A television show that bases its premise on fairytales would probably focus on playing it safe. But playing it safe is not an option for Once Upon A Time, the inventive series from former LOST scribes Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz – and those who believe that this is simply another “fairytale drama” should look again.
The series centers on a host of fairytale characters who have been banished to the modern day world of Storybrooke, Maine. Trapped here in time by the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla), they live their lives with no memory of their past and no notion of their true identities. With a dramatic opening that includes the rescue of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) by Prince Charming (Josh Dallas), it’s clear that this is a show that pushes the envelope, takes creative liberties, and inspires the audience to think about familiar stories in an entirely different mindset. And that is precisely what makes Once this season’s best new drama. It doesn’t just tell a story, it delivers – as the smartest, most creative show of the year.
From the start, the show wastes no time presenting us with a world in which we already find familiar ground. Snow White and Prince Charming happily marry among their friends, but their wedding day is cut short by the arrival of the Evil Queen, who vows to usurp all their happy endings. In another world we’re familiar with – our own – we’re introduced to Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), a bails bond collector who, it is believed, will be the hope and savior for Storybrooke. As she prepares to celebrate her 28th birthday in her usual lonely state, Emma receives a surprise visit from a young boy named Henry (Jared Gilmore), the son she gave up for adoption 10 years ago.
The pilot toggles back and forth between two timelines, both of which help to set the stage for the series. One timeline takes place in the modern world, where Emma brings Henry back to Storybrooke and meets our characters as they exist in their trapped states. The other timeline follows the events of the fairy tale world on the eve of Emma’s birth as they race to find a way to defeat the Evil Queen’s curse. While some shows purposely deliver techniques like this to cause audience confusion, Once presents them to us in a simpler way – as an essential means to understand our characters as they exist in both worlds.
When I spoke with Kitsis and Horowitz this past summer, both mentioned the strong casting that they felt was essential in bringing their vision to life. Nowhere does this statement ring more true than in the show’s first episode. While Dallas is (true to his namesake) completely charming, Goodwin portrays a Snow White who is, in addition to her sweet nature, opinionated and self-sufficient – and very much unlike the character we grew up reading about. As Emma, Morrison layers her performance with the perfect amount of emotion, helping you relate to the tough independent orphan hiding under the guise of a lonely girl. Robert Carlyle is delightfully creepy as the shady fortune teller Rumplestiltskin and Parrilla shines as the Evil Queen, clearly enjoying her turn as a character not just hell-bent on being evil, but on making sure the only true happiness is that of her own joy. A host of talented actors such as Jamie Dornan, Raphael Sbarge & Lee Arenberg help to round out a strong ensemble, and I’m personally looking forward to watching the growth of each character as the series moves forward.
It’s not just the characters that make Storybrooke a place you’ll want to re-visit every week. The magic of Once Upon A Time is the ease in which you become immersed in a world of creative storytelling, where the attention to detail and throwbacks to the tales we know are so specific, you’ll find yourself smiling when you see something that strikes a familiar chord. And if you were/are a die-hard LOST fan? Be on the look out for various Easter Eggs scattered throughout the pilot, and beyond. Some are easy to spot, some aren’t so easy – but they’re there, almost as a sly nod to everything that Kitsis and Horowitz learned during their years on the show.
The series premiere of Once Upon A Time airs on Sunday, October 23 at 8pm on ABC.