TV Talk: ONCE UPON A TIME 1-2 “The Thing You Love Most” and GRIMM 1-1 “Pilot”

ONCE UPON A TIME is not improving. The GRIMM pilot is decidedly better; so why does Meredith find herself preferring the delicious idiocy of ONCE?

So last week I kind of hated the pilot of ABC’s Once Upon A Time. You can read about that here. This week we have the second episode, titled “The Thing You Love Most,” along with the pilot of NBC’s Grimm. From now on we’ll be writing about the two shows in conjunction because we’re interested in how they’ll hold up against one another–two modern takes on fairy tale lore airing during prime time on the two biggest cable networks.

Let’s take Once Upon A Time first, shall we? This show is so terrible, you guys! The CGI is offensive and the dialogue is wretched. This week we had TWO “You have no idea what I’m capable of”s, which coupled with last week’s “You have no idea of what she’s capable” is downright ludicrous. The kid grows ever more precocious with his Project Cobra and “need to know basis” speak. I’d rather thought that the fairy tale flashbacks were limited to the pilot, but it looks like we’ll be treated to overwrought, badly designed scenes from the fairy tale world in every episode. That makes me happy, because those scenes are so bad they’re charming, and something inside of me cannot be displeased when I see True Blood‘s PAM!PAM!PAM! decked out as Maleficent, my all-time favorite villain–leaving aside the fact that the scene in question was corny to a gruesome degree. MalefiPam has a unicorn pony as a pet! There is nothing about that that’s not delightful. The CGI was even worse in this episode, and that sort of makes me happy, too. It just looks so bad that I love looking at it, if you get me. It’s visually interesting because it looks so crazy wrong.

I mean, one thing I can say for Once Upon A Time is that it’s not boring. So much happens in each episode, and all of the nervous action is swathed in candy-coated colors and hideous special effects and miles-long false eyelashes, and I just find it all compelling, somehow. Even though I hated the pilot, I was sort of bummed when it was over. And so I examined my feelings as I watched “The Thing You Love Most” and found that I was enjoying myself despite the fact that Once Upon A Time is an inarguably crappy television show. I mean, this episode opened with a Cat Stevens music montage of, like, people waking up in Storybrooke. That’s just about as bad as it gets.

This show has an appallingly antiquated presentation of adoption. Regina (the once evil queen) does seem to possibly love Henry, or to at least care that he’s alive. The first bit of dialogue in this ep includes his casually telling her that she’s not his mother when she’s exhibiting concern for his well-being. Shut up, you precocious little brat! That is so rude! Emma’s deciding to stay in Storybrooke because she wants to look out for Henry is illegal, is it not? She asked for a closed adoption and now she’s refusing to leave the family alone. It’s hard to not side with Regina under those circumstances, her evil queeniness notwithstanding. “The Thing You Love Most” gave the audience some reasons to feel sympathetic toward Regina, and I like that. She is literally a Disney villain, so I can’t help but be impressed that they managed to sneak some subtleties into her. She just wants to be happy, Snow White destroyed her chance at true love (one can assume they’re talking about the huntsman, right?), she damned herself in order to exact the curse because she cannot surrender her all-consuming desire for revenge. It’s engrossing, thanks in large part to Lana Parilla’s performance.

I also really like Jennifer Morrison as Emma; this show is so sugary that her brash stomping around and skeptical peering at everyone is refreshing. Even the fact that she interrogates Henry’s therapist with no rights to that information, answers the door without pants and chops down Regina’s apple tree in a fit of insanity are signs of a somewhat charmingly unhinged personality.  The sheriff is rather hot and likable and Ginnifer Goodwin exhibited signs of an actual personality this week. I cannot get over how annoying Robert Carlyle is as Rumpelstiltskin, though. Those scenes make my skin crawl. But all in all, the second episode of this terrible show was rather fun to watch, and if I can be honest with myself about the pilot despite its overabundance of absurdity, it was pretty fun, too.

Which brings us to Grimm. The NBC show offers a more grounded demonstration of fairy tale lore. Portland Detective Nick Burckhardt (an unsettlingly handsome David Giuntoli) is on the trail of a killer who slaughters girls wearing red hoodies. Nick starts seeing weird things when he looks at certain people–their faces morph into hideous beast visages. Nick’s cancer-stricken adopted mother Marie (Kate Burton) arrives out of nowhere and starts to tell Nick that he is from a long line of Grimms who are somehow responsible for keeping the balance between mythical creatures and humanity. But Marie is attacked and falls into a coma before she can tell him more. Nick meets a reformed big bad wolf named Eddie and captures the killer with Eddie’s help and with the help of Nick’s partner Hank (Russell Hornsby). The episode closes with the revelation that Nick’s captain on the force has some sort of nefarious plot going.

That’s all that happens. And I know my complaint about the Once Upon A Time pilot is that far too much happens, but I’m starting to think I prefer that to the stolid plodding along of Grimm. You could say I’m just never happy–except that an appropriately paced television show makes me happy. Grimm is never offensive; it’s shot well, the performances are solid, the dialogue is never cringe-worthy. But it’s pretty boring; it feels like the mythology will be neatly explained in the next episode or two (Marie woke up from her coma in the last moment of the episode), and the rest of the show will consist solely of typical procedural drama patterns with a supernatural twist. Every episode will deliver a new monster; Nick will solve the case by the end of the hour. There will be some conflict with his girlfriend because she doesn’t know the whole story, he’ll obviously get some flack from the force and learn more about his biological parents, but I don’t see a lot of deeper narrative happening on this show.

I could be wrong, and I certainly didn’t hate the pilot. Silas Weir Mitchell as Eddie in particular is wonderfully fun and entertaining in his few scenes. He has a lovely, quirky delivery and I’m definitely anticipating seeing more of him. Still, I just don’t have much to say about Grimm. The pilot was fine, well-produced, rarely ridiculous. So why is it that I seem to be preferring Once Upon A Time, a show with inferior production values, writing and performances? I can’t answer that question. Maybe you guys can help in the comments.

Henri, Devin, what do you think? Better to be a somewhat boring but adequately presented show, or a balls-out preposterous, hilariously stupid show?

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