Monday, October 24, 2011
Once Upon a Time: Pilot
When I was in New Orleans a couple of weeks ago (seriously, I know, I know, I PROMISE I’ll write something about that soon!) I had the fortune of having lunch with the wonderful and amazing Jo Garfein, aka JOpinionated. We were talking about fall shows and what was working for us and what wasn’t, and she said to me, “Wait til you see Once Upon a Time.” It was her favourite show of the season.
I remember when the listings first came out for the fall and I saw not one but TWO new fairytale shows. I’m a sucker for anything fairytale – whether it’s academic discourse on the topic (I took children’s lit courses in university and they were among my favourite courses) or the fairytales themselves (I’ll never forget my daughter’s face the first time we read the end of Rumpelstiltskin) or reading revisionist versions of them (whether dark or parodic), or reading the original dark versions, I LOVE fairytales.
So wow, TWO of them in one season. Last night was the pilot episode of Once Upon a Time, the first of the two (I’m not sure if Grimm started in the U.S. already; it will air on Space and begins this Sunday). And I ADORED IT.
As you know, Chris Doran and I were blogging about Person of Interest. While the show seems to be getting nominally better week after week, it still feels like I’m trying too hard to find something I like about it. Watching a show shouldn’t be work. But I stuck with it because it was JJ Abrams, and aren’t we all out there searching for the next Lost?
Well, this might be closer to it than POI is. And not just because the exec producers are Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, two of the best writers on Lost. On POI, the Lost references were mostly by accident, something we’re forcing onto it (“Oh look, Michael Emerson just pulled a Benry RIGHT THERE!”) But when the clock in Storybrooke was stopped at 8:15, I knew there would be a few nods! Now, I haven’t gone back to the beginning of the episode, so perhaps there were more there that I missed, but here were the three others that I caught:
• The adopted mother’s house number is 108. You’d have to have been blind to have missed that one, since the camera holds on it.
• When Emma wakes up in jail, we have a closeup of her eye opening. If they’d opened the show like that, it would have been cheeseball, but having it happen here – and with the key character – made it a lovely homage.
• And this is my favourite catch, but I was staring at Emma’s license plate, certain that I’d see an 842 or something in there (1516?) that would be an immediate tip-off to Lost. Instead, imagine my delight when I noticed… the Geronimo Jackson bumper sticker! I’m sure someone’s got a screen cap up today, but I was squealing. SO. AWESOME.
But enough about Lost. (Pfft. Like that’ll happen.) The show on its own, minus all Lost legacies, was awesome. I’m a huge fan of Ginnifer Goodwin, and she’s the perfect person to play a storybook character. The episode opened with the story of Snow White, complete with the seven dwarfs all gathered around her glass coffin and Prince Charming swooping in on a horse to awaken her with a kiss and save the day. The story is supposed to end with a wedding, and they’re all supposed to live happily ever after.
Nope. Because the Evil Queen can’t be stopped THAT easily, and she puts a curse on them. Won’t say when it’ll hit, won’t say where, because the fun is in watching them suffer.
Meanwhile, in the “real” world, Emma Swan is a bailbondsperson who is celebrating her birthday, alone (which is how it would seem she spends every birthday) and a little boy shows up on her doorstep and proclaims himself to be the son she abandoned a decade earlier. He says his adopted mother doesn’t love him, that she just wants to have him but doesn’t care about him, and he carries a large storybook with him. He comes from the town of Storybrook Main and begs her to keep him because she’s vitally important. She doesn’t need this, and drives the kid back home. And that’s when the door opens and we see his mother is a modern-day version of the Evil Queen herself.
Back to the storybook, where Snow White is preggers and worried that the curse is going to happen at any minute, and she goes to visit Rumpelstiltskin, who demands to know the name of the child. She tells him it’s Emma – interestingly, the name of our bailbondswoman… could there be a connection?! – and he smiles his devilish smile. For Rumpelstiltskin, names are crucially important.
In the modern story we finally begin to see the equivalents of the fairytale creatures, and Henry (the little boy) tells Emma that the fairytale creatures were sent to live in our world, in Storybrooke, Maine, and that they can’t actually leave the town, but don’t remember they were ever fairytale creatures. He explains that Emma is Snow White’s daughter and that only she can break the curse, and they need her there. She thinks the boy is bonkers (it doesn’t help when his therapist walks up to talk to him in the street – the therapist is a human version of Jiminy Cricket). The fun begins for the viewer, trying to match the modern-day equivalents to the storybook alternate. Snow White is Henry’s kind schoolteacher, and volunteers at a hospital where Prince Charming is on life support in a bed. Little Red Riding Hood and her Granny run a B&B (ha!!) and Rumpelstiltskin is the guy who walks around collecting taxes on everyone in town. He apparently owns all of them – he must have gathered all their names in the other world. Geppetto is a deputy at the sheriff’s office where he laments that he always wanted a son, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Back in fairytale land, Snow White gives birth to Emma and the curse begins to fly quickly across the land, hurtling towards them in a plume of black smoke (I won’t go there on the unintentional Lost reference!) in a beautiful display of special effects. Geppetto and Pinocchio build a wooden wardrobe that will keep one person safe, and as Snow White lies in pain in bed, Prince Charming whisks the baby away and puts her into the wardrobe before he’s seemingly killed by the Evil Queen’s guardsmen. When he opens the wardrobe the baby is gone. The curse is imposed on all of them – that they will be forced to live in the worse place imaginable: our reality.
It’s a brilliant premise, filled with so many possibilities. And how excited was I to see the Tenniel drawing of Alice and the Caterpillar whoosh by as the boy was flipping the pages of his storybook. Will we discover Alice in this world? I certainly hope so.
I’m so excited about this show I can’t wait until next week. What did you think?