I hate watching TV pilots. Rather, I hate watching a series premiere with the knowledge that it will, more than likely, be axed within five episodes, and I will have wasted a month and a half of my time.
But overnight ratings for new kid on the block “Once Upon a Time” are in, and they’re surprisingly good. In a nutshell, OUAT was the highest-rated new drama series premiere of the season. It beat both Revenge and Terra Nova, according to EW.com, two shows that had humongous advance publicity. And according to The Hollywood Reporter, it gave ABC its best 18-49 demographic in three years, for that same time slot. Not too shabby for a first performance. Not too shabby at all.
And the best part is that OUAT deserves the ratings gold. The first four minutes alone were enough to glue me to my seat and what’s even better is the remainder proved equally as entertaining. Episode One introduced us to the dual worlds of Storybrooke, Maine and Fairytale. Both are inhabited by fairy tale characters that anyone who can read is well- familiar with, but in Storybrooke, these same characters don’t realize who they are and live amongst the town as alternate personalities to their more well-known Fairytale personaes. (It’s not as confusing on the screen as it is on paper. Trust me. )
But as it happens, the Wicked Queen (Lana Parrilla) has malevolently cursed them all to live in a land where happy endings are impossible and, in an anvil over the head plot point, that means real life. Figures. But Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) have sent their newborn daughter, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) from Fairytale to Storybrooke, to hopefully save them all.
And that’s where we find Emma, 28 years after her birth, as we journey from Fairytale to Storybrooke. Or rather, that’s where Henry finds Emma. Henry is the son she gave up for adoption a decade prior, but Henry has tracked her down so that she may fulfill her destiny, save her parents and all the other fairy tale characters, too. Additionally, Henry is the only one who knows the truth, that all of Storybrooke is actually inhabited by Seven Dwarves, Cinderellas , Snow Whites, and Rumplestiltskins.
It sounds campy, and maybe it is, at least a little bit. But this show comes from former Lost executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis,, so it’s also smart, wry, well-acted and even a little dark and creepy.
Jennifer Morrison looks as good as I’ve ever seen her and she has infused Emma with a tough, quirky, and barely-there vulnerability. I was bitterly disappointed when she was let go from her role as Cameron on House and I’m very glad to see her back on my TV screen.
Similarly, Ginnifer (Big Love) Goodwin is captivating as always, in the dual role of Snow White and Henry’s teacher, Mary Margaret. Also giving a great, and suitable scary, performance is Robert Carlyle as both Rumplestiltskin and Storybrooke owner Mr. Gold. I’m not ashamed to say he gave me the shivers, and not in a good way.
Before I give the impression this was a perfect pilot, let me be clear that it was certainly not. Some of the dialogue in Fairytale got a bit overwrought, although I assume that may have been purposely done for effect. Plus, I worry about another show with the requisite “absurdly bright, overly adult pre-pubescent child”. It’s been done enough.
But those are minor quibbles, at least for now. And I can’t knock the set design in the fabled world. It was simply stunning and felt, to me just as it should, with its woods and castles and evil queens running amok.
Mostly, though, the script kept me engrossed and entertained, and that’s worth a second and third glance from me. My only real niggling concern is how this show will sustain the concept of fairy tale characters living in the “real world” season upon season. Will this be a one-year wonder? Or will the showrunners be clever enough to allow the story to evolve into something more? Only time will tell, but the premiere episode of Once Upon a Time gets a very solid B.