The fairy tale battle continues. ABC’s Once Upon a Time continues to dominate in the ratings, while Grimm continues to build a more unique world, straying further from traditional Disney fairyales (which is a mythology embraced by Once Upon a Time). But is “unique” what the audiences are looking for? And is a Friday night time-slot going to eventually going to kill NBC’s spiritual successor to The X-Files?
Once Upon a Time
Once Upon a Time has been one of the most dominant shows on Sunday nights, helping ABC to hold down the label of most viewers for that night (OUaT is only second to 60 Minutes on CBS). It is doing a lot of things right but I’m (at this point) more worried for the long haul about Once Upon a Time than I am with Grimm.
I’ve expressed concerns before that Once Upon a Time has a finite lifespan. They’ve already given a “everything will be fine once ___” scenario. This limits the amount of content you can fit into the show. I’m already feeling this stretch. In the past four or five episodes, zero progress has been made to the storyline. The main character Emma arrived in town to reunite with her child. Well, now she’s just decided to become the town sheriff? Why is she staying? There are a thousand questions about things that don’t make sense.
Another issue that’s getting progressively harder to handle is the increasing amount of characters. I’m conflicted though because the episodes focusing on new characters are often the best standalone episodes but are doing zero work to move along the main story. But isn’t that a huge problem? The stories are great but the main character is the weakest character on the show. I don’t relate to Emma, I don’t understand her motivations, and the storylines she’s involved in are the least engaging ones on the show. Huge problem.
Strongest episode: The recent episode “Dreamy” focuses on the dwarf Grumpy and how he earns that name. It’s a heartbreaking story of love and loss, with a guest appearance by Angel‘s Amy Acker (who also guest-starred on Grimm the week before). This is a strong episode but I can’t even remember what Emma was doing.
Weakest episodes: Since Once Upon a Time is an ABC/Disney venture, it was clear to me at the outset that this would likely be a more Disneyfied version of fairytales, as opposed to Grimm‘s focus on the original tales. Several episodes have been so blatantly Disneyfied that it detracted from my experience. The episode “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” focuses on the genie in the bottle, who falls in love with the (not quite yet) Evil Queen. The genie had zero to do with the main story, his love interest with the Queen was unresolved and rather uninteresting, and his real-world counterpart is out of place and unnecessary. Another episode is “Skin Deep,” which takes the Beauty and the Beast story and replaces the beast with Rumplestiltskin. It had potential but the allusions to the Disney cartoon were too abundant and it just felt shoehorned in. Why is Belle even in this universe? What purpose does she / will she serve? I’m also becoming more a fan of Robert Carlyle’s Mr. Gold, as opposed to his Rumplestiltskin, who becomes quite annoying after a few minutes at a time.
Overall: I’m definitely worried about where Once Upon a Time is going. It’s definitely happy and brings back all sorts of nostalgia about your childhood memories and favorite Disney movies, but it’s not sustainable. Cramming in cameos from every Disney movie made (even the little mermaid showed up a few weeks back) makes me nervous. When is Simba going to show up? People enjoy it now but there’s nothing to keep people coming back. This has become more of an “anthology” show, where each week is a whole new story, as opposed to having a strong throughline.
Grimm is definitely a harder show for people to get into. It’s becoming progressively darker and its ratings are relatively low for a Friday night timeslot. But I have to give Grimm kudos for taking a much more creative and fresh look at fairytales. Case in point: Once Upon a Time wasted an opportunity with Hansel and Gretel by relegating them to side characters and just rehashing the same old portrayal. Grimm however modernized the tale and created a story in which human organs were harvested and ground into a powder (much grittier than the wicked old witch just eating the kids outright).
Grimm does share one fault with Once Upon a Time. Every week, Grimm introduces a new type of monster, in an effort to show how crazy and vast this whole new world is (Disney pun not intended). However, their efforts to display a vast world of monsters has also created a sense of scope that can be a little daunting. There are fairly few reoccurring characters (and they are given relatively little to do) but it’d be nice to see the blutbads have some other characters show up. They say that “x monster” is really rare, but they’ve only seen each other monster once as well, so aren’t they all equally rare? I’d love to dive into the worlds of some of these monsters on a deeper level, instead of skipping across them one week at a time.
In one of my earlier reviews, I brought up a concern that Grimm had no endgame in view, so it was hard to stay invested. Each week was so independent that there was no throughline, no character arc for our hero. It’s getting a little bit better, by diving a little deeper into the mythology and by offering up a more tangible villain (Sasha Roiz’s Captain Renard). Still… It’s getting a little better, I still wish there was an overarching story to keep us interested. Even The X-Files had the mythology episodes intertwined with “monster of the week” episodes.
Strongest episode: I liked the idea of “Last Grimm Standing,” where our detective found an underground fight club, using monsters as the fighters. I also liked “Tarantella” (also guest starring Amy Acker), which focused on the black widow myth, in a very literal way.
Weakest episode: You know, in looking at the list of episodes, I’m not struck with an obvious contender (at least from the most recent run). The weakest for me would be some of the earlier episodes like “Let Your Hair Down” and “Beeware.” The former tried to revamp the Rapunzel story but it didn’t really connect at all and the latter was just generally uninteresting.
Overall: I’m happy with where Grimm is going, though it’s going to struggle to keep its small viewership without a strong throughline. I appreciate it but it’s lacking some mainstream appeal (which Once Upon a Time has by the spades). I’d hate to see a good show get cut because of only having a cult following.
The Battle Continues: Overall
I want you to sound off in the comments below. Which show(s) do you watch? Do you prefer the bright and nostalgic Once Upon a Time or the more challenging yet original Grimm?