Monday, October 31, 2011

Pilot Review: Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time (Sundays at 8:00 on ABC)

I'll be straight up right off the bat: I really disliked this pilot. I know I'm in the minority on this one, but nothing about the first episode of Once Upon a Time made me care about anything: the story, the characters, the future, anything.

Once Upon a Time tells two stories: one set in a fairytale land years ago where the classic characters are real and attempting to overthrow the Evil Queen, the other set in present-day Maine where the inhabitants of a town called Storybrooke are actually living reincarnations of their fairy tale counterparts. It's not as hard to follow as it sounds, but that's because in the first episode not much actually happens. Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin, Big Love) is awakened by a kiss from Prince Charming (Josh Dallas, Thor) in the episode's opening moments, but soon the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla, Spin City) threatens to destroy them all by stealing their happy endings. In the present, a young boy locates a woman named Emma (Jennifer Morrison, House), his birth mother who gave him up for adoption many years ago, and convinces her that she is the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, sent here to save their happy endings.

The story doesn't make much sense (yet), and much of its charm comes from the happy feeling of seeing so many beloved characters brought to life. It's fun to pick out the clues and connections to the present-day characters' fairy tale counterparts, such as Jiminy Cricket now being a therapist, but most of the fun ends there for me. The special effects are horribly rendered, paritcularly in the fairy tale setting; I'm not sure if they were going for a semi-animated look or if everything was just done really cheaply, but the very obvious green screen effects come across as garish. The wedding scene in the first few minutes looks like a technicolor nightmare where nothing seems tangible, everything looking very obviously CGI. The rendering of Tinkerbell is absolutely horrid, and the Queen's appear/disappear in a cloud of black smoke trick looks especially hokey; the performance from Lana Parrilla is also awkward: not so over-the-top as one would imagine, but not as subdued as those from Goodwin and Dallas. The performances in present-day fare a bit better, with Morrison coming across as the most genuine.

The script, from longtime Lost collaborators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, is pretty messy. There's a very clear idea set forth in this opening episode, but not much of a clue as to what lies ahead. We already know that the fairy tale characters are banished to a horrible place with no happiness, and that's why we have Storybrooke. Emma decides to stay in Storybrooke rather than return to her life in the city, but it's never made clear (or even hinted at, really) why. But at the same time, I'm not sure I even care. Despite a decent performance from Morrison, Emma is a boring character. And the fairy tale scenes are basically a retelling of the thousand fairy tale-based movies we've seen over the years. And there's no real twist or cliffhanger to get me intrigued about what will come in future episodes. So why should I be watching this show?

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