The sleeping princess of Once Upon a Time

This past weekend saw the premier of the new ABC Family series, Once Upon a Time. 

The fantasy drama appears to combine fairytales with the dramatic tension of Desperate Housewives, and the story-telling form of LOST. This seems like a recipe for success, and if nothing else, it was a formula for drawing in viewers. According to the ratings, it was the most successful ABC pilot in 5 years.

The shows tells its story by mixing scenes from a fairytale land called The Enchanted Forrest with scenes from the modern town of Storybrook, Maine.

Each of the people living in the small town have doubles in the Enchanted Forrest. They are actually the same people, but a curse has befallen them, and they are unable to remember who they once were.

28 years have passed since the day  the curse was cast. Emma, the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, was foretold to be the town’s savior before the curse fell. She was the only one able to escape, and has been brought back to the town by her son who she gave up for adoption ten years prior.

He happened to be adopted by the Mayor of Storybrook, the double of the ‘wicked witch’ of the Enchanted Forrest, who brought the curse upon them all.

The characters all seem to have retained their personalities, despite not remembering who they are, and there are other clues to who each of the residents might be. Some are stated outright, like the town psychiatrists, who we’re told is actually Jiminy Cricket, but others are assumed.

For example, when Emma walks into Granny’s Bed and Breakfast, the only inn in town, she finds an older woman arguing with her apparent granddaughter about whether she should be going out alone. The granddaughter is wearing red, and when she puts a red scarf over her hair, her identity becomes instantly understood.

It was a little bothersome to me that many of the characters were very Disney, by which I mean that they are very much the version of themselves from the Disney films made about them, when there are Disney films to be had (none for Red-Riding Hood, for example), though I suppose this is to be expected considering that much of their intended audience is familiar mostly with the Disney versions of the characters, and so won’t notice. Of course, it’s also worth noting that ABC is owned by Disney.

This won’t really detract from the show’s popularity. In fact, it will likely help, since people are usually so unfamiliar with pre-Disney versions of their fairy-tales that they don’t recognize them anymore. It may bother critics and literature professors, but everyone else will be happy with the situation.

The cast is well chosen, I think. Like with any show, it may take a few episodes to see them start to hit their stride and work together well, but individually, I think the right people were chosen for the parts. Jennifer Morrison (House, M.D.) plays well the bewildered outsider, Lana Parrilla (fourth season of 24) is convincing as a secretly-evil ruler, and Robert Carlyle is almost too good as the mischievous Rumplestiltskin. Much more fun than his character in SGU.

This first episode dealt mostly with Snow White, Prince Charming, and the witch, but many other characters were introduced, and still more live in the town with no introduction yet. I would expect that each episode will see a few more townsfolk introduced, along with flashbacks to the people they once were.

Interestingly enough, there are not a lot of mysteries yet. I expected a lot of strange things to be introduced and left unexplained, but there is only one thing left ‘mysterious’ at the end of the episode, and that’s the existence of what seems to be a massive coma ward in the town’s hospital, much larger than one would expect for the small population.

Clearly, more mysteries will be presented in the next few episodes, but is this one mystery enough to bring back viewers for a second episode of Once Upon a Time?

We’ll find out when it airs next Sunday evening on ABC.