Saturday, 25 May 2013

Once Upon a Time (Season One)

Once Upon a Time is an American TV show that's filmed in Canada and features a cast of mostly American/Canadian actors. It's a fantasy drama and its two head writers/executive producers are Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. The pair previously worked as writers on Lost and occasionally Once Upon a Time makes references to that show. You can see an Oceanic plane at one point and eventually two actors from Lost show up (Alan Dale and Emilie de Ravin). I know Once Upon a Time was a huge hit in the US and I can definitely see why. I love it! It's charming, clever, fun, exciting, really original, big in scope and ambitious. Season one is brilliant and the only other American TV show that I can think of which got off to as great a start as Once Upon a Time is Heroes. I really hope that Once Upon a Time doesn't go the same way!

The basic premise of OUaT is that all of the classic fairytales that you knew as a child really did happen in another world, but most of the characters from these fairytales have lost their memories and now live "someplace horrible" a.k.a. the small town of Storybrooke in Maine, USA. This is because of a curse that was placed on them by the Evil Queen from the Snow White fairytale. The Queen's name is Regina, she's the Mayor of Storybrooke, and she has an adopted son called Henry. In the pilot episode of Once Upon a Time a 28 year old woman called Emma Swan is visited by Henry, who shows up at her apartment door in Boston. Henry explains that he's Emma's biological son whom Emma gave up for adoption 10 years before. Emma is then forced to take Henry back to Storybrooke and meets Regina. Emma doesn't believe in Henry's claims that the people of Storybrooke are really fairytale characters, but she does suspect that Henry is being mistreated by Regina so she decides to stick around for a while and keep an eye on him. What Emma doesn't know is that she's really the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming and is supposedly the only one who can break the curse. In each episode of the show we watch the characters in Storybrooke but we also get flashbacks of these characters from when they were still living in the other world. This is Lost's main influence on the show.

There are many aspects of OUaT that could have gone disastrously wrong: there are different worlds, a large amount of characters, special effects and a precocious child character. It's even more impressive that season one is as great as it is then! Even the pilot episode of the show is actually really good! What also works in the show's favour is its very impressive cast. Jennifer Morrison (of House and How I Met Your Mother) plays Emma Swan. Morrison is great and there's a real chemistry between her and Jared Gilmore, who plays Emma's son Henry. I actually love Henry. He's the sort of character who could have easily been very irritating but Gilmore is an excellent child actor and keeps the character likeable. Ginnifer Goodwin (of Walk the Line and He's Just Not That Into You) plays Snow White/Mary Margaret. She also does an excellent job. As Mary Margaret she's sweet and gentle but as Snow White she's sassier and a lot more feisty. She also has a lot of chemistry with Josh Dallas who plays Prince Charming/David Nolan. Although that's probably not all that surprising since they're going out in real life. The best actors in the show for me though are Lana Parilla and Robert Carlyle. Lana Parilla plays Regina and makes for an awesome, badass villain. She's a much better villain than the Evil Queens that were played by Julia Roberts and Charlize Theron in Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman. Regina is evil but in a multi-layered way and you even feel sorry for her at times. I loved the tension between Regina and Emma as well, it's one of the most enjoyable aspects of the show for me. Robert Carlyle plays Rumpelstiltskin/Mr Gold who's the most interesting, morally ambiguous and complex character of the show. This is why he's my favourite. Carlyle is obviously having the time of his life on the show and you can really tell that he's having a lot of fun with the character. I love the contrast in how he plays Rumpelstiltskin and Mr Gold. In the fairytale world he's entertainingly over-the-top but in Storybrooke he tones it down and is more subtle. I love that they let him keep his Scottish accent as well. OUaT has also got some very impressive guest stars in this season. Amy Acker (Fred/Illyria from Angel) makes an appearance in the episode Dreamy and David Anders (of Alias and Heroes) shows up a few times. My favourite guest stars in season one were Emma Caulfield (Anya from Buffy) and Sebastian Stan. Caulfield plays the Evil Witch from the Hansel and Gretel fairytale in the episode True North. Even though she isn't in the episode for very long Caulfield is terrific and really creepy! I was genuinely disturbed! I absolutely loved Sebastian Stan as well. He plays the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland in the episode Hat Trick, which is one of my favourite episodes from this season.  Stan gives a fantastic performance and I'd love to see much more of him in the show.

Emma Swan
Snow White/Mary Margaret
Henry Mills
Regina Mills/The Evil Queen
Rumpelstiltskin/Mr Gold

Season one of OUaT tackles a number of different fairytales. We get Snow WhiteCinderellaRumpelstiltskinHansel and Gretel, Beauty and the Beast and Little Red Riding Hood. Purists might be annoyed by the fact that some of these fairytale stories are actually closer to the Disney versions than the traditional tales though. There are numerous examples of this. The Dwarves aren't given names in traditional versions of the Snow White fairytale but in this show they have the same names as the Disney film. Snow White also hums "With a Smile and a Song" from the Disney film at one point whilst wearing a red bow in her hair. The Genie of the Lamp mentions that he comes from Agrabah, which is a clear reference to Disney's Aladdin. The fact that Once Upon a Time is on the ABC channel - which is owned by Disney - has resulted in the show being accused of product placement. To be fair though the Disney films are probably the versions that most people are familiar with these days and I personally don't have a problem with the fact that the fairytales tend to be based on the Disney films - but then I'm a huge Disney fan. OUaT doesn't just confine itself to fairytales though. King Midas from Greek mythology makes an appearance. Pinocchio is tackled. The Genie of the Lamp from Aladdin shows up. The Mad Hatter shows up. Jiminy Cricket/Archie's dog is Pongo from One Hundred and One Dalmatians!

OUaT isn't perfect of course. The special effects aren't always great and there's some very obvious green-screening in places. Adoption isn't presented very well in the show either and I think some viewers will be offended by that. For example: Emma spent her childhood being bounced around from foster home to foster home. She never got to have a real family and she has abandonment issues. And then there's Henry. He can't stand his adoptive mother Regina and he keeps running off to Emma for help. Emma is also supposed to know when people are lying to her but she gets lied to time and time again and falls for them - which is a big plot hole. There's also the occasional bit of silliness and cheesiness. OUaT isn't a painfully cheesy show but the dialogue can get a bit embarrassing from time to time. I wish I had a pound for every time Snow White and Charming's characters kept promising to find each other and Dreamy is a very cheesy episode. That episode also featured dwarfs being hatched from eggs. What on earth?! That's really creepy! And who lays the eggs anyway? Yet despite these faults I still really loved season one and I'm really enjoying season two at the moment. It's easily one of my favourite TV shows that's currently airing. I enjoyed most of the episodes from season one but when push comes to shove my top three are The Heart is a Lonely HunterSkin Deep and Hat Trick. Honourable mentions go to the Pilot episode, True North, Red-Handed, Stable Boy and the finale A Land Without Magic. I was thinking of reviewing my favourite episodes in this post but now I'm planning on doing a separate post at some point.

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