If current trends continue, then by 2030, 90% of the films and television programmes in production will include at least one vampire. And those that don’t will definitely feature a werewolf or two. In the wave of undead popular culture, it seems that we’ve forgotten our fantasy origins, but with Grimm debuting on WATCH earlier this year, good-old fashioned fairy-tales made a welcome return. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Rumpelstiltskin will be making a more mainstream come-back on Sunday though, as ABC’s popular family drama Once Upon A Time debuts on Channel 5.
With two Lost producers at the helm, it’s no surprise to hear that this series will be a little bit more subversive than your average Pixar offering. While it remains a mainstream family show, the central theme of parallel universes will probably be lost on very young kids, which along with a slight edge, might explain why the show is going out at 8pm.
Sunday’s pilot starts with bails bond collector Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) being re-united with her ten year-old son whom she gave away at birth. He implores her to return to his town of Storybrooke, which has an evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) for a mayor. It turns out that this sleepy Maine community is a remnant of the magic land (imagine a real-life ‘Far Away’ from Shrek) in which Swan’s parents, Snow White (a rather wooden Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) lived, before sending her away to break said Evil Queen’s curse, an event that none of them remember. These fantasy couple also have concurrent lives in Storybrooke and if you remember nothing else from this opening episode, the visage of Goodwin’s unspeakably poor contemporary haircut will stay with you. It’s possibly the most evil thing in the whole show and that’s no insult to the Evil Queen. Just wait..
As you may have guessed, it’s nothing if not busy and although at times, different fairy tales and the two worlds can clash somewhat, this opening episode does what every pilot in a show of this nature should; it asks more questions than it answers.
“The pilot is very deceptively, In some ways, the template for what the series will be,” co-creator/executive producer Adam Horowitz told Collider. “The question we got from everyone, including the network, when we wrote the pilot and produced it was, ‘Well, where does the series go?’ The idea is that, yes, we’re going to go back and forth between worlds, but exploring these characters and the mysteries of what makes them who they are is where the show will go. At its heart, it will be a character show, and the mysteries will be characters mysteries.”
The whole thing is undeniably American, although in line with the recent fashion, there are a couple of Brits doing passable American accents. Robert Carlyle is a good fit as Rumpelstiltskin and doubles up as Storybrooke’s overlord Mr Gold in the real-world, while young Northern Irish actor Jamie Dornan gets a quick scene as Sheriff Graham. Apparently he’ll be doubling up as ‘The Huntsman’ in future episodes.
Of course this isn’t the first time that these Happy Ending fables have appeared on our TV screens and some viewers may remember the BBC roling out a series of modern retellings in January 2008, but rather than a stand-alone set of dramas, this is an ambitious serial which has been favourably received in the US. The show has even been praised by feminist groups who note that unlike their traditional counterparts, the female characters are strong and independent who value truth and relationships over simply ‘finding a man’. After all ‘Damsels in Distress’ are so last century..
ONCE UPON A TIME Begins on Sunday 1st April, on Channel 5 at 8pm