October 23, 2011

TV: Once Upon a Time (ABC, Sun 8)

Once Upon a Time is the first of this season's "what if fairy tales were real" shows (Grimm arrives on Friday night), and it's created by two of the writers from Lost.

The Lost influence can certainly be seen in the show's parallel story-telling. We begin at the wedding of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas), at the end of which the Evil Queen (Lana Parilla) bursts in and announces to the assembled crowd -- basically, every fairy tale character you can think of -- that she is going to bring down a horrible curse upon them all, exiling them to the most horrible place imaginable, a place with no happy endings.

Meanwhile, in our world, bail bondsman Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) gets an unexpected visit from 10-year-old Henry (Jared Gilmore), who announces that he is the son she gave up for adoption, and begs her to come home with him. "Home" turns out to be the quiant little village of Storybrooke, Maine. Henry claims that everyone in Storybrooke actually is a fairy tale character (but doesn't know it), as is Emma, and that it is her destiny to break the spell and return them all to their home.

Casting of the lead roles is excellent. Morrison plays tough very well, but also has enough vulnerability that you can understand why she's drawn to Henry despite thinking that the kid is crazy. Goodwin is, both physically and temperamentally, as fine a choice as you could make for Snow White. Gilmore (the most recent Bobby Draper from Mad Men) has self-assurance and wisdom that never cross the line into creepy, and it's not until the pilot is over that you think to wonder how it is that Henry is the only one who knows what's really going on.

There are a few too many cutesy in-jokes for Lost fans -- the Queen disappears in a very Smoke Monster-y puff; several references to The Numbers; a scene that begins on a close-up of an opening eye -- and I hope the writers will get over their "remember us?" cleverness and stop doing that.

The show's tone is a delicate balance of earnest sincerity and slight campiness, and keeping those things in proportion will be one of the bigger challenges as the show continues. But the pilot is an absolute delight; I haven't seen a drama pilot that pleased me this much since Pushing Daisies.

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