Can a show about fairytale characters in the real world keep you wishing upon a star every week? ABC is hoping you'll want to get to know Snow White and a host of fairytale characters in Once Upon a Time.
We were lucky enough to watch the pilot of Once Upon A Time in advance, and here are our early thoughts. With absolutely no spoilers, beyond what's in ABC's trailer and official synopsis. Click your heels three times, and click through to read more!
First of all, a caveat: As usual, what we've seen was an early not-for-air pilot, that was released to press people. There's a strong chance that the show will change drastically before it ever airs on television. And this is just our early gut reaction after watching the pilot — we'll be posting a proper review closer to the airdate, and of course we'll be recapping this show week to week.
Once Upon a Time hails from two Lost producers, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, with Lost's Damon Lindelof involved as well.
The rap on Once Upon a Time is that it's going to be like a television version of Fables, in which fairytale characters come to "our" world and live among us. But the actual show is nothing like Bill Willingham's great comic book, at least if the pilot is anything to go by. The concept is totally different, and the execution, also, is totally unlike Willingham's approach.
Here's how ABC is describing the show:
From the inventive minds of "Lost" executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis comes a bold new imagining of the world, where fairy tales and the modern-day are about to collide.
And they all lived happily ever after - or so everyone was led to believe. Emma Swan knows how to take care of herself. She's a 28-year-old bail bonds collector who's been on her own ever since she was abandoned as a baby. But when the son she gave up years ago finds her, everything starts to change. Henry is now 10 years old and in desperate need of Emma's help. He believes that Emma actually comes from an alternate world and is Snow White and Prince Charming's missing daughter. According to his book of fairytales, they sent her away to protect her from the Evil Queen's curse, which trapped the fairytale world forever, frozen in time, and brought them into our modern world. Of course Emma doesn't believe a word, but when she brings Henry back to Storybrooke, she finds herself drawn to this unusual boy and his strange New England town. Concerned for Henry, she decides to stay for a while, but she soon suspects that Storybrooke is more than it seems. It's a place where magic has been forgotten, but is still powerfully close... where fairytale characters are alive, even though they don't remember who they once were. The epic battle for the future of all worlds is beginning, but for good to win, Emma will have to accept her destiny and fight like hell.
"Once Upon a Time" stars Ginnifer Goodwin ("Big Love") as Snow White/Sister Mary Margaret, Jennifer Morrison ("House MD") as Emma Swan, Robert Carlyle ("The Full Monty," "Trainspotting," "SGU Stargate Universe") as Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold, Lana Parrilla as Evil Queen/Regina, Jamie Dornan as Sheriff Graham, Jared Gilmore ("Mad Men") as Henry, Josh Dallas as Prince Charming/John Doe and Raphael Sbarge as Jiminy Cricket/Archie. "Once Upon a Time" was written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, who are also executive producers, along with Steve Pearlman (ABC's "V"). The pilot is directed and executive-produced by Mark Mylod ("Entourage"). "Once Upon a Time" is from ABC Studios.
So as you can tell from the ABC synopsis, the fairytale characters living in the town of Storybrooke have forgotten who they really are. They think that they're just ordinary people living in a curious little town, and they don't seem to notice that they're "frozen in time." So in a nutshell it's another "people trapped in a small weird town" show, not unlike The Prisoner and countless other shows. Except that Once Upon a Time is pretty fun never gets too dark or weird.
The good news is, Jennifer Morrison is totally engaging as Emma Swan, the bail bonds collector who may be the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming. She has an early set piece that totally wins you over to her side, and you immediately start loving her resourcefulness and self-reliance. In fact, the cast is great in general — especially Big Love's Ginnifer Goodwin as Snow White, who totally sells you on some scenes that could look a bit silly otherwise. And Stargate Universe's Robert Carlyle looks like he'll be fascinatingly demented.
The conceit that these fairytale characters have forgotten who they really are means that Once Upon a Time finds a way to put fairytale characters in the real world without much incongruity. And long stretches of Once Upon a Time feel like they could come from any other TV show about cute schemers and lost souls in a vaguely suburban environment. And then you switch over to the events in Fairyland, which feels a bit like a Disney pastiche at times.
Once Upon a Time seems like a fun show — it has several engaging characters, who are introduced nicely in the first episode. The overarching plot of the Evil Queen's curse is pretty compelling, and there are some good interpersonal conflicts in the "real" world that could develop in an interesting way.
The two worries I have, after watching the pilot, are: 1) Will the cuts between a fairly realistic "real" world and the somewhat cartoony fairytale world get too jarring after a while? (And for that matter, will the fairytale scenes be just too ridiculous for people?) 2) How on Earth is this show going to sustain its fairly simple setup over the course of dozens of episodes?
But if the show can get past those two concerns — and both things depend a lot on the second, third and fourth episodes — then it could become a pretty fun show. Once Upon a Time has a strong enough cast that if they're given strong scripts to deal with, it ought to be a fun ride.
Bottom line: Once Upon a Time is fun and zippy show, with occasional jaunts into a somewhat Disneyfied-feeling fairytale world. The show airs Sundays at 8 PM on ABC this fall.