I still plan to post some thoughts on the new crop of genre shows (hopefully while they're still on the air), but I thought it'd be fun to compare two series that draw heavily from the same source material. You don't need a magic mirror to see that fairy tale properties have become extremely popular. Red Riding Hood and Beastly were released earlier this year (more on them in a future post), we just got a look at not one, but two trailers for upcoming Snow White films, and a picture from the forthcoming Hansel and Gretel: Witchhunters was just released. There are probably a slew of other projects in development as well. It was only a matter of time before Fairy Tale Fever would show up on the small screen. ABC's Once Upon a Time comes from Lost writers, Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, while Angel/Buffy vet David Greenwalt is one of the minds behind NBC's Grimm.
Nick Burkhardt (David Guintoli) is a Portand cop who discovers that he comes from a long line of monster hunters called Grimms. It's his job to stop the bad ones.
The residents of present-day Storybrooke, Maine are actually our favorite fairytale characters, but they have no memory of their former lives -- the result of a curse from the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla). Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), a bounty hunter/bail bondswoman who grew up outside of Storybrooke, is really the long lost daughter of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Joshua Dallas). It's her destiny to rescue the townsfolk and lead the final battle against the Evil Mayor, who looks a lot like the Evil Queen. Now this is all according to Henry, a ten year old with an incredibly active imagination. Henry also happens to be the child that Emma put up for adoption ten years ago. Emma shows up in to Storybrooke to return runaway Henry to his adoptive mother Regina, who just happens to be the Evil Mayor. Hijinks ensue...
Basically, we're talking about a soap vs. procedural. Both have their respective strengths and weaknesses. OUAT hit the ground running with well-defined characters and a clear goal. I like the flashbacks to the fairy tale land -- a touch of Lost? A show with magic, true love, and fairy tales has the potential for broad appeal. Averaging million viewers, it's one of the rare hits of the 2011 Fall season with an average of 11.6 million viewers. However, soaps need an especially steady hand. They can easily spiral out of control with wildly inconsistent characters and goofy plot twists (see Heroes and Desperate Housewives).
While it has a clever premise and generates a few tense moments per episode, Grimm seems to be coasting off the novelty factor and delivering very little in terms of character development. Sure, it's cool to try and guess what monster-of-the-week will be featured, but take away the gimmick and all you have is a very ordinary (at best) cop show that relies on coincidence rather than actual detective work. UPN's Special Unit 2 did it better in 2001.
Given all that, I'm surprised at its healthy Friday night ratings. Stomping on vet genre shows like Fringe (3.4 million) and Supernatural (1.7 million) with an average of 5.79 million viewers. I guess it just goes to show how much viewers love procedurals, except when Maria Bello is the lead (for the record, I happen to like Prime Suspect. I'm ticked it didn't catch on). With the recent full season order and a tryout at the 10pm, Thursday slot, NBC obviously thinks they have a show with potential. We'll see...
Advantage: Once Upon A Time
PROTAGONISTS: Emma vs. Nick
I thought the blind date in the pilot was a cute way to introduce Ms. Swan to viewers. Smart. Resourceful, but somewhat directionless and unlucky at love. She sticks around Storybrooke for Henry's sake. A little too spunky a times? Yeah. But she's a character with a personality and motivations I can understand. She's pretty effective as the audience surrogate.
Am I the only who gets Dylan Dog: Dead of Night flashbacks when watching Detective Burkhardt in action? Except Dylan was more fleshed out than this guy, which is kinda hard to believe. A cop chasing criminals who are actually monsters and only he can see their true form. That's all there is to him. Oh, he has a cute and equally bland girlfriend. I'll be shocked if she lasts the season -- probably turns out to be evil or gets offed of by the big bad.
Advantage: Once Upon a Time
ANTAGONISTS: Evil Queen vs. Captain Renard
No contest. Advantage goes to the hot, Evil Queen. Probably the most compelling character on either show. Your protagonist is useless without a great antagonist. Parrilla shows just the right amount of Regina/Queen's vulnerability so the character doesn't come off as cartoony. She's definitely got some control issues going on, especially with Henry. BTW, did I mention she was hot? Captain Renard is plotting something on Grimm... or he might be constipated. Hard to tell. You can only do so much with what's on the page. I guess you could make the argument that Renard is more like Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) as a puppet master, slowly moving towards his endgame.
KEY ALLIES: Monroe vs. Henry
Monroe is easily the best part of Grimm. He's hilarious in small doses as Nick's reluctant
I usually post a knee-jerk reaction after watching a pilot, but I took my time and formed an opinion after several episodes. Even though I enjoy both shows, my opinion of Grimm went down, while Once Upon a Time slowly won me over. It is good to see successful genre shows on television -- I keep getting an itch to write one of my own. It'll be interesting to see where they stand a year from now. Right now, Once Upon a Time has won this battle.