Once Upon a Time – Season 1 (TV Review)
Review of Once Upon a Time with Jennifer Morrison
Emma Swan (J. Morrison) works as a bounty hounter. Here life is turned upside down when young Henry pays her a visit. The boy claims to be Emma’s son, whom she gave up for adoption years ago. Puzzled Emma decides to take Henry home to his foster parents. On the drive home Henry reveals that he comes from a town called Storybrooke. In his opinion all inhabitants are characters from fairytales. He claims Emma is the daughter of Snowwhite (G. Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas). But because of a curse by the Evil Queen (L. Parrilla) no one remembers who they really are. Will Emma believe Henry’s seemingly crazy stories? Can she free the people of Storybrooke from their curse?
Once Upon a Time got mostly good reviews (Crimespree Magazine, Three if by space) which kindled my interest. In my opinion the show’s biggest strength is also it’s biggest weakness. The season builds on a foundation of three strong female characters. This is a very modern and nice idea. Here the women are no damsels in distress but pulling the strings. The problem is that the writers had a neat idea but the execution is often severly lacking. Mostly this can be attributed to bland dialogue and extremely wooden acting. Jennifer Morrison as Emma Swan is particulary standing out in a bad way. While Once Upon a Time devotes many episodes to the rich backstories of Storybrooke’s inhabitants, sadly the main character of the series stays pretty much empty. This is the writers’ fault of course. But Morrison contributes as well. Her Emma Swan is not very likable. Most of the time she looks at the camera like she is either extremely annoyed or very bored. As a viewer I almost wanted to shout at her: “Ease up a little!”. A bit of irony would have helped in many cases.
Sadly Ginnifer Goodwin’s performance as Snowwhite is equally vapid. This leaves only Lana Parrilla as the evil queen to save the female leads. While she does a much better job than Morrison and Goodwin she tends to overact here and there. Ironically this makes the most prominent male role, Robert Carlyle as Rumpelstilzchen, the most interesting character of the show. He steals many scenes from the other cast members and is certainly the highlight of Once Upon a Time.
Regarding the stories Once Upon a Time starts off a bit too slow. The beginning is also too cheesy for my taste with Emma’s young son being quite annoying. After a few episodes the actors and writers find their rhythm and it gets better. The episodes become more dramatic, the stories more interconnected and even the CGI effects improve. Yes, there is a lot of TV level CGI at work here. Sometimes the effects look really, really bad. But sometimes they can create a haunting fairytale atmosphere as well.
Funnily Once Upon a Time also contains some questionable choices: According to the series fairy godmothers are for example mostly black, young women with big breasts and a lot of cleavage. Okay, Disney interesting point :-).
All in all Once Upon a Time will appeal to those viewers who love shows like Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries or Grimm. Although ABC made a big deal out of the involvement of the Lost writers, there are not really much similarities here.
Once Upon a Time is a show that has the potential to grow into something truely great or becoming incredibly formulaic and cheesy. Season 1 has bit of both so it will be interesting how the writers steer the ship in future seasons. Since I live in Germany and only watch TV shows on blu-ray it is waiting time for me now :-). Looking forward to season 2.
My Score 7 / 10