Once Upon A Time (pilot) – review


I’m a sucker for a good fairy tale retelling – but good definitely is the operative word. I approached this pilot with both hope and trepidation, as the trailers seemed to teeter towards the realm of kitschy, but happily I found myself rather enjoying Once Upon A Time. It’s not perfect, nor shockingly original, but this pilot sets the stage for what could be a lot of fun.

As you’d expect of a show created by two Lost veterans (Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis) flashbacks and a sense of mystery pervade this episode, as Emma (Jennifer Morrison) discovers a town populated with fairy tale folk (who don’t remember they belong in fairy tales), bound to our present day world by a curse – and somehow Emma is the key to freeing them of their entrapment, or so she’s told. The story switches back and forth between Emma in the present day and full on fairy tale flashbacks, telling the story of Sleeping Beauty, the Evil Queen and how the curse came about, in full on costumed and cgi-ed glory.

I’ll admit I was downright dubious about the flashbacks going in, but while they did come perilously close to schmaltzy a time or two, overall they actually really work – which is good, as this show will continue using flashbacks throughout the season (though how on earth they’ll afford them is anyone’s guess). The creators also have promised that while the flashbacks will feature all the fairy tale heroes we know and love, they won’t just be retelling the same old stories we know so well – instead they’ll be telling the stories before, after, and around what happens in those famous tales.

I’ve always liked Jennifer Morrison, and between her and Lana Parilla (who plays the Evil Queen) this show rests comfortably on talented actors – and watching those two ladies square off is a lot of fun. The tone of the show manages a nice (if not particularly original) melding of weird small town with weird fairy tale characters, and all in all the pilot makes for a tantalizing introduction to this new playground.

Of course, as most of the pilot is spent establishing the premise, I don’t really have a good sense of what this show will be week to week – mystery? Soap? – and there are definitely some new show wobbles to be forgiven, as with any new show striving to find its footing (Jennifer Morrison saying “kid” every other line definitely got on my nerves.) I’m also a little worried about some potential Lost-ian pitfalls I can see looming on the horizon, such as the danger of the story stalling due to excessive flashbacks, and the danger of a cast that seems poised to rapidly expand past the point where the story will be able to serve them all, not to mention the potential vexation if questions are poised and never answered. I’m not entirely sure how they’re going to sustain this premise, but I sure am looking forward to watching them try.

Imperfect, yes, but still intriguing, Once Upon A Time is a show worth rooting for (and it definitely has earned a season pass on my Tivo). As it’s also the first decent fantasy premise we’ve seen on network TV in quite some time, to its creators I say, cheers. I’ll most certainly be watching.

Once Upon A Time premieres Sunday, October 23 at 8 PM on ABC.