November 17, 2011

Twice Upon a Time

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.

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