Tuesday, June 26, 2012

ABC's Once Upon a Time Season 1: A Review

I figured it was about time I posted something about one of my latest entertainment discoveries: ABC's television series, Once Upon a Time.
Ginnifer Goodwin and Joshua Dallas star as
Snow White and Prince Charming, respectively,
in the ABC tv drama series Once Upon a Time
  First, a little background on my experience with TV series:  I was actually never one for watching television series.  The most dedicated I have ever been to watching a tv series was in the case of HGTV's Design Star and The Next Foodnetwork Star. Since these shows aired during the summer when I have a little bit more down time, I gave myself excuse to watch them, but the school year was absolutely off limits. I didn't need another distraction from my studies! However, when I heard the premise of ABC's new TV series Once Upon a Time, I decided to give this one a chance. The premise I speak of is the idea of a "parallel universe" between the fantasy world and reality.
I first came across this idea when I first read  The Shadow of the Bear, a modern retelling of the Grimm fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red by Regina Doman. Towards the beginning of the novel, heroine Rose Brier asks,
"Have you ever felt that there was something going on in life that not everyone was aware of? ... As though there's a story going on that everyone is a part of, but not everybody knows about -- a sort of drama, a battle between what's peripheral and what's really important. As though the people you meet aren't just their plain, prosaic selves, but are actually princes and princesses, gods and goddesses, fairies, gypsies, shepherds, all sorts of fantastic creatures who've chosen to hide their real shape... Or have forgotten who they really are."
This idea fascinated me and since that day I have made it a type of hobby to identify the fairy tale character and/or species of friends and acquaintances. But to see this idea developed not just in a movie but in a TV series seemed like a fantastic idea filled with promise and entertainment.
I didn't start into the series until December 2011, so I had a few episodes to catch up on. I was hooked by the first episode, and while I have not been pleased with everything that the series has to offer, I definitely thought its faults were overshadowed by its virtues, making it a worthwhile pastime.

I am not an expert in regards to television series but I am sure that, just like any form of storytelling, elements such as relatable characters, their development, dialogue, and plot are the keys to a successful story. I thought that while the writers did an excellent job in presenting multi-faceted, relatable characters, the show fell a little short in regards to dialogue at times.
Another complaint among fellow viewers was how slow the plot seemed to progress. I did not take issue with this factor.  The plot progression may have dragged at times, but the funny thing about it was that I wasn't bored in the least! I think this was mainly because of two factors: 1) the constant switching back and forth between the real world and the fantasy world (I say "fantasy" because Wonderland comes into the show for one episode); and 2) character exposition.  These two factors are very much related, for while you are learning about the character's place and occupation in Storybrooke, in the fairy tale world you are receiving a lot of the character's backstory: past events that affect the present and that may even reveal a new perspective. So, while there may not be a lot going on in an episode, you did receive a lot of valuable information about the character.
Which brings me to one of the show's strengths: characters! The characters come across as REAL. This may have been the show's greatest strength. Many of us have grown up with these fairy tale characters: Pinocchio, Snow White, the Mad Hatter, Grumpy the Dwarf.  We know them (or at least we think we do) and love them.  This presents a challenge for the screenwriters because everyone has a preconceived image of who they are and what they are about, and no one wants to be disappointed! Fortunately, screen writers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis had character development as one of their primary focuses: "As people, you've got to see what the void in their heart or in their lives is to care about them... For us, this was as much about the character journeys and seeing what was ripped from them in coming to Storybrooke -- going at it that way as opposed to making it the 'break the curse show.'" Producer Adam Horowitz adds, "The idea is to take these characters that we all know collectively and try to find things about them that we haven't explored before. Sometimes it's a story point, sometimes it's a thematic connection, sometimes it's a dilemma they face in both worlds that is similar." One of my favorite examples of this is found in the Mad Hatter/ Jefferson and his separation from his little girl, Grace.

The Mad Hatter a.k.a. Jefferson, played by Sebastian Stan
Speaking of learning about aspects of characters that we haven't explored before, the show did have some surprises both good and bad. The show took a lot of liberties with the portrayal of the stories and characters, such as the one I mentioned above where the Mad Hatter has a daughter. I am going to be upfront here and say that, as an artist, I like creative license. I think artists do have a right to take liberties with stories : they don't have to follow the original Grimm fairy tales or the Disney adaptions. Dometimes this led to the discovery of a darker side to some of our beloved heroes and heroines, or a sympathetic side in the case of the finely acted villains, Regina a.k.a. the evil queen and Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin.
An example of the darker twists of the story was the affair between Mary Margaret and David in the real world.  This drove me nuts. I came very close to giving up the show, it was getting so bad. What bothered me the most about it was the inconsistency between David and James. There was a conflict between the Prince Charming/James of the fairy tale world and the David of the real world. James was courageous, honest, a person of integrity, while David was weak-willed. Then it occurred to me that David's behavior was also a result of the curse. Similar to Adam's fall from grace in the story of Christianity, David has fallen victim to the power of the Queen's curse. What also reconciled me with this aspect of the story was that the affair was hardly painted in a positive light. The audience sympathized with Catherine, and they certainly weren't painted as victims to the disdain of the Storybrooke community.
Hansel and Gretel alongside the evil queen a.k.a. Regina, played by Lana Parilla
We also received some sympathetic moments with Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold and the Queen/Regina. Regina is not completely evil. Her love for her adopted son, Henry, is genuine (at least it seems to be, thus far) and she is devoted to him and his safety. Though she does have her moments when you utterly despise her, and one of my favorite parts of a story are villains that you just love to hate! Rumplestiltskin,in spite of his decrepit, slimy appearance and his devious personality, had me and several other girls "aww"ing as we watched him (as a stand-in for the Beast) develop a relationship with the courageous Princess Belle. The multi-faceted portrayals of both the good and evil sides of the spectrum I think is a major part of what has made the show a success, and I am looking forward to the next season, rumored to start sometime next fall!


Elestyn said...

Hmm, I've been wanting to watch "Once Upon A Time." I wasn't sure if it was good, but I think I shall give it a try! :) Thanks for the review!

Emily Starr said...

You're welcome, Elestyn! It's definitely worth a shot!