Better Updated Fairy Tale: Once Upon A Time vs. Grimm

Two new shows debuted on TV this month, both claiming to present new twists on fairy tales: Once Upon A Time (Sundays, ABC) and Grimm (Fridays, NBC). Didactic Pirate and The Weirdgirl decided to weigh in to see which show has potential, and which is most likely to vanquished by its Evil Fairy Step-Network.

Didactic Pirate: Ok, my beloved Weirdgirl -- you and I were both psyched to watch the debuts of two new shows that claim to put some new creepy spin action on classic fable and fairy tales. In one corner, we've got Once Upon A Time on ABC, and in the other corner we've got the way darker Grimm on NBC. I definitely found one of them more appealing, by far. How about you?

Weirdgirl: I agree, DP. I was instantly hooked by the energy and tension of Grimm. I also like the characters they're developing. I think Once Upon A Time as a show is taking more risks but to be honest, they almost lost me when they carted out the dwarves.

Didactic Pirate: I agree that any show with actual dwarves faces some real risks. Let's go back, though: both shows take place in the present, but Once Upon A Time seems to be the one that's drawing more from specific fairy tales. The premise is that a single, fairly jaded woman named Emma (Jennifer Morrison, who was on House, right?) is a bailbondsman/person who ends up going to the little town of Storybrooke, Maine, which is populated by fairy tale characters -- literally. Snow White, Prince Charming, Little Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother, Rumplestiltskin, Jiminy Cricket, etc. Except that they all have amnesia and don't know who they really are. They think they're just regular people, with regular towny jobs. Morrison's character has a connection to them, and it looks like she's going to be running around solving mysteries. Like The Case Of The Really Dangerous Spinning Wheel or something, which doesn't really create a lot of suspense for me. So that's one show. How would you describe Grimm?

Weirdgirl: You forgot that Jiminy Cricket isn't actually a cricket anymore, he's a man. That had to be painful

Grimm follows the tried and true path of monster-hunting stories. Think Buffy, Van Helsing, Supernatural. Detective Nick (David Giuntoli) has been seeing things and when his aging auntie shows up out of the blue it turns out -- shocker -- he's descended from a long line of "Grimms." Grimms can see all the big bad wolves, trolls, et al, that are hiding among humanity and they've been profiling them for years in a big book of monsters. As Nick's aunt suffers failing health, he inherits her Grimm ability of sight and the family heritage of hunting the bad ones down. The twist is he's already a police detective so he should be pretty good at it, and that sort of legitimizes him running around shooting random people in the head. Oh wait, that's zombies.

Didactic Pirate: I think all shows could use more zombies.. but yeah, Grimm does sound like it's going to be more your basic monster-hunter adventure story. I liked Grimm's pilot, which in addition to setting up the whole premise of Nick's backstory, had Nick looking for a Big Bad Wolf in human clothing; a wolf who likes to kidnap women in red hoodies. Heh. Dorky, but amusing. But I think if Grimm is going to make it, it'll need to get a lot darker. I mean, the best part of fairy tales is always the shadowy side of its monsters and villains. If Grimm can capitalize on that, I'll keep watching.

Once Upon A Time, on the other hand, already feels very Disney to me. (It's on ABC, after all) So far on that show, we've learned that long ago, Snow White's Wicked Stepmother decided to take all the residents of whatever magical kingdom they all lived in, and magically banish them to Maine, apparently. Morrison's character is actually Snow White's daughter. But since the two look pretty much the exact same age, that little truth won't be coming out for a while, probably. I like Morrison as the one normal chick in a little town of weirdos with secrets, but I just can't see it sustaining itself past about six episodes. You?

Weirdgirl: I definitely think Grimm has more long-term staying power, plot-wise. They've created an open-ended alternate reality that could go in a lot of directions. Once Upon A Time might paint themselves into a corner with their premise; everything revolves around breaking the witch's curse so once you do that, where do you go? Once might turn out to be a nice family miniseries, something to curl up with over the winter. It does feel very Disney and unless they want to mine some emotinoal depths quickly (which are potentially there with the abandonment/adoption issues and themes of sacrifice/happy endings) I think it'll stay that way. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

However, may I add: I don't care how wicked you are, who in their right mind leaves a place with fabulous dresses to go to Maine and wear business suits? I'm referring to the Wicked Stepmother character, who's responsible for the curse that lifted up the whole batch of magic folk and dumped them in suburbia, including herself. That's just crazy. And I'm really not feeling Ginnifer Goodwin's (Snow White's) short hair. Although I do find it interesting that you can't tell if even the wicked witch remembers where she came from. What do you think?

Didactic Pirate: You're such a girl. But I do agree that Ginnifer's crew cut is bizarre. She does look very Snow White-like in the flashbacks though. And speaking of, I like the idea that they'll be moving back and forth in future episodes, between the characters' lives in the fairy tale realm, and their new lives in Maine. That's actually pretty ambitious, and the show deserves kudos for that. I'm still with you, though. They need to tighten up the writing and really establish a plan to explore the deeper psychological twists and turns that are present in classic fairy tales. If they did that, made the show less tidy, I think it could still be something interesting. After all, there's no shortage of characters to play with. Cinderella as the town's best cleaning woman? The Little Mermaid as the high school swim coach?

Weirdgirl: Ha! That changes the stereotype of female gym teachers! You know, it would be pretty interesting if someone used the same idea, a town full of trapped fairy tale characters, and took it woards the quirky, creepy town scenario, like Twin Peaks. That would be a greaet medium to really explore the darker side of myths. but as it is, I think we're in agreement: Grimm is stronger out of the gate, but we're both intrigued to see if Once will pull it out or stay the safe and slightly schmaltzy path. I was also pretty impressed with the CGI Once Upon A Time is putting into the flashbacks and effects. I hope the bigger budget doesn't kill the show before it works out its kinks. Grimm's CGI so far is equally impressive and a bit more gruesome. It's a nice foil for our bewildered but dedicated protagonist.

Didactic Pirate: Fairy tales meet Twin Peaks! Now that's a show I can get on board with. Sounds like we both have the same verdict: of the two shows, Grimm is spookier, better plotted, and more likely to sustain our interest and build into something engaging. Meanwhile, Once Upon A Time has an uphill climb ahead if it's going to fulfill its decent potential. And neither of us like Ginnifer Goodwin's hair. Final thoughts?

Weirdgirl: I think you've said it all, my dear DP! I'll keep watching both; see where they go. For quality control purposes, you understand, not because I'm a sucker for anything supernatural, or with magic, or, um, monsters. No, not me!

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