I wouldn't normally discuss a show on here having only seen one episode, but I want to use Once Upon A Time as an opportunity to make a wider point, so I thought I might as well do a little run down of my initial thoughts on the show too.
When I first heard of this show, I was a little worried (although not to the extent of crying plagiarism, as some were) that the premise was a little too close for comfort to that of comic book series Fables; I talked on my book blog about the first volume, Legends In Exile; and I fully expected to be slagging it off, once I got around to watching it.
However, the more I thought about it, the more inclined I was to, not only give it the benefit of the doubt, but also to get very excited. It has a hell of a cast attached; I remember Lana Parrilla well from her stint on criminally under-rated show Boomtown from Justified showrunner Graham Yost, Jennifer Morrison of course was the best thing about early House, and Robert Carlyle, well, he's Robert Carlyle. Not only that though; it was created by writers (Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz) with years of experience as staffers on Lost, and had Jane (if you think Miracle Day was bad, just imagine how bad it would have been without me holding RTD's hand) Espenson on board to work her magic. What could go wrong?
SO, was my initial gut instinct to hate it right? Or was my more considered response the right one? Was it shit or not? Well, if you read my twitter feed; and if you don't, why the hell not; then you'll know that no, of course it wasn't shit. I loved it, and so,it seems, did most everyone else who saw it.
The only characters we get any real focus on in the pilot are Snow White
Prince Charming The Evil Queen and prophesied saviour Emma Swan
and as they are the leads, (for now at least; could we see other characters take centre stage for future arcs?) that's entirely appropriate, but Kitsis and Horowitz skilfully weave any number of other characters into the background of events, ready to make their presence felt when the story kicks off proper.
Robert Carlysle as Rumpelstiltskin is the one that got everyone talking; and what a creepy little bastard he is, in both versions of reality; but Red Riding Hood and Grandma are also on hand, as are Geppetto, Jiminy Cricket and others. Precisely who all those others are we don't yet know of course; unless I missed something, we don't yet know who the Sheriff is, with my money being on the woodsman from Red Riding Hood, but that's pure guesswork at this stage.
The scenes set in the Enchanted Forest do give me pause. It's a concern, albeit a slight one, that they are apparently set to continue past the pilot. They are slickly produced, far from the embarrassing dross inflicted on us in similarly themed Witches Of Oz, and on a completely shallow level I could look at Ginnifer Goodwinn in those frocks all day, but I do worry how soon it will be until they start to get a little samey. After all, we've already seen the final battle and the curse that sent the fairy tale characters to our world; by definition the biggest event ever to happen there; so where do you go from there? Time will tell, but I choose to have faith in Kitsis & Horowitz; and Espenson of course.
All of that being said, I'll return to my initial point. I wouldn't normally write about a show having seen only the pilot, but I had a reason this time, and the reason is that I am putting rather a lot of my hopes on the shoulders of this show. It's going out in the UK on Channel 5, a channel widely mocked; if slightly less now than in previous years, for it's low brow content and over reliance on US imports. (Ironically enough, a complaint that was often leveled at Ch4 when I was younger and the cause, when CH4 addressed it and tried to become more respectable, of my watching them a lot less. I likes my US imports damn it!)
When CH 5 launched, relatively recently in television terms, it did so with a flurry of Sci-fi and Fantasy shows. The big hitters were Hercules and Xena, but in the first few years of the channel we got Poltergeist:The Legacy, Two, Strange Luck, The Others, First Wave, Earth:Final Conflict, Cleopatra 2525 and of course Charmed, among others. It was a veritable feast of culty goodness.
Sadly, as the years rolled on, that emphasis moved. Thanks to success with the Law and Order and CSI franchises, the channel began to devote it's energies to buying up glossy US cop/crime shows, rather than Sci-Fi.
I'm not going to lie, some great shows have made it over here as a result of this policy; aforementioned classic Boomtown, NCIS, Prison Break, and The Shield amongst others, with The Mentalist, Castle and (frankly not in their league) Body of Proof having arrived more recently. I watch these shows, and in most cases (where Dana Delaney and Sonja Sohn aren't around to mess things up) I enjoy them, but I can't help feeling sad that we lost our biggest terrestrially broadcast outlet for imported genre shows.
The truth is, if you don't have a satellite dish, a loose approach to download laws or the patience of a saint/large DVD budget, you're pretty much stuffed in the UK right now for US genre shows. The few that do make it onto terrestrial channels do so long after initial broadcast, meaning we've probably had them spoiled a hundred different ways, and scheduled either in ridiculous graveyard slots, or cut to ribbons for weekend wallpaper. It's enough to make you weep.
Last year though, Ch5 did something I wasn't expecting, They bought The Walking Dead. Now, to be fair, they had to wait ages to screen it, because of course a Satellite channel had first run rights, but when they could show it they made the best of the situation. Far from the treatment CH4 have inflicted on True Blood, which rarely appears before 11pm and even then only if you're looking for it, cos God forbid they advertise it, Ch5 trailed the living hell out of TWD for months ahead of it's launch and gave it a sweet prime slot. They gave it a chance to succeed and succeed it did. And I think someone at the channel was paying attention.
Once Upon A Time was trailed like a motherfunter for ages ahead of it's launch, the channel even redesigning it's idents in the style of the shows graphics, and when the time came to launch it they gave it a prime slot. (I queried the decision to go pre-watershed, fearing it would reinforce any 'juvenile' worries people might have, but when I realised the competition it would have faced an hour later, I conceded the wisdom of the choice.) Then they sat back and waited for a hit.
Did they get a hit? Reactions seems pretty much universally positive, but it's the numbers that matter, and sustaining them over the long term. I for one am praying that it hits big, because if it does, and if looked at in conjunction with The Walking Dead success, I think (hope) it could be a sign to the powers that be at CH5 that they can do something other than endless CSI clones, and still make the numbers.
Terrestrial sci-fi fans in the UK have long needed a consistent provider, and one that respects the shows in question. Channel 5 used to be that, in it's youth, and I think it could be again, if we send them the message that we're willing to watch.