once upon a time promo shot

Once Upon a Time

There’s been some buzz lately about these “real fairy tales” + “dark and edgy” shows that are popping up. “Once Upon a Time” is ABC’s entry. “Grimm” is NBC’s, which has something to do with a detective. It’s a natural evolution of “Twilight” and its spin-offs like “The Vampire Diaries” and “Supernatural”, all of which evolved from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, which evolved from “Interview with the Vampire” and so on. Plus non-serial works like “The Brothers Grimm”, “Shrek”, “Wicked”, “Tin Man”, and “The 10th Kingdom”.

I saw the free-to-watch pilot of “Once Upon a Time” on IMDB a few days ago. I haven’t watched a real show meant for a real channel for some time — I’ve been catching up with stuff on Netflix like South Park and Doctor Who.

And I’ve got to say, I’m not impressed. The writing is dull, melodramatic, and predictable. If you’re going to do a “fairy tales are real” trope, you’ve got to bring something better and newer to the table than “Once Upon a Time” does. Like “Fables” or anything by Neil Gaiman or even Harry Potter. There are hundreds of books about “what if fairy tale creatures were real”. IO9 did a much better job recapping than I can, but I’ll give it a spin because this show gets my goat.

The plot switches back and forth between fairy tale world and the real world. This makes me wonder about the quality of writing. First, it’s predictable. Second, it takes so long to get through the events. Third, what events there are pedantic talking. It takes an hour to tell us what we already know — something’s taken fairy tale creatures and put them into real world equivalents.

Also, apparently, everyone lives in the same universe — Geppetto, Snow White, Rumplestiltzkin, some blue fairy. And they all know each other. Can’t imagine what that system of government must be like. There’s got to be a dozen queens, four dozen princes with the last name “Charming”, and I don’t want to even think about the princesses.

I think the biggest problem is that the characters are unlikeable. In the real world, our main character is Emma, a female bounty hunter. Isn’t that done to death? No bounty hunters look like that–didn’t you see “Dog”? In her first scene, she goes on a date with a guy she’s trying to collar, then has the world’s loneliest birthday party with a single cupcake and a candle.

And the world’s smallest violin plays.

I guess she has some “super-power” where she can tell if someone’s lying. She clearly hasn’t earned this power. She doesn’t use it in a plausible way (like earning millions in business deals). She has no friends and we don’t know why. The only answer must be that she’s cold and heartless, just waiting for something to warm her up, like family or the right man.  Never seen that before.

And in fact, all the women are either uptight, cold career bitch (like the Evil Queen/Mayor, Emma, or Little Red Riding Hood who’s now a slut) or a free-spirited artist/nurturer (like the kid’s teacher/Snow White who talks to birds). Plus all they all look alike. They all have round faces, big eyes, and straight brown hair.  I can’t tell them apart.

Like this

I have no one to sympathize or identify with. No one has any weaknesses or quirks. Everyone is a bland stereotype or a douchebag. (In the near future, I’ll talk more about the necessity of likable characters).  This must be aimed exclusively at a female audience, because except for the kid, I can’t remember any males who talk to each other. It fails the Reverse Bechdel Test.

Does he look generic enough for you?

Even worse is the whiny kid. Emma is his birth mother, and he falls into the age old trope that he’s come to find her and intelligently manipulates the adults to help him. He whines about how he doesn’t want her to leave, he whines about how his adoptive mother is mean, he whines about how there’s some secret in the town, he whines about his big book of fairy tales that’s supposed to be this show’s codex. I hope he gets killed off, cause he brings nothing to the story.

Plus, I already know everything. I know the main character is the baby that was “saved” by being sent to the real world before the curse. I know that the girl who wraps her head in a red scarf is Little Red Riding Hood. Could they be any more obvious? She lives in a hotel called “Grandma’s Place”. They’re trying to include bonus “Easter eggs” with these little references, but all I’m doing is yawning. This sort of thing I’d expect to see on Nickelodeon or ABC Family.

So in conclusion, I don’t think I’ll be picking up on this series. Seen it all before, and it’s going to take too long to get into anything interesting. If I need a fairy tale fix, there’s plenty of books and comic books out there I need to catch up on.

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at http://www.ericjuneaubooks.com where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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