Fairy Tale Smackdown – Who wins: ONCE UPON A TIME or GRIMM?

When I went to San Diego Comic Con 2011 (FTW!!) this year, I was inundated with posters and cos-players and flashing lights (OH MY!); nestled in with all the every-stuff were blasts about a show. Well, I thought it was ONE show; turns out, it was TWO!!  After seeing poster after poster, and talking about what others had seen I was able to make the distinction; NBC and ABC had the same show concept advertised….ruh roh!! This could get ugly, fast!

In order to assist you, my fellow rabid watchers; I’ll try to break down both shows to their meatiest elements so that you may make an informed decision as to the worthiness of each show to your DVRs.  Let us begin!

The first to premiere is ONCE UPON A TIME – ABC (premiering Sunday, October 23, at 8/7c).  The cast has heavy hitters: Scottish actor Robert Carlyle, cable network darling Ginnifer Goodwin, former HOUSE co-star Jennifer Morrison, television veteran Raphael Sbarge; all have loads of talent and years of character work and while the pilot may be a bit dull, their talents don’t go to waste.  Set in a very, very small town called Storybrook, Maine (yeah…I know, they even make a sarcastic joke about it too), the story presupposes that the characters from our beloved childhood stories have all been whisked away to “our” world which is “their nightmare” by a spell cast by the Evil Queen, played by Lana Parrilla who is, let’s face it, drop dead gorgeous! The spell put upon the town also insures that they have a wicked case of amnesia. In other words, they haven’t the foggiest that they are, in fact, Snow White, Prince Charming, Rumplestiltskin, Red Ridinghood complete with Grandma and Wolf, Jiminy Cricket, and the Seven Dwarfs, just to name a few.

As with any fairy tale, there are good guys and bad guys. There are a few muddy good guys and a few shiny bad guys. But the story remains predictable. Well told, but predictable.

The show bounces back and forth between what I call Fairytale Time or FT and Real World Time or RWT; showing both times has advantages and disadvantages. Naturally the costuming and special effects in FT are lovely, without tons of glitter and cleanliness there’s a real sense of the olde (yes, olde with an E) without the sugar coating. Yes, everyone for the most part has clean teeth and nails, but there’s still the sense of rustic that I enjoy when it comes to Fairytales being reenacted. In RWT, everything is, well…a bit boring and awkward. It’s normal. There’s no magic, per se. However, I believe that may be the point.  The sweeping camera pans from FT time make watching anything in RWT annoying. I found myself wishing they would go back to FT faster, but that’s just me. I would go ahead and say, stick around for 3 episodes.  If ONCE UPON A TIME doesn’t pull you in, then banish it forever!

Now, GRIMM – NBC (premiering Friday, October 28, at 9/8c after the final season premiere of CHUCK): while the basic premise is again, Fairytales, this show is very, very different than the aforementioned! Think more, LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL STORY UNIT; meaning there’s a lot more action and suspense and twisty darkness! The setting is Portland, whether it’s Oregon or Maine has yet to be determined by me; however I’m leaning towards Oregon from the lushness of the forests everyone keeps traipsing through. Our hero is Nick Burckhardt (played by the well-coiffed former ROAD RULES-er David Giuntoli), a police detective who quite unexpectedly starts seeing really, really creepy monsters-dressed-as-people. The CGI was impressive to me; I had a few “blech!” moments for sure. Of course, Nick has a partner, Detective Griffin (played by Russell Hornsby). Hornsby is a terrific “Rational Straight Man” to the seemingly insane revelations of Giuntoli’s character. (I found myself muttering over and over, “Oh please don’t kill him! Please don’t kill him!” every time Det. Griffin would get into the teeniest amount of danger). The two play well off each other and they don’t seem forced at all which is really good to feel especially when watching a pilot.

Naturally, the real reason Burckhardt is seeing “things” is because his dying Aunt Marie (Kate Burton is terrific in this!) has suddenly made a visit. Aunt Marie travels around in a truck and trailer, walks with a cane, holds a dangerous family secret and frankly, kicks some serious ass!

In supporting cast, this show has my heart! I’ve had a mad crush on Sasha Roiz since I first saw him on SYFY’s ill-fated prequel series, CAPRICA. Roiz is a fiercely underrated as an actor; he’s well suited for the role of Captain Renard, Detectives Burckhardt and Griffin’s superior. He’s got a commanding presence compounded with a soothing quality that I just can’t put my finger on; Roiz is definitely a reason to watch!  In the interest of full disclosure: I was able to meet Sasha Roiz at SDCC 2011 and he’s well spoken – in 3 languages!! – and incredibly gracious and well *sigh* he’s soooo handsome! ….sorry, swooned off there a moment, moving on!

Instead of a split world, GRIM M shows us a world where disguised Fairytale creatures/people co-mingle with regular folk, allowing them to commit heinous crimes and *poof* seemingly disappear, leaving authorities dumbfounded and cold cases piling up. It’s up to our Detectives to suss out the good from the bad, because in this world, there are always shades of gray to contend with!

I’m hoping that GRIMM will be a back-to-back episode premiere, so as to catch the audience firmly, though with the airing barely a week away, I’m starting to think it won’t. [Amrie confirms: nope, just one episode and a LOT going on] When I watched the pilot I actually wrote down “All over the road”, because there were so many jump-worthy moments, it sometimes felt hard to follow. I have very high hopes for it. The content is stellar; it’s just time for delivery.

Well there you have it! Two similar concepts, two different plots, two shows packed with tremendous potential! I hope both get a decent audience and are able to have full season runs at the very least. I don’t plan on deciding between either of them, I’m on board with both! I love the romance, fantasy and hope of ONCE UPON A TIME, and I love the grit, intrigue and action of GRIMM. I think there’s something there in each that viewers can love. I’ll definitely be watching, will you? [Amrie’s note: I couldn’t stomach ONCE UPON A TIME.  Couldn’t make it through a second viewing, in fact, but I really liked GRIMM!]