2012 is most definitely the year of the fairy tale. We have the discovery of von Schonwerth's 500 new tales. We have Philip Pullman's rewriting of the Grimm tales coming out in September. We have several fairy tale films on the big screen for Summer, including Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman. Exactly two hundred years on from the Brothers Grimm's publication of Children's and Household Tales, the fairy tale business is booming.
And now we can add two new fairy tale based television series to the list: Grimm and Once Upon a Time.
I've been working my way through the first season of both shows and thought I'd make a few cursory observations. Firstly, Grimm is the by far the superior of the two. Homicide detective Nick Burkhardt (David Guintoll) learns that he is descendent of the Grimms and that all the creatures from the tales are real and living among us in human form. Charged with keeping the peace between humans and 'wessen' (pronounced vessin), Nick metes out justice to both groups. Melding fairy tales with the police procedural, Grimm genuinely manages to add something new to the genre. Yes, the end of show resolutions are a bit hokey and the central premise doesn't hold up to close scrutiny, but Grimm is a lot of fun and does at times move in surprising directions. The storytelling is confident and the visual logic is intelligent; the colour design and materials used on set creating an impression of the dark forest encroaching on the modern world.
The best thing about the show for me is the character Monroe, played by Silas Weir Mitchell. A reformed Blutbad (or big, bad wolf) he is Nick's guide to the wessen world. This pilates practicising clock repairman is trying his best not to bite anyone's head off but you can't always fight your true nature. Monroe provides the show with moments of unexpected hilarity, such as when he accidentally rips someone's arm off. Though not quite of the calibre of Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Grimm will probably appeal to a similar demographic.
While Grimm is a fun buddy cop crime drama, Once Upon a Time is more concerned with princesses than monsters. In Grimm, Nick attempts to keep people safe from wessen violence; in Once Upon a Time, it is the modern world which is a hell that the fairy tale characters need to escape from. I get the impression that this is made to be hugely ironic and the premise itself is too ridiculous to dwell on. While not entirely without charm, Once Upon a Time lacks the dark humour and inventiveness of Grimm. I don't root for any of the characters. They good guys are saccharine sweet and frequently annoying, the bad guys are badly drawn and largely motiveless. I'm only a few episodes in at this point, but it is doubtful I that I will stick it out for Season Two.