It's hard to know what to think about ABC's Once Upon a Time, because even though I want to like the show, the first few chapters of the story have just missed the mark for me.
The conceit of the program is that fairy tales are "real" and that the Evil Queen has put a curse upon all the characters that we know and love from the bedtime stories of our youth (Snow White, Cinderella, Jiminy Cricket, etc.). The curse has sent them into "our world" where they are forever stuck in a sad state of limbo, and where none of them have any happy endings -- except of course for the Evil Queen, now the mayor of Storybrooke.
Enter "Emma" into the tale, who we learn during flashbacks to pre-curse fairy-tale time, is (unbeknownst to her) actually the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming. Her own son (put up for adoption years ago and not-so-coincidentally now living with his own wicked stepmother -- the mayor) knows the "truth" and tracks Emma down to help rid the town of the curse.
She is skeptical at first, as any normal person would be, but feels compelled to stick around and help her son battle his delusions as well as his oppressive adoptive mother.
And herein lies the problem with the show... half of each episode is spent in flashback, revealing to us the "true history" of these characters, with fresh spins on the classic tales, such as where Rumpelstiltskin (above) kills Cinderella's fairy godmother in order to take advantage of the naive girl. The rest of each week's hour shows us how these characters' modern-day plights mirror that of their backstory, all the while Emma slowly begins to buy into her son's fantasy.
Now it would have been far more interesting for us to be left in doubt as to whether or not this is indeed a delusion, but that's not how the show decided to play it. Unless the writers are outright lying to us, these are fairy-tale characters. As such, we're left with an interesting world of differently-spun fairy tales combined with a completely separate and somewhat intriguing "soap opera" world of Storybrooke, neither of which have any real stakes involved unless and until the characters themselves all "remember" who they really are...
Individually, there's a lot of fun ideas being bandied about in both worlds, but in trying to construct a bridge between the two, I'm afraid I'm left unsatisfied. Something just isn't "right" with the balance here. I guess maybe that makes me one of the three bears? If so, Goldilocks can't arrive soon enough to shake me out of my doldrums.
Prepare to be amazed? No, I don't reckon I will...
Imagine if you will a reality show competition where, each week, the judges are to eliminate the contestant whose efforts are the least impressive, until only one true champion remains.
Actually, it's not hard to imagine, as these shows are all over the television dial. But what makes The One from Australia an impossible pill to swallow is that none of the contestants actually demonstrate any talent at all in what they're supposed to be talented in.
You see, The One is the search for Australia's Top Psychic, and we're told that the smiling faces in the photo above were chosen for being the best of the best out of hundreds and hundreds of applicants to the program. Now I'm not going to waste time thinking too hard about that last sentence, but how this show actually manages to keep a straight face is beyond me. It's a train wreck!
Through the first three episodes, the contestants have faced some daunting challenges indeed:
They were stranded in a forest setting and given 15 minutes to find the rescue helicopter waiting for them a short distance away. (A few did, but most just wandered in circles until time expired.)
They were sent to an apartment and asked to identify the why/how/where of a murder that had taken place inside some time ago. (Many guessed that it was a lover's tiff, but even the few who correctly hinted at a possible strangulation also threw out stabbing and gunshots as the cause of death.)
They were asked to study four volunteers and diagnose their "medical maladies." (Rather than actually saying, "You've got a fake leg!" or "You're pregnant!" they spoke in vague generalities like, "You've got a scar or something in the lower part of your body...yes?" and "I see something with the stomach area?")
It's akin to if you had turned on the first episode of the new season of Top Chef and watched as six of the ten cooks burned the dish beyond recognition, two placed inedible meals in front of Padma and Tom, and the remaining two served up some toast. There's no way you, as a viewer, would be able to, shall we say, "stomach" such a showing.
I see dead people!
Of course you do... you're in a cemetery!
Which brings us to the judges: Stacey Demarco, a "respected spiritual practitioner" (whatever that means) and skeptic Richard Saunders, who fights in vain to put some sort of rational spin on the events taking place. It's frustrating, because it is clear that both the editors, as well as the host of the show, are keen to dismiss Saunders as the silly one for not believing.
When a psychic misses and Demarco is asked what she thinks went wrong, it's always couched in terms of "nerves" or "doubting her own abilities" and the host nods and agrees that these are difficult tasks indeed. When Saunders is asked the same question and dares to suggest that maybe the reason that the contestant "misread the energy" in the room is that there is no "energy" there, he's met with eye rolls and mocking tones. "What ever will it take to convince you, Richard?"
I invite you to take a look for yourself here, but my psychic prediction? You won't need to "brace yourself for the impossible" as the show suggests you do before watching. You'll simply be shaking your head in disappointment and disbelief.