TV Review - Once Upon a Time

Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas
in "Once Upon a Time"
When I first saw advertising for this show and even when I began watching the first episode, I thought this might be broadcast TV's answer to Game of Thrones or perhaps a serialized version of Enchanted (2007). After watching the third episode, I see it's more like Lost, if the writers of that show's main characters were fairy tale figures.

Ginnifer Goodwin (Big Love) stars as Snow White, the actual iconic character, made iconic in 1937 by Walt Disney. This series doesn't recount the events in the Disney film. The story instead picks up after that cartoon ended with perhaps a little revisionist history thrown in for good measure.

Everybody knows about how Snow White had an evil spell cast on her, which put her in a coma, basically. A kiss from Prince Charming was the only thing to wake her. In the Disney film, this is where we're left. Once Upon a Time continues the tale. Obviously, Snow White and Prince Charming fall in love and live happily ever after. Or, do they?

Lana Parrilla (Spin City and 24) plays the Evil Queen who wants to make sure Snow White doesn't live happily ever after. Unfortunately, in fairy tales, that's how things work out. Therefore, the Evil Queen decides to take things out of the fairy tales and into the real world where more often people don't live happily ever after. It's essentially the premise of Last Action Hero (1993).

Every fairy tale character is transported into the real world. They're teleported to a town called Storybrooke where they've all assumed new identities, yet still carry the baggage of their former lives. In Storybrooke, time stands still, and all of the characters can't leave the town with one exception. One fairy tale character was able to escape before all of them were teleported.

Jennifer Morrison (House M.D. and How I Met Your Mother) stars as Emma Swan. Her fairy tale parents were able to spirit her away as a baby, sparing her from being trapped in Storybrooke. Her back story mimics Superman's, but Emma doesn't have super powers, except she can tell when people are lying, and instead of being adopted by a nice, farming couple, Emma remained in Boston's foster care system, never finding a home.

Emma grew up to be a 28-year-old woman, a bounty hunter in fact, while her family was trapped in Storybrooke, never aging, all unbeknownst to her. What reunites her with her fairy tale family is a 10-year-old boy named Henry Mills, played by Jared Gilmore (Mad Men). Henry is the only one in Storybrooke who knows about everybody's fairy tale origin because he has a book that tells him so. He's kind of like Bastian from The NeverEnding Story (1984).

What Henry learned from the book is that he's also Emma's son. Emma gave him up for adoption after having him. The woman who adopted Henry just happened to be the Mayor of Storybrooke, Regina Mills. Regina Mills is consequently the alter ego of the Evil Queen. All the fairy tale characters do have alter egos in Storybrooke. Snow White's alter ego is Mary Margaret Blanchard, Henry's schoolteacher. All the characters simply have no memory of their fairy tale lives.

Henry goes to Boston to retrieve Emma because he believes that she can stop the Evil Queen, return the memories of all the fairy tale characters and possibly return them to their homes in fairy tale land. Henry doesn't know how she does that, so while Emma bides her time figuring that out, she acquaints herself with the denizens of Storybrooke and gets to know a new person each episode.

This is how the series converges with Lost. With Lost, each episode was structured with a mystery that was happening to a group of confined people that was interspersed with flashbacks that acquainted you with one particular person of that group. The same structure is employed here with Once Upon a Time.

The fourth episode, for example, acquainted us with Ashley Boyd, played by Jessy Schram. Ashley is the alter ego of Cinderella, another iconic character realized by Disney. The flashbacks aren't just rip-offs from the animated films. There are instead riffs on the themes and new interpretations that make them relevant, interesting and fun.

The best example of this is the third episode, "Snow Falls," which pivoted around David, played by Josh Dallas. David is the alter ego of Prince Charming. We learn that he's not just the perfect savior who rides in on a horse. Sometimes, he needs saving.

Rounding out the great supporting cast is Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting and The Full Monty) who plays Mr. Gold aka Rumpelstiltskin, stage and screen, character actor Raphael Sbarge as Archie Hopper aka Jiminy Cricket, and Irish model Jamie Dornan as Sheriff Graham aka the Huntsman.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-PG.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Sundays at 8PM on ABC.


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