Have you ever wondered what would happen if all the fairy tale characters we have ever heard of were dumped into our world? No? Me neither, but this is the premise for a new show created by the writers of award winning series Lost, so expect LOTS of mysteries and cliffhangers. Each episode follows a different fairy tale character’s personal story, whilst the series story slowly plods on towards the enlightenment of all characters.
Understandably we are always dubious when someone comes along and dabbles with our childhood favourites, but Once Upon A Time manages to hit that same chord of clever reconfiguration that the original Shrek film hit. The show centers around a town called ‘Storybrooke’ which is full of storybook characters (oh the wordplay is uncanny) who have forgotten who they really are because of a curse cast by the evil queen (played by Lana Parrilla). Nobody leaves Storybrooke, but when a mysterious blonde shows up to become the sheriff, shit hits the magical fan as the curse unravels. The character alter egos are interesting and ironic in a good way: the evil queen is the mayor of Storybrooke, the fairies are the nuns, Rumpelstiltskin is a mafia style villain, and I won’t spoil the rest. In terms of screenplay, the show has a similar format to Lost and the action swaps from the present day in Storybrooke to events in the fantasy world that relate to their new lives.
Perhaps the most clever part of the show is the way the directors have combined all the character’s stories into one cogent narrative. For example Rumpelstiltskin appears in almost every episode to make misleading deals with people in their individual episodes, whilst overall he is part of the bigger plot as he tries to undermine the evil queen for some exciting, mysterious motives.
The show also succeeds at making both the real world and the fantasy world interesting. While the fantasy world is the main idea for the series because of it’s enchantment and recognisability, the real world still manages to pluck the heartstrings with domestic issues: the evil queen’s adoptive son is being fought for by his biological mother, who happens to be Snow White’s daughter; Snow White’s forbidden love manifests itself in an affair with her already married true love; Red Riding Hood feels trapped at Granny’s… Diner.
As an avid Lost fan it was nice to be reunited with some friendly faces, and we get a fantastic performance from Emilie de Ravin (Claire in Lost) as Belle from ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Her performance is particularly moving and her episode was definitely my favourite: the beast isn’t who you think it is and her episode unveils a big secret! Alan Dale (Charles Widmore in Lost) once again gets caught up in the spirit of being evil and demanding and is both the nasty King in the fantasy world and the head of a jury in Storybrooke.
My main worry about the show was that it would be too nicey-nicey, but with so much blood, death, betrayal, love, hate, murder and abduction, the constant mention of ‘true love’ was tolerable. Don’t get me wrong, the fairy episodes were tedious at times and the graphics at the start of series required some imagination, but none of this seemed to matter with such a captivating story.
The series finale is incredible, and as I sat from midnight until 4am with no exams to sleep for, I was happy to discover that it answers almost all the mysteries – so no irritating Lost ambiguity – whilst managing to set up a second series which just adds to my excitement over this new show. It’s currently being aired in the UK on Channel 5 and can be watched on their online player and the next series cannot come soon enough.