TV Review: Once Upon A Time

Once Upon A Time. ABC, Sundays at 8 EST.

The Plot: Fairy tales are real; Fairy Tale Land is real. An evil curse attacked the land and the people, and they all now live in Storybrooke, Maine, unaware of their “real” lives. One person, young Henry — born in our world — is aware of the curse and seeks out help to try to break the curse.

The curse-breaker? His birth mother, Emma, born in the Fairy Tale world and sent to our world when the curse was made, unaware of her origins as the child of Snow White and Prince Charming, and not believing any of Henry’s stories about fairy tales.

The curse-maker? Snow White’s stepmother, the evil queen, who also happens to be Regina, the Mayor of Storybrooke and Henry’s adoptive mother.

The Good: I have to admit, I heard the premise of the show and was all, “really?” But it has some of my favorite actors in it (Ginnifer Godwin, Roberty Carlyle, Lana Parrilla) and show creaters Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis were writers on Lost, and Jane Espenson from the Whedonverse was also involved, so that’s some pretty darn good reasons to watch.

I’m really, really glad I did. It’s a ton of fun, yes — spotting the fairy tale characters (Red Riding Hood is now called Ruby, wears a lot of red, and works in the local diner) and the many references to the fairy tales. Disney is producing the show, which means it can use the familiar images and references from the Disney version of films. Before you get scared that it’s all Disneyfied — no. no. no. This Snow White is unlike any other you’ve seen before. If you haven’t been watching, I don’t want to give much away, but I’ll say this: when she and Prince Charming meet for the first time? She’s not some damsel in distress who needs saving.  The sparks fly, and at that moment I became a total Snow/Charming shipper.

Once Upon a Time is part romance (the Snow White/Prince Charming relationship, in both the Fairy Tale world and Storybrooke), part adventure (princes killing dragons, Emma battling the evil Mayor Regina), part mystery (what is the curse? who is aware of their other lives? how does all this work?) The last question — how does all this work — is almost headache inducing. All the Fairy Tale people look like they did in the fairy tale world: they haven’t aged a day. Henry explains to Emma that time stopped in Storybrooke. Time began again when Emma stepped into town. Because Emma was sent to our world just before the curse, she was never in Storybrooke and is now in her late 20s. Henry is about ten; so Henry has apparently been raised in a town where no one around him ages, except for Henry who was born here. What is great about Once Upon a Time is rather than these things being flaws, they are strengths, because these are not mistakes but rather secrets to be discovered.

In many ways, despite the Disney connection, Once Upon a Time goes back to the darker roots of fairy tales in both how the characters are portrayed in the fairy tale world and in the present day. People die; people are hurt; bad things happen. The back-story of Rumpelstiltskin / Mr. Gold (Carlyle) has been both sad and horrifying; he is both evil, one of the “bad” characters, yet also one whose origin story leaves one thinking, “oh, no.” Grimm Fairy Tale purists, as well as Disney purists, may not appreciate some of what goes on (“but that’s not what happened in the original story/film”), but I adore the way they play with the stories, weaving them together, making them fresh.

6 thoughts on “TV Review: Once Upon A Time

  1. Yes, yes, and yes. I love it and I, too, became a huge Snow/Charming shipper after that scene. Let’s hope they keep up the magic!


  2. I have to admit, I didn’t like this so at first, but it started to grow on me. I thought Emma and Henry were very annoying to start and there was too much battle between Emma and the mayor over Henry, but that’s made way for some great fairy tale storylines lately. I’m a few episodes behind still and need to catch up. I keep hoping a librarian will show up in Storybrooke somewhere! 🙂


  3. I have to say, I quit watching after what happened to the hunter (is that spoiler-free?). I was so excited to watch OUAT from the earliest previews and really wanted to love it, but I wound up finding the whole thing kind of depressing. There were so many teasing moments of “Look, we’re going to have a micron of happiness here,” only to be crushed at the last second. One of many: he wakes up, aaaaaand he has a wife. The hunter was the final straw. The accumulation of these sad endings crushed my will to watch. I prefer Grimm only because there’s a crime solved each week – yay for small victories!


  4. My family has learned not to disturb me during this show. I recommend it to everyone I know who loves fairy tales. The stories are creative without being disrespectful of the originals. I agree the town needs a librarian! But who wants to work for that mayor?


  5. I’m still a bit irked at the references to Disney movies – they sometimes pull me out of the world the show creates & my disbelief, pretty well trained to kick in for the traditional fairy tale elements, balks at seeing Disney characters treated as if they were a longstanding part of traditional tales. But I like a lot of what they are doing with pulling the fairy tale characters into the modern world, & a lot of what the show has to say about family relationships (at the heart of a lot of fairy tales) seems very well done.


  6. Sarah, I’m getting a little tired of Mayor v Emma, but I’m forgiving it because of the rich backstory. I love the flashbacks to Fairy Tale World.

    Lisa, I much prefer the backstories because, well, there are more happy endings while the present is pretty much different variations of the Evil Regina Being Smarter and More In Control than anyone else. It is already getting a bit old, and I’m hoping it’ll start moving forward. I caught a few eps of Grimm, but major conflict with my Friday night viewing (Fringe and Supernatural). I’ll try catching up on old episodes; thanks for the recommendation.


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