It is now over ten years since the idiot box seriously commenced challenging the silver screen. With the likes of 24 and The Sopranos paving the way, television not only became respectable but seriously challenged the quality of what cinema had to offer. During those infant years, it would appear that material was hand-selected with great care, ensuring that each new show was excellent. In conjunction with this quality control, television shows tended to focus on realistic themes that often could not be done sufficient justice during the confines of a film’s two-hour running time. Audiences thrived on real-world scenarios and were treated to fascinating behind-the-scenes exposés (The West Wing), elaborate historical reconstructions (Deadwood), and biting social commentary (The Wire). Even when writers dabbled in the supernatural or fantastical – consider Carnivale and, more recently, Game of Thrones – stories were always successfully wrapped heavily in the guise of reality. It took a while for most to notice, but even Lost was actually a sci-fi, psychological brain-bender disguised as high-concept action. But unfortunately, now that television has gained such a strong footing in the entertainment landscape, the quality has quickly diminished as the market is flooded with fodder of a far lower quality.
Once Upon a Time is one of these beasts that suffers because it lacks much of what made that original canon of quality television so freaking good.
In my opinion, its weakest point is the fact that it is barely tethered to anything of actual consequence. I have found that I am most engaged when the story turns to Storybrooke but thus far, the writers’ efforts to establish any genuine care for the characters or actual tension is frustrated by their inability to bridge the gap between fantasy and reality. The links are just too tenuous. On the other hand, the scenes in the fairytale kingdom are poor; at times the special effects cause my mind to recall the likes of Xena: Warrior Princess.
In this particular episode, I was most perturbed by the hackneyed thwarting of our heroine, Emma Swan, by the Evil Queen. Most of the time it was barely even Storywriting 101, lacking any real imagination, originality or even believability and often Once Upon a Time actually feels like it should be aimed at an audience of 8-14 year olds and not adults.
With all this negativity aside, I think that all three female leads have a great deal to offer, particularly Jennifer Morrison (Swan) – well, I find her facial features fascinating anyway – and Lana Parrilla (Evil Queen), and they are ably supported by Robert Carlisle (Rumpelstiltskin) hamming it up. The introduction of more fairytale characters in the future might also allow for interesting narrative developments, however, as alluded to earlier, fairytales are superficial by nature and are as far removed from reality as possible so I don’t foresee a ‘happily ever after’ for Once Upon a Time.