Urban Fantasy TV
November 8, 2011
I’ve now seen the first two episodes of both Once Upon a Time and Grimm. What struck me most about both of them is how solidly within the current mode of written urban fantasy they are. The protagonist of Once is a bounty hunter (and we meet her during a very satisfying takedown of an embezzler), the protag of Grimm is a homicide detective. Both of them are introduced to the supernatural by discovering they’re some kind of “chosen one” within that world, with a magical heritage they never knew. And so on and so forth. You know these characters. There’s a million books out featuring characters just like them. It make me wonder how much reading the shows’ writers have done, or if the formula is just so pervasive now it’s in the air.
I have some problems with Once Upon a Time that I’m actually feeling kind of guilty about. I want to like it, I really do. But Jiminy Cricket is a character, and when Emma is flipping through The Book I caught a glimpse of a hookah-smoking caterpillar, which is most certainly not from a fairy tale. Once isn’t drawing on fairy tales, it’s drawing on Disneyland. Okay, whatever. (Must check — is Disney studios behind this in any way?) I read a review of Once that was very excited about how women-centric it is, how it passes the Bechdel Test, etc. But I’m not sure watching the two main characters spend forty minutes perpetrating petty revenges on one another in an effort to see who better deserves to be mother to a cloying moppet is quite what the Bechdel Test had in mind. The second episode is essentially one long catfight, and not a very interesting one. Oh, and about that moppet. There’s a subtext here about adoption that I find troubling. You can tell me “oh, it’s because it’s based on fairy tales,” but I’m not sure that excuses what’s going on here: the only good mother is a “real” mother. I’m kind of squicked out, watching this show.
Grimm gets huge style points from me. Woman in red hoodie jogging through the woods listening to “Sweet Dreams” on her iPod? That’s what fairy tales in the modern world is supposed to look like. The stories so far have been inoffensive, if not hugely imaginative. It’s basically police procedural with monsters. But so is a lot of current urban fantasy. This show’s take on “supernatural in the real world” is awfully close to my own, so I’m inclined to like it better. And yes, I do like Monroe the (effectively) werewolf, who controls his monstrous urges with a good diet and Pilates. Also, Marie is Anita Blake in thirty years, yes?
I’m willing to give Once a couple more chances, to see if it can get out of the rut of having characters say the same things to each other over and over again. Definitely willing to give Grimm a few more episodes, for style points alone. We’ll see if it can transcend its formula beyond that.
We’re definitely in the middle of a zeitgeist here. A friend of mine just sent me the news about a movie slated for next year: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.