Having exhausted all the dramatic possibilities of vampires, werewolves, witches and Kardashians, the powers that be are anxious to find the next big thing in entertainment. With two Snow White films in the works, a Grimm-inspired police procedural on NBC and ABC’s Once Upon a Time, you better polish those glass slippers and grab a dwarf or two, because we’re about to enter the era of the faerytale. Once Upon a Time has the benefit of being the first pumpkin coach out of the gate, and it’s a charming, intriguing and atmospheric mystery unlike anything else on TV right now. (Give that a week or two, though, until Grimm starts.)
Once Upon a Time begins in the land of faerytales, where Prince Charming revives Snow White with a kiss, before whisking her away to a fabulous royal wedding. In this version of events, the Evil Queen escapes being thrown off a cliff or torn apart by wolves, so she shows up at the wedding, does a quick supervillain monologue, then places a curse on all the inhabitants of the kingdom. Lana Parilla plays the Evil Queen to the hilt and growls and sneers like she’s starving for some scenery to chew. If I can offer a bit of advice, though, from one evil queen to another: stop pacing. Your enemies will be more afraid if you’re calm, cool and stationary. Trust me on this one.
Despite the threat of the curse, Charming and Snow manage to get busy on their wedding night, because the next thing you know, Snow is totally pregnant. A quick trip to chat with Rumplestiltskin confirms their worst fears. That curse EQ promised is on its way, and the unborn child is their only hope. Somehow, Robert Carlyle is playing Rumplestiltskin, a fact which appears to surprise him as much as anyone else.
Despondent, Snow loses hope. Luckily, the Blue Fairy has a plan: stick the kid in a magical wardrobe and send her far, far away, until she’s 28 and can come back and save everyone. They don’t even have to steal a magic wardrobe from the Narnia kids or Harry Potter. They just have Gepetto carve one out of a magic tree. Then, before you can say, “Bibbidy-bobbidy-boo,” little baby Emma gets stashed in a wardrobe, and the Evil Queen returns to take a few more bites out of the foam castle backdrops.
Cut to: present day Boston. Young, pretty Emma fights for justice, in her own sort of way, as a bail bondswoman. After a successful date/trap with a bail jumper, she returns home to celebrate her 28th birthday all alone. Beautiful and blonde isn’t usually a combination that leads to a lot of lonely nights, but Emma likes to proclaim herself a loner. All that’s missing here is a catalyst to connect her to the neverland people stuck in a time warp somewhere. Knock-knock! Who’s there? Precocious little boy (aka catalyst) claiming to be the son Emma gave up for adoption 10 years ago. He wants desperately for her to return with him to Storybrooke, Maine with him, because faerytales are real, she’s the long-lost daughter of Snow White and Price Charming, and only she can save the faerytale folk, re-start time and put things right.
Well, thank god for exposition boy! That saved some time.
Emma returns little Henry home, back into the arms of the mayor of Storybrooke (aka Evil Queen) and meets a few of the residents of the town, all faerytale folk who have lost their memories and their happy endings. Snow White’s fate is particularly tragic, since she’s been given the most unflattering haircut in the history of the world. It didn’t look good on Anna, the lizard queen on V, and it doesn’t look good on Snow White. Hopefully, they’ll get her some extensions before the next episode.
Once Upon a Time shows a great deal of promise, and I found myself interested in finding out more about the residents of Storybrooke and how they’ve adapted to life in the real world of the 21st Century. Ads have been promoting the show as being the product of the writers of Lost, but beyond the somewhat supernatural feel of the show, there’s little comparison between the two. Whether Once Upon a Time can sustain interest in the overall mystery, without resolving anything too soon, but avoiding the potential tedium of Lost’s filler episodes, remains to be seen. However, Jennifer Morrison as Emma provides a tough, but sympathetic lead in a show full of strong female characters and lots of good vs. evil opportunities.
Once Upon a Time airs Sundays on ABC at 8/7c.