only real, but exist in our modern society. They use commonly recognized imagery, like red hoods and poisoned apples, to try and beat this point home. Both use tongue-in-cheek humor, and both have a pantheon of good character-actors. These similarities end there. Where Once Upon a Time plays out like Lost meets the Disney princesses, Grimm is more like Law and Order if it took place within the Buffy the Vampire Slayer mythos. Both shows are only a few episodes in, but they are already giving viewers a compelling contrast on how to tell stories based on ones we know so well.
The plot of Once Upon a Time is more magical that it’s opposition in that the characters are under a spell and do not know they are really fairy tale characters. The show uses Lost’s formula of focusing on one character each week, telling where they are now and flashing back to who they were before the curse was put upon them. At some point, Snow White’s wicked stepmother curses all of the fairy tale characters to lose their powers and forget who they are. Apparently, every fairy tale character knew each other and used their individual talents to live together in harmony. Conversely, all the villains also have developed a kinship and conspire in malevolence. They remain immortal, but are trapped in a small town called Storybrook, where no one ages. Only the wicked queen has any memory of their collective past lives, and keeps the town in order by positioning herself as the mayor. The only other person who knows something is amiss is Henry, the granddaughter of Snow White, because he’s the only one who isn’t based on a real character. Before the curse can be enacted, Prince Charming escaped with his newborn baby and places her in a magical wardrobe. This transports the child to our time were she grows up an orphan and eventually will give up a child for adoption. The child, Henry, ends up being found by the modern Rumpelstiltskin and delivered to the wicked mayor. Henry figures out the plot by looking in an old fairy tale book and gleaning it from the stories therein. He seeks to bring his birth mother back to the town to break the curse. As silly as that plot sounds, the show is actually pretty clever.

Catch Once Upon a Time Sundays at 8/7C on ABC

The show revolves around Emma Swan, (Lost reference?) the lost child of Snow and Charming. She is tricked into visiting Storybrook where she meets her biological child, Henry. He explains the basic plot and implores her for help. Emma is skeptical, but empathetic to the dire need this child displays. She discovers Henry is the adopted child of the cold mayor, who immediately starts spending all of her time trying to get Emma out of town. Like Lost, the things that make this show most interesting are the questions it raises. When the prophetic book is shown, pictures of Oz and Wonderland are shown. Are they real as well? Does the magic wardrobe have anything to do with Narnia? Why is the town in Middle-America and not Europe? They have established many of the modern day characters. Mr. Hopper, a psychiatrist, is Jiminy Cricket. The school teacher is Snow white. There’s even a sexy Goth Red Riding Hood, working the local diner. The show does a remarkable job engaging the audience in this way. The hook in this show will be the revelations each character’s story will reveal. I am excited to see how this will play out.