Once Upon a Time: Series Review

A couple of months ago, a visitor on this blog read one of my series reviews and suggested to me a show that was just starting — a series that puts yet another spin on classic fairy tales. The show was Once Upon a Time, topbilled by Ginnifer Goodwin (Big Love) and Jennifer Morrison (House, How I Met Your Mother).

Truthfully, I am a sucker for fairy tales but I originally had apprehensions about the series because I was afraid I would get hooked to it, and I am already watching too many shows as it is. Turns out, my hunch was right. When I did start watching, I finished the entire first season in three days (I watch when I get home from work until the wee hours of the morning). Boy, this show is amazing.

Most of us have grown up reading Grimm’s classics or were weaned watching Disney Princesses. I, for one, am guilty of both. But Once Upon a Time completely pulls the rug from under its viewers by injecting creativity and thought into the retelling of the classic tales to make it more interesting, providing new insight into the characters that we all know (or thought we know) and love. The question “What if the stories were true?” is main premise of the story and this show gets us to relive the magic that we used to believe when we were kids.

TRUE LOVE. The spunky Snow White and her dashing Prince James save each other anew in the forest.

Once Upon a Time is set in the small town of Storybrooke, Maine, wherein actual fairy tale characters are living the lives of ordinary townsfolk, trapped in a haze, not knowing who they are and ripped apart from the ones they love most after the Evil Queen cursed the entire Kingdom at the wedding of Snow White and Prince James aka Prime Charming (Josh Dallas). Their prison is otherwise known as our world, where the only magic is controlled by two of the Kingdom’s most powerful sorcerers — Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) and the Evil Queen — the only two people who have memories of their alternate lives. But all curses come with a failsafe, and this one comes in the form of Emma Swan, long lost daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming. To break the curse, ten-year old Henry Mills sets out to find his birth mother Emma, the only person who has the ability to enter and leave the town (bad things happen to characters who try to leave the town limits), and has the power to break the curse, save everybody and give them their happily ever afters. To fulfill their mission, they are aided only by Henry’s storybook which serves as their blueprint for ‘Operation Cobra.’

I love this series firstly, because it has a great premise. It cuts back and forth between present day events in the storybook characters’ lives in the town and their lives at the Kingdom and injects a different flavor and modern day conflicts to the fairy tales that we are already familiar with. What’s brilliant is that the modern storylines are created as parallels of the events in the Enchanted Kingdom and the two are presented as a whole — sort of like a chapter per episode. It was able to seamlessly transition from the real world and the fairy tale and emphasize the relevance of the fairy tale on what was happening in Storybrooke. And while each episode can work as a standalone, together, they make for a solid buildup to the next — which grows even better as more information is revealed about the characters. One cannot help but become emotionally invested in the characters as the series progresses. Each story becomes more impactful because there is a better understanding of them from episodes past.

BROKENHEARTED. Belle gives a confused Grumpy some love advice.

But if you think you know fairy tales, this show has a lot of surprises in store. The old and frail granny in The Little Red Riding Hood wields a mean shotgun and can strike an attack against a heavily guarded palace if she feels like it. The Evil Queen has her own backstory that kind of explains why she hates Snow White so much and Rumplestiltskin is given a wide playing field as he figures in almost all stories in the book. I also love that the characters that are relegated to the background in earlier adaptations — Grumpy, Jiminy Cricket, Gepetto, Pinocchio are given their moments to shine in this series and the strong writing made them truly easy to relate to.

The writers obviously put a lot of thought in crafting the backbone of the series and also in its execution. They must love fairy tales too because they really thought out of the box to connect and even create crossovers of some stories, which were surprising but definitely worked. Also, kudos to the non-sequential storytelling technique. It was unique but kind of remarkable that the team was able to execute it without the viewers missing a step. Ending the season where it began was also a stroke of genius.

Another thing of note — the cast. The Evil Queen is perfect! Lana Parilla, although I have never seen her in anything before totally blew me away with her performance. Her voice alone is enough to get my blood pressure up the roof but there is also a vulnerable side to her that was exposed during the telling of her story. Rumplestiltskin is by far, my favorite character in the show. He is equal parts creepy and sympathetic and its always interesting to see what he’s up to. He keeps viewers on their toes. And the chemistry between Snow and her Prince? Electric! Not only are they excellent actors (They also started dating while doing the show), and cute as heck together but when they share the screen together, its magic. I felt that Ginnifer was an excellent Snow White even if she is not classically beautiful (she’s cute as a button though) because she has a spark about her that makes you like her from the onset. And Charming? Those expressive eyes truly make viewers melt.

I also liked Emma and Henry’s developing relationship, but Emma’s role is already pretty much defined from the start so no surprises there. I must admit that before the last episode, I was getting a bit worried about how they would close the finale in 43 minutes but they pulled it off without a hitch, and the great thing about it is that something happens that would make for a whole new conflict as the first one (curse) is resolved.

I am so looking forward to what will happen in Season 2. I hope Sebastian Stan returns too as the Mad Hatter. I would love to see him go full psycho 🙂 For more edgy storytelling, dastardly villains and more conflicts in Storybrooke, I can’t wait. Season 1 was just the tip of the iceberg, after all. There are plenty more stories that need to be told. Let the magic begin.