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?


The Question Mark said...

I thought it was a great pilot!

When I first heard news about this show a little over a year ago, I was simultaneously excited & devastated: I've had plans brewing for a while for a novel I want to write that has to do with fairy tale elements injected into very disturbing real-world scenarios, and I thought these guys had beaten me to the punch!

But I was massively relieved when I watched the show last night. It was very different from what I'd cooked up, and it was splendidly entertaining, too!

For me, Fringe is the new LOST, hands down. But Once Upon A Time might cement itself on that list too, given time and more immersion in this world. I can't wait to see what Kitsis & Horowitz have up their sleeves!

@ NIKKI: in regards to Alice: I noticed in Granny's bed & brekfast that there was a playing card logo sitting idly on Granny's desk. it was a heart, too. So Alice & the Queen can't be far behind now :)

Oh, and Jiminy Cricket rocks! Anyone familiar with the "Mass Effect" and "Star Wars: KOTOR" games will recognize Raphael Sbarge, the awesome voice actor playing him. Nice to finally get to see his face!

Ashlie Hawkins said...

I loooved it! I thought it was so creative and well done, I can't wait to see where they go with it! And I hope you keep blogging about it! (Although, I think it's Storybrooke, Maine - not Storybrooke Main)

Colleen/redeem147 said...

I gave up after twenty minutes. The queen was waaaay too annoying. The fairy tale elements were not my thing.

Did you ever read Fables? Oddly, there was supposed to be a Fables pilot, then it was cancelled, and this showed up.

Fables is awesome. Fables.

I'm glad Cameron from House got work though.

Gillian Whitfield said...

Since I'm a sucker for fairy tales (Beauty and the Beast makes me cry. Every single time I watch it), this show is right up my alley. I really enjoyed the Pilot of Once Upon a Time and I think that it's going to be a great show. I'm a fan of Jennifer Morrison from her House days, and I'm glad that she's in a starring role. Ginnifer Goodwin is excellent, too.

I agree with you on POI, Nikki. With POI, I don't have that, "Oh, my gosh, this is totally awesome" feeling that I had with Lost. It's a good show, but it feels forced somehow (but NOTHING will hinder my love for Michael Emerson). I think it's gotten better, but it's still a bit clunky. With Once Upon a Time, right off the bat, it was natural and fluid.

I didn't notice the Geronimo Jackson bumper sticker, but I think I noticed everything else.

I can't wait for next week's episode!

Lisa(until further notice) said...

I've always adored the name Henry for little boys.

It was so bittersweet when Snow White was trying to kiss Prince Charming to "awaken" him after he was stabbed. Let's hope he awakens in Storybrooke.

I love that it takes place in Maine. We lived there for 6 years and my son was born there. Such a perfectly magical setting for tall tales and rich stories ala Stephen King.

Beautiful cinematography.

My daughter loved the show and commented on how good it was, but that it was so very sad that none of these people remember who they really or where they're from.

Yay for a new family show.

Christina B said...

I loved it. So much more than I thought I would.
I, too, am a sucker for anything fairy tale, so this (and Grimm) was right up my alley.

I thought the flashbacks were beautiful, Robert Carlisle was brilliant as Rumpelstiltskin, and 'Grumpy' whistling 'Whistle While You Work' in his cell was hilarious.

Best premiere of the season and I can't wait for next week!

Fred said...

Overall I'm pretty happy with the pilot, compared with my disappointment with POI's pilot. My only complaint about the piklot was I wish they had shot it better than they did. We've been spoiled since Harry Potter that I wished they could have set the tone a lot more through the cinematography than just striaghtforward story telling. But beyond this minor complaint I can't fault the show too much. Here's hoping where POI failed (and I've given up on watching that) Once Upon a Time will succeed.

Austin Gorton said...

I was pretty impressed with the pilot too...I particularly appreciated the restraint: I was expecting an Evil Queen/Emma "I'm one who will destroy you!" showdown by the end of the first episode, but in true Lost fashion, it seems like the show is taking the long view, which is nice. More room to breath, more room to develop, more room for fun fairy tale cameos.

The effects work/cinematography was pretty hit or miss. I thought the opening swoop in on Prince Charming riding up to Snow was gorgeous, but then later scenes in Fairy Tale Land looked like something out of a bad SyFy or syndicated fantasy show. Given the TV budget, the latter is probably what we can expect, but as long as the character work and plots are decent, I can handle weak effects.

What was Ginnifer Goodwin in that made everyone fall in love with her? I keep reading about people talking about how much they love her, and other than a few rom coms I know she was in, she's just the cool who spells "Jennifer" wrong to me...(I thought she was good enough as Snow White, but EVERYONE seems to have come into this show loving her already).

Oh, and much has been made of comparing this show to Fables and bemoaning its presence in light of a straight-up adaptation of the comic, but as a Fables reader from issue #1, I honestly don't think a TV adaptation would work (certainly not on network TV). Like Nikki, I love fairy tale stories in any form, so another Fables-esque show is okay in my book.

Nikki Stafford said...

How do I NOT know about Fables?! Thank you, Colleen and Teebore. A new graphic novel to add to my list, and I can't wait!

Austin Gorton said...

@Nikki: A new graphic novel to add to my list, and I can't wait!

Excellent! I'm sure you'll love it, given your appreciation for fairy tales in all their varied forms (I had just sort of assumed you'd read it already, otherwise I'd have been bugging you about it before. ;) ).

I will caution you though that the first couple volumes can be a little bumpy/hard to get into it, but by volume three or four things kick into high gear and never let up from there.

So if you find yourself thinking early on, "why all the hubbub? This isn't so great" keep going: it will get great!

myselfixion said...

I loved it! At first I was confused and wasn't quite sure where it was going. When I saw the clock stuck on 8:15 I started to perk up in my seat. I knew the writer's of LOST were involved but that's all I knew going into the show. I refrained from reading about it or watching the promos. When it ended, I got it. Can't wait for next week! Glad you liked it, Nikki. I will look forward to your reviews!

JavaChick said...

I loved Once Upon a Time! I thought it was just beautiful.

For me, much as I did like Lost, it had it's ups and downs and I don't really going around looking for references in other shows. I do, however, remember watching the series premiere of Lost and my jaw literally dropping. I new right from the beginning that it was going to be something different and special.

I would say that Once Upon A Time is off to a similar start. I loved it right away and I can't wait to see where it goes. I like Jennifer Morrison and Ginnifer Goodwin, but as a bit of a sci-fi tv addict I was also happy to see Tony Amendola (Stargate SG-1) and Robert Carlyle (Stargate Universe). It's always fun to see familiar faces.

Amy Lynn said...

Almost a week after its first episode, I was finally able to catch up and watch it this morning and I am so glad I didnt listen to my mother who said she was bored by the slow start.

I saw all the LOST references and just seeing them made my heart skip a beat. I loved the muli layers this show has to offer, just like on LOST. A new show that makes you think...exactly what I have been missing since May of 2010. I really hope this show is a hit because
I cant wait to travel this road with you again Nikki!

Rebecca T. said...

Ah! I missed this last week! As you could see from my comment this week, I'm SO glad to see you posting on it!

I am such a sucker for fairy tale stuff too and I can't wait to watch Grimm (recorded it and haven't had a chance to see it yet).

I do have to say that I am adoring Person of Interest. Yes, partly because of my minor obsession with Michael Emerson, but the premise itself is really intriguing to me and I think that Emerson and Caviezel play off each other really well. But of course, I like a lot of these kind of shows and this one is different enough to make it interesting for me.

Yeah! I love being back at Nik at Nite!

Rebecca T. said...

Now reading the comments I have to add my recommendation for Fables. Such a great gn - I gobbled up the whole series in a couple weeks (had to wait for a couple volumes to be restocked or it would have been faster :)

Anonymous said...

As with LOST, I'm starting to look for book titles in the background eg. in Regina's study

In the closing moments of the Pilot there's a book on Henry's table (to the right of the Swan lamp image as the camera pans). I wish I knew how to do screen captures, then enlarge them.

Can anyone see the book's title?

Anonymous said...

I figured there would be some place on the net to see screen captures from OUAT.

Can you see the book title? It appears to be a single word:

See also:

Anonymous said...

This screen cap shows a little more of the book:

Anonymous said...

Hi Nikki,

I think you kinda look like Ginnifer Goodwin as the teacher :)