I've never been especially partial to fantasy. Sure, elements of it pop up in the things I enjoy and the things I create, but the traditional (and I hesitate to use the word, 'Tolkien') style of fantasy has always been a bit uninteresting to me. I certainly recognize its merits and attraction, but I guess I got tired of the same elements as introduced by Tolkien being used, well, everywhere.
I think it was Yahtzee over at Zero Punctuation that made this case especially prevalent for me, but Tolkien really didn't invent the stipulations for the genre. Fantasy doesn't always have to mean elves, dwarves, and trolls. Fantasy could be something you've never seen before. Make-believe should be the crucial element of fantasy, not pre-ordained creatures or characters.
So it's all of these reasons that didn't make me too optimistic about sitting down and watching Once Upon A Time.
Wow, fairy tale creatures? Thought I. Yeah, because I haven't seen it done enough, god knows.
I got my hands on the first episode, sat down to watch it, and immediately thought: Oh, Snow White. Sure, tell me all about this story that I've already heard a million damn ti-
And then I watched another one.
And another one. And another one.
And between trying to wrap my mind around some of the very interesting angles they've given these traditional fairy tale characters (Snow White is basically a lone, semi version of Robin Hood) and being floored by some actually pretty good, serious acting and grown-up themes...I started liking it.
My biggest problem with shows that incorporate elements like fairy tales, magic, evil queens, and beautiful princesses is the following: It's just not played for seriousness.
There's always a time and place for themes aimed at children, but there's nothing wrong with releasing something that tackles these themes in a more adult, realistic (funny, considering it's fantasy) way and takes itself a little seriously. In many of these movies or shows, too often costumes are garish, acting wooden and stereotypical and the "maaaaaaagical" elements played in too juvenile a way for me to be able to find it immersive.
Once Upon a Time doesn't have these problems.
Sure, there are a fair share of...awkward moments. Some wooden parts, maybe a scene or a character is just a little to....eh? But largely, these moments are few and far between.
So to quote IMDB:
What draws the titular woman with the troubled past to Maine? The sudden appearance of a young son she gave up in a closed adoption over a decade ago.
The first thing that caught my attention was Jennifer "Dr. Cameron" Morrison. Having enjoyed her performance on House and having literally seen her nowhere else, she makes for an interesting voice of reason on the series, even as she desperately tries to come to terms with the many strange coincidences suddenly happening around her. She's the Scully to her son's Mulder: he tries to convince her that the town he comes from (StoryBROOKE, get it? Ah ha ha...ha) is closer to fairy tale fantasy than she's willing to believe.
The town? Every man, woman, and child living in idyllic Storybrooke is living in an imposed haze of amnesia, having been forcibly taken from their fairy tale lands and thrust into the cold, cruel, horrific, horrible (seriously, the show makes no qualms about how much reality suuuuucks) real world.
The mousy school teacher? Snow White. The slutty, hot diner girl? Red Riding Hood. And since every story about good needs some evil...Ginnifer Goodwin is our town mayor (and evil, evil queen).
Unlike the fairy stories of Disney yesteryear where good and evil were as easy to identify as dressing one in white and one in black, Once Upon A Time does away with the stereotypes of fantasy and gives our characters actual reasons to be who they are. If someone does evil things, you can bet there's a whole ocean of gray area to cover as to why. Pain begets pain is a prevalent theme on the series and more than once has the idea of "insert useful solution for your problems here has price" been hammered into the characters (none more so that in the form of Rumpelstiltskin, the veritable 'Beast' of the series thus far).
Still, they never seem to learn (where's the fun in that?) and so must often rely on being saved from the very things they hoped would save them.
But the show rolls along just fine and the individual stories of each character (via Lost-esque exposition but not as convoluted) keep it compelling and interesting as you watch the town slowly...slowly, wake to the truth...