Oct 25 2011 3:00pm

Battle of the Network Fairy Tale Shows: Once Upon a Time vs. Grimm

Remember the show The Charmings? You know, that 80s sitcom where Snow White and Prince Charming live out of their element in modern times after Snow’s wicked stepmother puts a curse on them?

Well now, there’s a new show called Once Upon a Time! A show where Snow White and Prince Charming live out of their element in modern times after Snow’s wicked stepmother puts a curse on them!


There’s also a new show called Grimm, in which a whole mess of fairy tale characters live in modern times!

Fairy tales are back, mofos! And they’re back in modern times.

Snark aside, both shows have a lot to offer the genre, and are certainly less hokey than their 1980s predecessor. Starting Monday, I’ll be reviewing the shows side-by-side, giving each a score, and declaring the Television’s Best Fairy Tale Show at the end of the season. (Assuming they both last that long!)



Once Upon a Time

The Story: Snow White’s wicked stepmother isn’t too happy with Snow’s happily ever after, so she puts a curse not only on Snow White and Prince Charming, but on all of the fairy tale characters as punishment. They’re banished to the modern-day town of Storybrooke, Maine; a place where time never passes, and none of its inhabitants remember who they are. Emma Swan, a bail bondsperson, holds the key to breaking the spell, but she doesn’t know it.

The Pedigree: The show was created by Lost writers, Adam Horowitz & Edward Kitsis . Jane Espenson serves as a co-executive producer, and Damon Lindelof is a consulting producer. The strong, high-profile cast features Ginnifer Goodwin (Big Love, He’s Just Not that Into You), Jennifer Morrison (House M.D, How I Met Your Mother), and Robert Carlyle (SGU, 28 Weeks Later).

What to Expect: It’s from writers on Lost, so what else? Flashbacks! Also, lots of great costumes, spectacle, and a female-dominant environment that balances the magical and romantic with action and storybook violence.



The Story: Portland detective, Nick Burckhardt, has been noticing strange things. When the aunt who raised him falls ill, she comes to him to explain them, telling him that fairy tales aren’t stories, they’re warnings, and that he is descended from a long line of grimms, people with the unique ability to see the true natures of the fairy tale beings that live among us in the real world. He begins to used his newly-discovered ability to solve cases and keep evil at bay.

The Pedigree: The show was created by Angel writers, David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf. The talented cast includes relative newcomers to television David Giuntoli and Bitsie Tulloch as well as more well-known faces from TV like Russell Hornsby (Lincoln Heights) and Sasha Roiz (Caprica).

What to Expect: A police procedural with a twist. Dark and gritty in order to reflect the darkness of the original Brothers Grimm stories, but not without humor. The male-dominant environment the show creates is tense, suspenseful, and sometimes frightening.



Every week, I’ll be grading each episode out of a total of 10 based on the following categories:

Script: How’s the storytelling? The script structure? The dialogue? Does the story/script surprise me?

Performances: Are the actors believeable? Do they show range? Do they keep me engaged?

Production: The costumes, the effects, etc. How does the show look? How effectively does the look of the show mesh with the other aspects of the storytelling?

Representation: How are social and ethnic minorities represented? Are the casts multiracial? Are there lots of female characters? Do they have characters of different sexual orientations? Are differently abled characters represented? Are there varying body types? Are there characters of various ages?

Audience Engagement: The most subjective and broad of my categories. This is where I’ll score everything from how the shows are marketed, whether the shows are using social media effectively, to whether I think the episode would be entertaining to a casual viewer. Is the audience actively engaged?

Each episode will be graded in each category from 0-2, and then each category will be added up for the show’s grand total for the week. Weekly totals will be added throughout the season, and the show with the highest score at the end of the season will be declared Television’s Best Fairy Tale Show.

The winner will receive, um, something. There will be acknowledgement of some kind. I’ll figure it out!

Once Upon a Time has already premiered, and the first episode can be viewed at ABC.com. Grimm premieres this Friday, October 28th on NBC at 9PM ET.

Teresa Jusino would never marry a guy just because he woke her up by kissing her, or found her shoe. She can be heard on the popular Doctor Who podcast, 2 Minute Time Lord, participating in a roundtable on Series 6.1. Her “feminist brown person” take on pop culture has been featured on websites like ChinaShopMag.com, PinkRaygun.com, Newsarama, and PopMatters.com. Her fiction has appeared in the sci-fi literary magazine, Crossed Genres; she is the editor of Beginning of Line, the Caprica fan fiction site; and her essay “Why Joss is More Important Than His ‘Verse” is included in Whedonistas: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon By the Women Who Love Them, which is on sale now wherever books are sold! 2012 will see Teresa’s work in an upcoming non-fiction sci-fi anthology. Get Twitterpated with Teresa,“like” her on Facebook, or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.

David Thomson
1. ZetaStriker
I say the writers of the winning show should get a free copy of the first volume of Fables. Not that they don't already own it! *rimshot*
Craig Ranapia
2. Craig Ranapia
@ZetaStriker: Much as I love Fables, I've not problems with it being stuck in development hell at ABC for the rest of time. 1) The only way I think they could realise stuff like The Farm would be with a Game of Thrones/Boardwalk Empire sized budget, which was never going to happen. And 2) a network would just bland out and dumb down everything edgy about the comic books like -- (COMIC SPOILERS SWEETIES!) the backstory around why you never, ever mention those dwarves around Deputy Mayor White; Goldilock's rather *cough* X-rated take on the saw that "the personal is political" and Frau Totenkinder's ingenious, and very illegal, work-around the prohibition on her enhancing her powers by killing children in the Mundy World.
Rowan Shepard
3. Rowanmdm3
I was actually pleasantly surprised by the pilot of Once Upon a Time, so I'm looking forward to battle. Hopefully both shows will last the same amount of time, otherwise it won't quite be fair. And hey, even if one of them does end up canceled after a few episode, can you keep up the scoring for the remaining show? This sounds like it could an interesting analysis regardless of the fairytale battle.
Craig Ranapia
4. TulipLiz
Totally looking forward to this, although I missed the premiere of Grimm. Mayhap I will find it online.

I've never actually read Fables (I know, I'm a bad nerd), but Once Upon A Time is reminding me a great deal of a truly fantastic novel by John Connolly called The Book of Lost Things, which has a similar blending of fairy tale and real life/unhappy childhood. Highly recommended!
Teresa Jusino
5. TeresaJusino
@TulipLiz - Grimm hasn't premiered yet! As I said at the end of my piece, Grimm premieres on FRIDAY! Also, you could follow @NBCGrimm on Twitter, and they'll send you a code so you can watch the pilot in advance!

As for the Fables comparisons, the writers of Once Upon a Time mentioned at NYCC that they'd been pitching idea for the show since before Lost. Lost premiered in 2004. Fables debuted in 2002. If they were pitching this idea before Lost even existed, it's conceiveable that they already had the idea at the same time as Fables came out, which means one wouldn't have influenced the other.

But also - as I pointed out w/The Charmings, which came out in the 1980's, it's not exactly as if modern retellings of fairy tales are new, merely that they're back in fashion on television. And besides, someone could easily say that Fables "ripped off" Gregory Maguire's books like Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister or Wicked, both of which came out in the 1990s. Every idea has a predecessor, and no idea is completely, 100% original. It's all about the execution.
Craig Ranapia
6. Jo Ann
I watched the premiere of Grimm online (albeit, while at work) and found it quite enjoyable. To me it hit the right tone of subtly tongue in cheek fantasy with a hint of gritty police procedural. I'm eager to see how it pans out... And, I will admit... I -LIKED- the Charmings, altho I was kind of young to know better :)
Teresa Jusino
7. TeresaJusino
And yes, I'll continue reviewing whatever show is standing if one of them is canceled. :)
Teresa Jusino
8. TeresaJusino
@Jo Ann - I liked The Charmings, too! :) That's why I remembered it!
Ian Gazzotti
9. Atrus
I liked The Charmings too!

The pilot of Once upon a time wasn't bad, especially the bits in our world. The parts in the fairy tale realm didn't look that good though, so I hope they keep it flashback-light (haha yeah who am I kidding).
And what's up with Geppetto's accent?
Craig Ranapia
10. Tara D
For some reason, watching "Once Upon a Time" made me think of the NBC miniseries, "The 10th Kingdom", that came out in 2000.

Craig Ranapia
11. shea
i love both Grimm and Once Upon A Time. But i have to say Grimm Is far more exciting then Once Upon A time. i think they are dragging Once upon a Time out. grimm is funny and Once Upon a Time is also sometimes funny. I hope both Of these shows last for the same amount of time. Grimm is my favorite friday night show. Once upon a time is also a good show. But i like NBC better than ABC

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