February 3rd, 2012

promise tea

Fairy Tale Television

I've now reached the real rewriting phase, but it's a cloudy, rainy day, so I'm anticipating great productivity. I really do love this book.

And then there's new Grimm tonight, which has not only become my favorite of the fairy tale shows, but is possibly my favorite of the currently airing series, aside from maybe Downton Abbey (which is more of a miniseries).

In case you haven't noticed, I love fairy tales. I like the sanitized Disney versions with musical numbers and cute talking animals, I like the darker Grimm versions, I read books of Jungian analysis of fairy tales, I like fantasy that plays with fairy tale tropes and I love fantasy that plays with fairy tale themes without directly referring to the tales themselves, essentially creating entirely new stories for the canon.

So having two series on television that make direct reference to fairy tales is a real treat for me. There's Once Upon a Time, in which the evil queen from the Snow White story gets her ultimate revenge by enacting a curse that sends everyone from the fairy tale land into modern America, where they live in a kind of unchanging stasis, unaware of who they really are -- and meanwhile, we learn about their stories in flashbacks. And then there's Grimm, which is a kind of paranormal procedural in which we learn that the Grimms were actually profilers with the talent to see the monsters living as men for what they really are, with the newest Grimm being a young police detective who's suddenly been forced into this strange world where the child molester he has to track down is actually a Big, Bad Wolf, for instance.

These two shows were compared to each other a lot, and the Tor.com blog even has a weekly feature rating them against each other, but I think that aside from the fairy tale theme, they're too different to compare. Once Upon a Time is more of a soap opera about the relationships among the characters and their histories, making much more literal use of the familiar fairy tales while also fleshing out their backstories. Grimm is a paranormal procedural with very slight ties to fairy tales, mostly focusing on the idea that the tales grew out of very real creatures, but functioning far more like a cop show with a twist.

Initially, I was far more into Once Upon a Time because one of my favorite kinds of fantasy is fairy tales that have been fleshed out so that the characters are actually characters instead of archetypes, and there's more to the story than we've heard in the tales. They really got me with the episode that had Snow White and Prince Charming (which we learned was actually her sarcastic nickname for him) meeting when she robbed his carriage (when she was hiding out in the woods after the queen sent the huntsman to kill her, but before she ran into the dwarfs). Meanwhile, Grimm was mostly a police procedural with a supernatural twist (though it manages to be a lot more realistic in many respects than any of the CSI shows -- like they have the armored SWAT guys break into a place and clear it before the detectives go in, instead of the crime lab guys leading the SWAT team).

Over time, though, my loyalties have switched. Once Upon a Time has developed a bad case of Lostitis -- mistaking backstory for character development and leaving the "current" story treading water with no real momentum while we bounce around in the past. The current story is getting boring and frustrating because I get tired of banging my head against the same brick wall week after week. Plus, the evil queen has to be the dumbest villain ever. Her Grand Scheme for Ultimate Revenge is to spend eternity watching her rival live a mildly unsatisfying life. Someone didn't read the Evil Overlord List. (Caution to those unfamiliar with this list: Do not click on the link unless you're prepared to lose at least half an hour and to never look at most movies, books and TV series the same way ever again.) I'm far more interested in how the pieces of the backstory fit together than I am in the current story, mostly because I know they can't afford to go anywhere with the current story or they'd end the series.

Meanwhile, that procedural structure of Grimm is turning out to be a benefit because they're up against a different villain every week, and there's a resolution to each week's story instead of coming to a stalemate with the same villain week after week. There's a mythology gradually building in the background, so it looks like there's more going on than just each week's cases, but the cases are interesting enough that they can afford to build their mythology gradually. They're also doing some fun things to bust a lot of cliches. For instance, our hero is basically a nice guy and very normal. Finding out about this supernatural stuff didn't send him into a tailspin, he's not doing a lot of angsting and moaning about just wanting a normal life, and he hasn't become a superpowered ninja. He's just a good cop who happens to have some additional perceptions, and he's applying his basic personality and his cop background to the Grimm thing, so instead of being a Slayer, he's more of a social worker for the creatures. Not to mention that he's absolutely adorable (and that actor would make a really good Owen -- the characters are even pretty similar). I've been taping this show and watching Supernatural, but I'm on the verge of just giving up Supernatural and watching this live because I don't want to wait even an hour.

I think there's actually a third point to the fairy tale shows triangle, which is similar to both shows, while they're not that much like each other, but I think that's material for its own discussion to have another time.