Friday, March 16, 2012

Once Upon a Time, Things Were Rather Grimm

Sorry, but no book review this week. I'm caught up on past reads, and haven't finished the current one, so nothing to review. I'm going to venture into TV-land, instead.

We have two new fantasy type shows on network TV this season: NBC's Grimm and ABC's Once Upon a Time. I've been watching both on Hulu and I'm a couple episodes behind on both. While I can't say I absolutely love either one, they have been interesting enough to keep me watching.

Grimm: For those who don't watch, the basic premise is based on Grimm's Fairy Tales, only here, the monsters (called wesen, German for creature) are humanoid and it seems most of them live in Portland, OR. Nick Burkhartdt is a detective on the Portland police force, and is a Grimm, a member of the family that throughout history, has kept humanity safe from the creatures. He learns about his special heritage from his Aunt Marie, who raised him and returns to Portland, dying of cancer. Since Nick is about to become the next Grimm, he can now see beyond the wesen's humanoid forms to their true selves. He and his partner are set to solving the odd crimes that seem to keep happening in Portland, all tied to one or another wesen.

The concept is interesting, and much of the show lives up to it. There are many more creatures than in any of the Grimm's tales I've read, and not all are evil and bent on destruction. Many just want to live their lives without anyone knowing what they really are. Of course, there are a few really nasty ones. Nick's character is a bit, hmm, I guess wimpy, to me. I understand that he's a good police officer, and he doesn't want to go around slicing and dicing every wesen he sees, but-- He doesn't seem to want to go after any of them, even the evil ones. So far, I think he's killed exactly one of them (I could be wrong, but it isn't many). The ones that are bent on destruction seem to do themselves in or someone else takes care of them. It kind of takes the scary out of Nick's Grimm-ness. Why would the wesen be afraid of him (and they all are), if they know he isn't going to do anything to them? And Aunt Marie left him a trailer full of sharp and/or pointy things and, much to my chagrin, he hasn't used a single one. The only time he made use of a weapon from the trailer, it was Monroe who got to fire it.

And speaking of Monroe. Ah, here's the fun character. Monroe is a blutbad (German: bloodbath), essentially the Big Bad Wolf. But this one is a vegetarian. Yep, a veggie wolf. Monroe is trying to keep his violent nature curbed and staying away from meat is one way he does it. He also helps Nick out with the wesen they encounter, much to the disappointment of the secret group who are most annoyed that a Grimm is living in their playground. Monroe is funny, charming, and one of the reasons I keep watching.

More of the continuing storyline is being pulled in each week, and some things are getting intriguing. How long can Nick keep his Grimm background from his fiance? And his partner? What exactly is Nick's boss' connection to the wesen? He's been seen with a rather vampirish female wesen on occasion, and is definitely keeping tabs on Nick, but doesn't seem to be a creature himself. It's not great TV, but it is decent.

Once Upon A Time: This one is based (loosely) on the story of Snow White, with many other fairy tales tossed in. In the fairy tale world, Snow White is being married to James (Prince Charming). The evil queen interrupts the wedding and says that she is going to make sure that Snow and everyone else is going to lose everything that makes them happy. She invokes an ancient curse just as Snow is about to give birth to her first child, and everyone is transported to Storybrook, ME in the modern world, where they don't remember who they were or what happened. All except for the evil queen (now the mayor of Storybrook) and her son, Henry. Henry has a book of fairy tales, appropriately titled Once Upon A Time, and he knows that the fairy tales are the true lives of the town's inhabitants and that the mayor is responsible. Enter Emma, who is Henry's birth mother and Snow White's daughter. It seems Snow and James managed to get the baby into a magic cabinet carved by Geppetto and she escaped the curse. Except she doesn't know about her past either, since she was only a newborn at the time. Henry finds her and brings her back to Storybrook, since the book says she is only one who can break the curse.

The story unfolds both in Storybrook and in flashbacks to the fairytale world. I find the fairytale parts the most fascinating. And the evil queen, played deliciously by Lana Parilla, is a delight. She is cold, calculating, and doesn't care about anyone or anything except insuring that Snow White (Mary Margaret in Storybrook) is miserable. And her costumes are just incredible.

The way the characters are translated to modern times is one of the fun parts of the show. Red Riding Hood is a rather slutty thing here, who works at a restaurant and has bright red streaks in her hair and wears midriff baring short skirts and teetering heels. Pinocchio is a psychiatrist. Snow is a school teacher, and Prince Charming works at the animal shelter (and is also married to someone else). Emma was a bounty hunter before Henry convinced her to come to Storybrook. One of the best characters is Rumpelstiltskin, here known (very appropriately) as Mr. Gold. He also knows what happened and how, and is almost as cold and evil as the queen. Their interactions are some of the best parts of the show. In this version, Rumpelstiltskin was also the bad guy in most of the fairytales referenced. For instance, an episode I watched recently was based on Beauty and the Beast, and Rumpelstiltskin was the Beast.

The exact reason for the queen's intense hatred of Snow White is not fully known. It has been hinted several times that Snow did something to take the queen's chance at happiness away, but we don't know yet exactly what that was. It must have been something pretty bad for her to want to push everyone out of their own "real" lives and into a world where they don't remember each other except as residents of Storybrook. Again, a little more is revealed each week.

This is another show that is not great, but has a lot of nice fantasy elements to it. Yes, you do have to overlook some inconsistencies, but it's entertainment, not science. Most of the characters are well done, and the takes on the familiar fairy tales, and how they parallel the characters lives now, are decently done.

If you haven't checked them out, give them a try. I've been enjoying watching.

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