So believe it or not I do watch more than just anime and tokusatsu and I’d like to put a little focus on those shows from time to time. I’m not sure how often this will happen but I’d like to showcase more than just one of Aresol’s interests so I’ll somehow make room for it.
With that said this past week two new TV dramas premiered and both center around the use of a fairy tale theme. So today I’m going to do a little bit of a comparison between the two and show off some of the things that I like and dislike about both. So today we’re looking at ABC’s “Once Upon A Time” and NBC’s “Grimm”.
I’ll start by saying that I really had no intention of watching either of these but after being forced to watch “Once Upon A Time” with my sister I figured it’d be interesting to compare the two fairy tale themed series. I also want to say that I’m not the biggest fan of fairy tales but I can appreciate when something can use the theme correctly. It’s mostly because of my dislike for magic as a plot point but as I said I can appreciate a good fairy tale when done well. Really I just wanted to make it clear that I didn’t go into these series with expectations so I wasn’t really blinded to one series over the other before they started.
Now, I’ll break this down into sections such as premise, characters, plot, the usage of the theme, and then my overall first thoughts.
Once Upon A Time
First up, the premise for “Once Upon A Time”. The basic premise for this series is that the fairy tale world came under a curse by an evil queen and it’s been frozen in time within the real world. All of the characters have no recollection of their story book lives with the possible exception of the queen. The only person that can break the curse is the child of Snow White and Prince Charming. Twenty-three years later that child Emma Swan is confronted by her son, that she put up for adoption ten years prior, who takes her to Storybrooke.
Now as a premise I actually kind of like it. The idea of the story book world being thrust into the real world, while not totally original, is a cool one. It in itself has a kind of story book premise with a destined child and an evil queen which is kind of cool to see out of a TV drama series. I like that the series has tried to take a drama series and bring it into a story book world.
Next the premise of “Grimm”. When a homicide detective comes across a string of abnormal murders he is visited by his aunt that raised him and is told that he is the last Grimm. As a Grimm it is his job to hunt down the beasts of legends and fairy tales that were thought to not exist. Now he must become accustomed to his new role while balancing his day to day life and job as he’s constantly hunted by the same beasts that he now has to hunt.
This is actually really cool, as a premise I like it a bit more than “Once Upon A Time”‘s premise as it’s a bit more rooted to reality than magic and fantasy. As opposed to “Once Upon A Time” it’s a fantasy that happens to be real rather than a fantasy that’s forced to mingle with reality. It’s also interesting that while “Once Upon A Time” takes a drama and brings it into a story book world, “Grimm” is more of a modern fantasy that is brought into a drama setting. Personally I find this method to work a bit better but we’ll get into how well these two premises are utilized in a while.
Once Upon A Time
So going into the characters of “Once Upon A Time”. I wasn’t really feeling any of these characters to be honest. The cynical main character Emma is a nice offset to the goody good fairy tale inhabitants. She’s shown to be a bounty hunter as well as capable of reading people’s expressions in order to see if they’re lying and such. This is actually a nice little blend of her parents, Prince Charming and Snow White, and was a good idea on the part of the writers. Still outside of this she doesn’t stand out as much as she needs to but in all honesty this isn’t the fault of the character. The cast of “Once Upon A Time” is a large one, combining several fairy tales from “Snow White” to “Pinocchio” and includes a lot of their characters. Unfortunately because of this the focus is passed around way too often, and was usually done simply to show the gimmick of how each character exists as a person within the real world. This took a lot of attention away from Emma which was needed for a character that was billed as this destined savior. Still I hope to see more from her as she has the potential to grow as a character.
The other protagonists that we saw were Snow White and Emma’s son Henry. I think it can become a very interesting thing as the three generations mingle but right now they’ve only just been introduce to each other and the audience. Snow White was a fairly good representation of the original story’s character and her real world version, being a teacher, made a lot of sense for the character. Unfortunately this is one of the few characters that I can say that about as several of the characters’ real world versions seem to be rather shoehorned in(Geppetto being a cop for instance).
As for Henry he’s a blank slate at the moment. A lot of his character was described through exposition rather than actually showing it as he was not on screen as much as he needed to be, much like Emma.
Now as for the villains! Oh boy, the queen does a good job. She, however, is not the best villain in this show. No, the best villain, let alone best character, showed off in this episode was Rumplestiltskin. Yeah you read that right, I adore this character. He’s not only performed very well but his character is captured just perfectly in this story as a sly, conniving, sleezy little man that is more than capable of tricking you out of just about anything in your possession. His usefulness in the episode and the mystery surrounding his overall involvement with the curse in really interesting and some of the best scenes of the show.
While I actually have less to say about “Grimm”‘s characters they did make a better impression on me. With “Once Upon A Time” there was something kind of blank or fake about the characters but with “Grimm”‘s more realistic setting the character’s felt more relatable. The main character himself is about as developed as Emma was but had a great deal of screen time allowing the viewer to become more attached to him within the first episode. Unlike Emma who was portrayed as a child of destiny with the attributes to back it up, David is a relatively normal guy who is thrust into the position that he’s in. Due to this he’s not instantly adept at hunting down the beasts that he’s chosen to hunt but thanks to his homicide detective roots he shows a potential for the job. While he’s shown to have a deeper relationship with his Aunt it’s only briefly showcased and is something that I hope to see expanded on. The same can be said for the relationship between him and his girlfriend who, while hyped up a bit, had very little screen time or interaction with David.
David’s homicide partner, Russell, was an ok character and played a good role near the end showing clear signs of a friendship between the two but was unfortunately downplayed in favor for the character of Silas. Silas is probably the best character here being in a sense The Big Bad Wolf, one of them anyway. He’s shown to be reformed and is actually one of the funniest characters within the show clearly marking his territory as the comic relief. Unlike most comic relief though he’s shown to have a fair deal of knowledge on the Grimm’s and the other beasts becoming an asset to David and the show in general.
As for villains there was really only one showcased as a one off villain and I feel that he was played very well. He came off as very creepy and threatening even without his beast form and at the same time very obsessive giving him an air of mental instability.
While there were other villains hinted at they were no more than brief cameos and had very little to do with the story outside of the last thirty seconds.
Overall in terms of character I enjoyed “Grimm” but only slightly more. When it goes to best character I’d say that “Once Upon A Time” still has it with Rumplestiltskin but cast wise I enjoyed “Grimm” if only for its realism and relatability.
Once Upon A Time
“Once Upon A Time”‘s plot is really were it starts to lose it for me. It certainly shoved a lot into the first episode but as I said earlier it only served to steal focus from the main characters which is kind of a mark against it. That being said I feel like the story can build up to something really good and it seems to have an overall arc thought out but it’s certainly taking it’s time to get there and so the first episode may seem like a bit of a drag even for fantasy buffs.
The plot also has the misfortune of trying to mesh together magic and realism which is a very hit or miss thing to accomplish. While “Grimm” also does this “Once Upon A Time” does it in a far more noticeable way and kind of sucks you out of the experience if you’re already a person that isn’t big into magic themes such as myself. Still this almost works to its benefit as it takes the more fairy tale approach making the noticeable mesh of the two themes suitable for the series.
I also want to take the time to mention the setting of the environment itself. Outside of Storybrooke the world has a very normal visual, while inside of the town it feels very colorful and happy very reminiscent of a story book. This is done without being to jarring, however, and is a nice transition. The story book world on the other hand is steeped in fantasy and is very flamboyant as it should be. I feel it would appease any fantasy buff but it may not be interesting enough to appease those with other tastes.
“Grimm” has a more mainstream drama story line as it loosely sets up an over all story but keeps the bulk of the series rather episodic, focusing on the episode at hand while dropping hints to a grander arc. Being totally honest while I like “Grimm”‘s story more “Once Upon A Time”‘s story has a more definitive plot and a larger potential of running a full story. Still Grimm has the potential to do an episodic series well much akin to police dramas. As for the mesh of realism and fantasy I feel it’s done to a good enough degree to not be too noticeable but still keeps a lot of elements that hold it back from having the same draw as a legitimate police drama. Still the mesh of the two is inventive and appreciated.
As for the setting similar to how “Once Upon A Time” handled its settings between Storybrooke and the outside world “Grimm” manages to shift between a realistic look and a whitewashed fantasy appearance. While the difference isn’t as seamless as it is in “Once Upon A Time” it’s still an interesting change up and makes the show just nice to look at.
Use of Theme
Once Upon A Time
“Once Upon A Time” used it’s theme and settings to a pretty good extent. The story book world was well designed from what we saw of it and while I harped on the number of characters they do seem to wish to showcase a lot of the fairy tales, making the most out of their theme. Some of their decisions with the real world, like making Geppetto a cop, seem out of nowhere but they managed to integrate the fairy tale world into the real world rather well.
While not as grand in scale as “Once Upon A Time”, “Grimm” manages to utilize its theme well while still attempting to bring a greater sense of realism to it. With its seemingly episodic nature “Grimm” has the potential of focusing entire episodes on each of their fairy tale beasts as opposed to “Once Upon A Time”‘s way of bouncing focus around it’s characters. It also has a lot of potential to differentiate itself from “Once Upon A Time” with its, excuse the pun, grimmer take on the fairy tales it uses. At the same time it manages to fit it’s fairy tales into police drama-esque story lines almost needing the darker more cynical use of fairy tales.
Overall I’m rather neutral on both series. “Grimm” managed to impress me more personally but from a technical standpoint I can see just how much more work went into “Once Upon A Time”. While “Grimm” comes off as a refreshing mesh of police drama and fantasy it does in the end feel as if it has a limited shelf life. “Once Upon A Time” on the other hand knows what it is and knows what it wants to do. While the acting and some of the direction is give or take “Once Upon A Time” manages to be a pretty good experience for what it is.
In the end though it comes down to personal taste and whether or not this kind of setting is interesting to you. The two shows take a similar premise and run with it in two different ways and styles. “Once Upon A Time” has the potential to be a good family oriented and themed story given enough time, but as a premier it came off as a bit dragging. “Grimm” certainly goes for the more adult audience while still mixing in decent humor but is played more towards the police drama buffs than the fantasy buffs. It’s premier managed to be a nice quick dip into the world without overstepping its boundaries while still setting up a mystery for future episodes. Fantasy buffs would probably enjoy both shows but would most likely prefer “Once Upon A Time” over “Grimm”. Still “Grimm” isn’t without its charm and definitely has an audience out there, myself included.
On a technical scale I would give “Once Upon A Time” the thumbs up when comparing the two but on a personal scale “Grimm” just impressed me a little bit more.