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PILOT REVIEW: Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time star Jennifer Morrison

By Adam Horowitz & Edward Kitsis  (Lost, Life as we Know it)
Grade: C-

Once Upon a Time could be a fairly decent concept, especially given Disney’s rich catalog to draw from. But Once Upon a Time, written by two Lost alums, is a mess both structurally (which can be fixed in later episodes) and conceptually (a more long-term problem). And the most frustrating part? Knowing that ABC will pick this one up.

To be fair, I haven’t seen a final cut of the series, which apparently boasts a distinct and beautiful mise-en-scene similar to Pushing Daisies. Great. I’m all for television breaking away from conventions in sets and color. But when ABC execs compared the pilot to Lost, I was more perplexed. Lost? Lost‘s pilot revealed very little mythology outside of the mysterious island, flashbacks, and the lovable Smokey (and Christian Shephard, but that’s a bit different). Lost‘s pilot also established wonderful characters who were extremely distinct from the outset. Once Upon a Time throws a million different mythological elements on the screen, hoping one will stick. There’s the marriage of Snow White (Jennifer Goodwin, Big Love) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas, Thor). The mysterious Henry (Jared Gilmore, Mad Men) visiting his long-lost mother, Anna (Jennifer Morrison, House). A magical curse that somehow stops time even though everyone is still walking around. A magical clock that doesn’t move. Anna’s super-secret powers revealed through the most expository means possible. A secret book with all of the secrets of Storybrooke. No more happy endings! And most offensively, none of the characters are remotely interesting outside of Henry (I might only think he’s interesting because I love Bobby Draper).

Granted, there are some parts that work. Anna attempting to leave Henry off at a bus station in Boston was humorous, as was Snow White drawing a sword at her wedding to fight the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla, Miami Medical). But not only is there so much revealed in the first episode, some of it just doesn’t make sense. If time is “stopped,” why are all of the storybook characters still moving around? Wouldn’t a simpler explanation simply be that the Evil Queen’s curse caused them to forget who they are? Why throw in the “time” point, when clearly time hasn’t stopped? And Anna’s powers are so poorly revealed that it’s hard to take seriously. And why does Snow WhiteMary Margaret Blanchard give the mysterious picture book to Henry? Why has it recorded everything? I’m sure that some of these will be explained, but the curse “stopping time” is recited throughout the pilot. And it didn’t do that.

The cutting back to “Disney world,” an amalgamation of Lost‘s flashbacks and flashsideways, is also suspect. Is it a world outside of ours? What Disney myth are we supposed to be using as a our basis for this world? How do these elements interact with each other? Again, these questions will (hopefully) be answered, but without explanation, these aspects of the pilot are extremely poorly developed. Not to mention that the actual occurrence of events is slightly bizarre – how, exactly, are they able to find a magic stump that can protect only one person from the curse? At least tell me you found it in some magical forest and mention it an act or two before it’s actually shown.

There’s a possibility that with the right actors, sets, and direction, Once Upon a Time might be a decent pilot. But since its internal logic its most grating element at this point, I don’t expect post-production to turn the show into a winner, at least not off the bat.


4 Responses

  1. […] Am Once Upon a Time – C- Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apt. 23 Hallelujah The […]

  2. How do you know that ABC will pick up this pilot?

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