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Once Upon a Time...A review of the TV series
Jennifer Morrison as Emma
Robert Carlyle as Rumpelstiltskin
Lana Parrilla as the Evil Queen
Parrilla again as Regina, the Queen's modern incarnation
The Best New Show of the 2011-2012 Season
Generally, I do reviews of theatrical releases, but for a change, I'm going to review a television series. The new show Once Upon a Time is my favorite new series of the 2011-2012 season and, I Think, the best program to debut this year. I wanted to wait a few episodes to see how the show developed from the pilot and now that the series is on hiatus for the holidays (It'll return on Jan. 8th) I think it's time to review the first seven episodes.
Once Upon a Time is one of many recent and upcoming shows and films which are based on fairy tales (it's a popular trend) but this one works with a grander concept.
The premise of Once Upon a Time is that once upon a time, hundreds of years ago, there was a kingdom where all the storybook characters we read about today actually existed, and lived out their fairy tale lives. One day the Evil Queen (from Snow White) was feeling very angry and vengeful when Snow survived her machinations and married Prince Charming. The Evil Queen put a curse on the whole kingdom so that no one there will enjoy a happy ending. As a result, the kingdom vanished into time.
Cut to modern times, and the former inhabitants of the kingdom are now living in a quiet little town in Maine, USA, called Storybrooke. None of the people in the town (Except the former Queen and one other) remember who they used to be. They are stuck living tedious, unsatisfied lives as 21st century men and women. No one is having a happy ending there.
Only one person has escaped the curse. Just before the curse took effect, Snow White and Prince Charming managed to spirit their baby girl away. The girl also gets transported to modern times but grows up as an orphan outside the town. Her name is Emma Swan. When she was a teenager, Emma once got pregnant and gave up her little boy up for adoption. The child was adopted by Mayor Regina Mills of Storybrooke AKA the modern incarnation of the wicked Queen, who has some secret plan that involves the boy.
The 10 year-old boy, who's name is Henry, somehow instinctively becomes the only one to figure out who these people really are and also he somehow knows that the key to breaking the curse is the one person who escaped it...his birth mother. Henry brings Emma to Storybrooke and she immediately comes into conflict with devious Mayor Mills. Emma doesn't believe Henry's theory about everyone in town being a fairy tale character with erased memories, but she knows an evil queen--or mayor--when she sees one. Can the disbelieving Emma defeat the evil Queen, break the curse and bring the happily-ever-after back to the unhappy people of Storybrooke?
The series is written by some of the writers behind the show Lost, so naturally, the depths of the plot are labyrinthine and convoluted. There is a lot of backstory which slowly unfolds, revealing important plot information a bit at a time. Like Lost, the show is split between the present and numerous flashbacks to the earlier lives of the characters, which in this case, is their past life in the fairy tale kingdom.
Part of the fun of the show is figuring out which citizen of Storybrooke is which Fairy Tale character. So far, we know that...
Mayor Mills=Evil Queen
Mary Margaret Blanchard=Snow White
David Nolan=Prince Charming
Archie Hopper=Jiminy Cricket
Sheriff Graham=the Huntsman
Ruby=Red Riding Hood
Sidney Glass=the magic Mirror on the wall
We've also seen the Seven Dwarves, and it's been announced that Belle, from Beauty & the Beast, will appear in an upcoming episode played by Emily De Ravine. It's still early in the program so more will be revealed as it goes on.
The names of the characters are all subtle hints about who they really are. For instance...
Mary Margaret's (Snow White) last name is Blanchard, as in 'blanche' white means White; Regina (Evil Queen) is the Latin Feminine for 'Queen'; Mr. Gold (Rumpelstiltskin) come from the fact that Rumpelstiltskin spun straw into gold; Ruby (Red Riding Hood) means Red; Ashley (Cinderella) is from the word Ashes, which is similar to cinders, as in Cinderella; Hopper (Jiminy Cricket) is so named because Crickets hop. Sydney Glass (the Magic Mirror) was named because mirrors are made of glass. Etc., etc., you get the idea.
Jennifer Morrison (best known as Dr. Allison Cameron of House MD) plays the hero Emma. she's very attractive but probably not the best choice to play the heroine because she does not have a lot of star power or charisma. Fortunately, she has a strong supporting cast.
Lana Parrilla, who plays Mayor Mills/Evil Queen, is one of the best villains on television. She is a mystical J.R. Ewing, plotting and planning to get what she wants. Parrilla is a gorgeous woman and she plays the queen/mayor with equal parts sexuality, cunning and pure evil.
Veteran actor Robert Carlyle is a scene stealer. He portrays Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin as a joyously evil creature, getting a perverse fun out of his cunning mischief. In his own way, he is worse than the evil queen.
Ginnifer Goodwin has a strong likability and vulnerability as Mary, but her rough-and-tough version of Snow White doesn't really work for me. While Goodwin plays the part well, this interpretation of Show White is not the Snow White of myth. Goodwin has a girl-next-door adorable quality, much like Meg Ryan or Zooey Dechanel; however, she doesn't quite fit the mold of "the fairest of them all". Parrilla, (who plays the queen who is supposed to be jealous of Snow) is so stunning, it's hard to believe she was threatened by Snow. Should the evil queen really be hotter than Snow? (The same situation occurs in the upcoming film Snow white and the Huntsman, where gorgeous Charlize Theron plays the Queen and Kirstin Stewart plays Snow.)
Between the clever premise, the fun of guessing whose-who, the great set design of the kingdom and two great villains (The Queen/Mayor and Rumpelstiltskin) the show is a lot of fun. The show has been very clever and imaginative so far and I hope it can maintain the quality it's delivered so far when it returns with new episodes on Jan. 8th.