ABC’s ‘Once Upon a Time’ is Poised but not Ready

As a fledgling fantasy author, I’m always looking for sources of inspiration for my writing. I spend so much time trying to come up with an original idea, I forget that sometimes fairy tales make the best fodder, assuming you can find a new twist or take on the subject. [SPOILERS FROM EP 1 BELOW]

Enter ABC’s Once Upon a Time, a new show that debuted on Sunday with some strikingly familiar cast members. I have a particular appreciation for Ginnifer Goodwin, the actress who plays the Snow White character. She has a certain round-faced innocence that I think is perfect for a Snow White role and I’ve wanted her to have a chance to show off her skills after I watched He’s Not that Into You. She revealed a range of emotions in the first episode and I was pretty impressed.

Also back for semi-primetime television is Jennifer Morrison, who was constantly on my college laptop because of my voracious viewing of House MD. She has aged a bit, but her body is still rockin’. Her Emma character has certain parallels with that of Dr. Cameron: a pragmatic attitude and hidden sorrow. She is still pensive over past mistakes; in this case as a woman who gave up her son for adoption, rather than a woman who married young to a dying man. It may be my fault for typecasting her, but I’m not convinced by her street-savvy facade, employing a lot of sour faces and referring to her son as “kid”.

Both of these actresses have a grace and integrity that shine on screen, but after a few minutes of trying to immerse myself into the story world from OUaT, I realized that the script was somewhat strained and imbalanced for their roles. It’s hard for me to see Dr. Cameron as someone so open about her sob story and aloof with her newly discovered child. I guess that will make more sense when you watch the show. Comparing our reality to a “horrible place where all dreams and loved ones are lost” seems a bit over the top, but maybe the triumph of good over evil will do more in this show than just kill off the sorceress queen and set time ticking again in a sleepy town called Storybrooke, Maine.

People from a fairytale world are also supposed to possess an incomparable alien beauty, and I think they chose the perfect woman to play the evil queen. Lana Parrilla falls outside of my normal TV line-up, but I have no doubt she fared well in Spin City and 24 because she has the look of a former business attire model. I tell you, it’s the eyebrows. Those dark, elegant lines really set the character for a woman and she knows how to glare in an entirely convincing and malevolent way.

While the women are all gorgeous and fair and full of backstory, I have yet to be impressed by any of the men. This is not some sort of feminist stance; I’m just waiting for more character evolution for Rumpelstiltskin, Prince Charming and Henry.

It’s nice to see from the preview that Prince Charming didn’t immediately fall for Snow White from her bewitching beauty because I think that would be unfair to both of the actors and characters, who need more chances to grow on the audience. At least he’s nice to look at, dashing and all that.

Good ol’ Rump looks as conniving in the modern world as the fairy tale one, but how much memory he retains and what role he played in helping the evil queen to exact her vengeance has yet to be seen. I think he has the potential to be the most likeable or interesting character, assuming ABC handles the classic trickster plight well.

Henry is a conundrum to me. He is the child of a modern woman who was a child from a fairy tale character whom also happens to be stuck in the dreary time limbo with fellow fairytale characters. Is he a boy from reality or fantasy? Why was he adopted by the wicked queen? Does magic not effect him? I’m sure the writers will come up with an elegant solution. My bets right now are that he’s some sort of trick planted into the fray by Rump— because some men revel in chaos. I am thus far unimpressed with the child actor, but his lines are limited, so it can’t be helped. It’s not that he’s ugly, I just don’t find him charming enough to be the descendant of so many good-looking people. The spark of his faith in the storybook seems a little dull and feigned. I can’t extract myself out of Hollywood long enough to appreciate the direness of his situation.

As far as eye-candy goes, the costumes are passable, the setting is Universal-lot standard, and the props are just as clunky. It does not exude the aura of big-budget film. Snow White’s wedding dress looked like a shag carpet. Sorry. The castle was plaster, the effects were Disney. It met expectations, but did not exceed them.

So the only way I see this show surviving is if they focus on the budding character development and surprise me with the plot. The cast seems brimming with talent, ready to perform, but the material they are given needs some refining. The setting is still a little too plastic to be compelling. Next time, I will pay more attention to the sound track. I hope the show does well, not just for the actors, but because fantasy television is dominated by vampires and sex and it’s about time something showed up to compete.


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KT is an avid foodie/gamer/SFF reader with expertise in a variety of bizarre fields. Her love for technology, science, and internet media is only matched by her fondness for music, language and art. Karen is an aspiring writer with a meandering past. Her law and engineering books make wonderful counterweights to her fiction collections. She hopes to one day publish a novel, most likely in the young adult genre, but the future is an open book.

3 thoughts on “ABC’s ‘Once Upon a Time’ is Poised but not Ready”

  1. Have you watched the 2nd episode yet? I agree with your assessment of the pilot, and the terrible affected speech impediment they gave the kid drove me nuts. We watched the second episode last night, though, and both that was gone and the plot is getting more complex. I have higher hopes for it now.

    1. The second episode is still sitting in my DVR; I can’t wait to get to it! Unfortunately, I won’t be able to watch it until this weekend. The preview looked promising, and I’m glad you thought the 2nd ep was somewhat redeeming as well. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

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