Somebody call Bill Wilingham.
ONCE UPON A TIME is a show that bares some obvious similarities to the comic book series FABLES. That (very adult) title is about the (not protected by copyright) fantasy characters from fables and fairy tales cast out of their homelands and living with us in the modern day. OUAT has the same basic premise, but attacks it from a slightly different perspective.
In this version, the Evil Queen from SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS is not dead and instead exacts revenge by sending Snow and all her friends to Maine, USA. I’ve never been to Maine so I don’t really know how much of a punishment that is. Besides the main villain being an entirely different character, the other major departure from FABLES is that none of the Fable Folk remember who they are. Neat.
The show does a great job of flashing back and forth between the past and present, showing us just what life was like for the Fable Folk before they went to hell (excuse me, Maine). These flashbacks are handled with style and sincerity. I don’t think the tone is quite right–it’s a little too serious–but I enjoyed these peeks at the life before. From the promos it looks like the flashbacks will continue. No surprise since the series was created by two of the better writers from LOST.
The main plot surrounds the daughter of two of the Fable Folk and her role in setting things right again. Her introductory scene was clever and unexpected. She’s an easy gateway into the world of the Fable Folk.
There are some smart scenes (any scene with the modern day Evil Queen is quite great–she’s one of the few Fable Folk with her memories intact) and some big ideas at play here, but the writing could be a lot stronger. Characters speak mostly in cliches and the whole thing can come off a bit cheesy, but there’s still a lot to love. I especially like that there’s no content issues and I’d have no problem showing it to my 9-year-old daughter. In fact, I’ll do that tonight.
I’d rate the show a solid B-, but there’s obvious potential here for better things and I’m looking forward to see if the creators can make good on it. I’m in… for now.