'Once Upon a Time' Review: Not Entirely Happily Ever After
'Once Upon a Time' Review: Not Entirely Happily Ever After
Laurel Brown
Laurel Brown
Senior Writer, BuddyTV
I want to like Once Upon a Time. I love fairy tales. I devour Lost-like shows with complicated stories and fantasy elements. I'm a fan of many of Once Upon a Time's actors.

But Once Upon a Time only partially works.

Once Upon the Time is the story of fairy-tale characters ripped out of their fantasy kingdoms and planted in the small town of Storybrooke, Maine. Thus, Snow White and her friends live a cursed reality until a long-lost princess comes to save them. Of course, their "princess" turns out to be a skeptical, real-world bounty hunter named Emma (Jennifer Morrison).

Thanks to the constant intervention of Emma's biological-son-given-up-for-adoption-at-birth, Henry (Jared Gillmore), the bounty hunter sticks around to slowly figure out what's up. Along the way she interacts with the Mayor/Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla), a schoolteacher named Mary Margaret Blanchard, formerly Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin), Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) and more.

Does this crazy fairy-tale show work? Well, parts of it do.

What Works
The acting is pretty amazing. Ginnifer Goodwin, in the dual role of Snow White and Mary Margaret, is particularly compelling, and Jennifer Morrison is also good as the street-smart Emma. Lana Parilla's Evil Queen/Evil Mayor character, meanwhile, does nasty glares as well as any classic villain.

The story we're given is pleasant and entertaining. There's a reason why people like fairy tales, after all, and Once Upon a Time capitalizes on that. The fantasy realm -- seen as often in the show as real-world Maine -- is especially fun, with sword-fighting, heroism and all the magic you could want.

What Doesn't Work
I have two major issues with Once Upon a Time, one dealing with premise and one dealing with the show's direction.

The Premise
Anyone particularly interested in fairy tales might find the choices made by Once Upon a Time to be questionable. Although the stories are classics, the versions used in the show are more reminiscent of animated films than the original folklore. It's a little like the movie Enchanted, only without the self-referential humor.

The result of this choice is a lack of true fairy-tale lore underlying the premise of Once Upon a Time, and it makes it occasionally hard to swallow some of the fantasy elements when they feel a little too ripped from Disney.

(Note: Fairy-tale purists should go for the fall's other fantasy offering, Grimm, if they want the darker side of the genre. Once Upon a Time is purely G-rated in its source material.)

The Direction
Simply put, Once Upon a Time doesn't totally fit together in a cohesive way. What are the biggest disconnects?

  • Supposedly, time hasn't moved forward in Storybrook for about 30 years. And yet no one has aged. No explanation -- magical or not -- is given.
  • There's a strong reliance on flashbacks to the fairy-tale world. This may be because very little is actually happening in Maine.
  • There's a school full of kids in Storybrook. Are they supposed to be fairy-tale characters too? Have they always been kids?
  • While Once Upon a Time would make a great movie, it's hard to see the show as a one-hour series lasting for several years. Where is it going? What will salvation mean for the characters? How do we know the show won't muddle around until audiences lose interest.

By airing these issues, I don't mean to say that Once Upon a Time isn't pleasant fun. The acting is excellent, and the stories can be a lot of fun to watch. Assuming that the producers can manage a coherent storyline over time, the show could work.

But it's going to take a lot of work to make a working series out of the jumble of fairy tales that make up Once Upon a Time.

Want more? Check out the Once Upon a Time Insider page on Facebook.

Once Upon a Time premieres on Sunday, October 23 at 8pm.

(Image courtesy of ABC)


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