ABC's Once Upon a Time was one of the most hotly anticipated (or perhaps I should say well-advertised?) shows of the new fall season that finally debuted this past Sunday. I've mentioned many times here how much I adore fairy tales, traditional and reimagined, and Once seemed guaranteed to suit my tastes. Needless to say, despite some reservations -- or perhaps I should say questions? -- about how the high concept of this show will play out, I thoroughly enjoyed the premiere. So let's talk. :)
Fairy Tale Land is a place renowned for its happy endings, and as the show opens we get to witness one of the most famous play out -- Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) awakening Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) with true love's kiss. Their happily ever after is tarnished by the promise of the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla), who threatens that she will destroy the happy endings of every person who stands in her way. Cut to the "real world" where Emma Swann (Jennifer Morrison), a tough-as-nails bail bondswoman catching a client on what just happens to be her birthday. She's a loner, and while later blowing out a birthday candle on her celebratory cupcake (NICELY staged scene!), a young boy shows up on her doorstep. The boy is Henry (Jared Gilmore), who turns out to be the baby she'd given up for adoption ten years ago. Henry begs Emma to return with him to his hometown of Storybrooke, Maine. Much to Emma's chagrin, Henry is convinced that every story in his precious book of fairy tales is true, and that only Emma can help the citizens of Storybrooke remember who they truly are -- denizens of of Fairy Tale Land who were robbed of their happy endings by his evil adoptive mother Regina, the town mayor.
This episode introduces several of the main fairy tale characters and their real-world counterparts, as the narrative cuts between Emma and Henry's present and "flashback" scenes revealing how the Evil Queen's curse came to be. For the most part I absolutely loved the look of this show, in particular the Fairy Tale Land scenes -- the colors, the "richness" of the fabrics and set pieces were a visual feast! There is some dicey CGI in the Fairy Tale Land exterior scenes that just screamed "fake," which was unfortunate, but for the most part everything worked beautifully setting up the difference between the real world and the fairy tale one. (I just have to say, though, the Queen's curse was a friggin' SMOKE MONSTER?? Really? That was INCREDIBLY lame and looked just terrible on-screen. Bah...)
I loved Goodwin and Dallas as Snow White and Prince Charming -- Goodwin's looks fit the character perfectly, and she's capable of expressing this wide-eyed sincerity that just seems to scream "Snow White" to me, while Dallas -- well I'd be hard-pressed to ask for a more dashing Prince. :) Their heartbreak over having to sacrifice twenty-eight years together, until their daughter can break the Queen's curse -- or so Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) promises -- is played out with a heart-rending, sense of the epic that lends the concept of this show a cinematic flair. And the Prince's dramatic swordfight while holding his baby daughter was EPIC. Absolutely loved it.
Likewise I was extremely impressed with Morrison's performance as Emma. Her past as a supposedly abandoned orphan, her upbringing grounded in the harsh reality of the foster care system, is going to make Henry's task to open her eyes to fairy tales-as-reality quite the tall order. Gilmore is absolutely ADORABLE as Henry. He has all the prepossession of a mini adult and all the hopefulness and simple faith of a child. It is an extraordinarily winsome combination, and its easy to see why Emma finds herself drawn to him inspite of his outlandish claims. I really look forward to seeing how their relationship develops.
This episode also gives us brief introductions to fairy tale/real world Gepetto/Marco (Tony Amendola), dwarf Grumpy/Leroy (Lee Arenberg), "psychiatrist" Jiminy Cricket/Archie (Raphael Sbarge), and the delightfully cranky Granny (Beverly Elliott) and her granddaughter Ruby (Meghan Ory). Presumably the show plans to introduce more fairy tale characters from the legends -- perhaps specifically the Disney canon, given the dwarves' names? -- throughout the show's run. My concern, if that's the right word for it, is that the constant back-and-forth between real world Storybrooke and Fairy Tale Land, where we'll get the classic characters' backstories, will get old really fast. It is not a formula that suggests it will lend itself to forward momentum narritive-wise. I am, however, open to being persuaded otherwise. :)
Some of Storybrooke's residents are not so clearly identifiable -- the adorable Sheriff Graham (Jamie Dornan), for instance. Do you think he's the Queen's Huntsman -- and therefore I can cling to the hope that he's one of the good guys? Or, given that Emma sees a wolf on the road before she wrecks her car trying to leave town, do you think there's a chance Graham is the the Big Bad Wolf? This leads to another question -- does Rumplestiltskin, a.k.a. Mr. Gold in Storybrooke, recognize Emma because he's in league with the Evil Queen? And did the Evil Queen somehow "know" that Henry was Snow White's grandson? Or was did that just end up being a coincidence? SO MANY QUESTIONS! *wink*
So, if you watched Once Upon a Time, I'd love to hear your thoughts on its premiere. Was it everything you'd hoped, and what do you hope from future episodes? I'd love to discuss theories for how this Storybrooke mess is going to play out. :)