Review: ABC’s Once Upon a Time – Magical and Different

Fairy tales are in this season and each of the new shows from ABC and NBC seem to be equally magical and promising.

ABC’s Once Upon a Time is for those who are looking for a more traditional, yet contemporary take on the fairy tale. You have the princes and princesses, castles and happy endings.

Jennifer Morrison plays Emma Swan, a tough bail bonds collector who gets a sudden visit from Henry (Jared Gilmore), the son she gave up for adoption ten years ago, on her 28th birthday. But he arrives on his own with the hopes more than just wanting to be with his birth mother. Emma is needed to break the curse unleashed onto the very characters that are in his fairy tale book.

And that is because, unbeknownst to her, she is the daughter of the Snow White. She takes Henry home to Storybrooke, Maine as we see what leads the Evil Queen to send Snow White, Prince Charming, and many other familiar characters from their storybook land to Storybrooke, Maine with no memory of their true fairy tale identities.

Once Upon a Time is quite impressive in how they manage to briskly set everything up in just the first hour. The cuts between our world in the present day and the fairy tale land are smooth and easy to follow.

Contrary to some reviews, Jennifer Morrison actually plays the jaded, “I’m alone in the world” Emma just fine. And she and Jared Gilmore already have an endearing little chemistry right off the bat. Lana Parrilla as the Evil Queen and Henry’s adoptive mother Regina in Storybrooke quickly makes her mark as the villainess.

Once Upon a Time is interesting and very traditional in the fairy tale vibe. It is definitely more a storybook than NBC’s Grimm also premiering this week as it is more a crime procedural and mystery series rather than the fairy tale adventure of this series (which is good for both series).

Despite the Lost predigree in the creators, Once Upon a Time is much more straight forward. No philosophical questions about purgatory and the like. Just a nice, simple adventure that actually might be more suited as a miniseries or a one season series at most.

It isn’t necessarily all that original, as the series is very reminiscent of NBC’s excellent epic The 10th Kingdom in 2000 with the mix of contemporary and medieval fairy tale. But at the very least it is different from anything else on TV. It has a little bit of that Pushing Daisies whimsy, but also a little darker like the Syfy reimaginations of The Wizard of Oz in Tin Man and Alice in Wonderland in Alice.

In fact, maybe the series would’ve been a better fit as an event miniseries on Syfy rather than a full length series on ABC. It’ll be interesting to see if a mainstream audience will take to the series.

And while it won’t get me to not watch The Amazing Race on Sundays at 8pm, it at least earns a spot on the DVR for the 2nd episode.

Watch the pilot episode of Once Upon a Time now for free at

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