CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's usually not surprising when several variations on a theme premiere each season. Multiple crime and law shows are expected, and it wouldn't be network TV without romantic and ensemble comedies. However, I was surprised to see a more marginal genre -- fairytales -- get dual representation this season with ABC's "Once Upon a Time" and NBC's "Grimm," which premiered just days apart.
Is there really a strong enough market for two fairytale-based shows, particularly when the sci-fi/fantasy genre already struggles on network TV? Time will tell, but I'm inclined to say no.
And if that is the case, I predict that "Once Upon a Time" will be the winner.
Looking at the numbers game, the ABC show had better ratings than NBC's effort, but that's no real surprise. (NBC is consistently the lowest rated network.) The key, though, is their competition.
"Once Upon a Time" did well in a pretty competitive timeslot, 8 p.m. Sunday, going against long-running shows that have established audiences and fairly broad appeal ("The Simpsons," "The Amazing Race" and "Sunday Night Football"). It also held onto viewers in its second outing.
"Grimm," on the other hand, had a very strong premiere but has a less competitive timeslot: 9 p.m. Friday. More problematic for it is that it competes with two beloved sci-fi shows ("Fringe" and "Supernatural"), which might hurt its viewer base. It's up against established shows, as well ("Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and "CSI: NY.")
Another reason I'm inclined to give the vote to "Once Upon a Time" is because, frankly, it's the more entertaining of the two, so far. I wasn't really interested, based on the basic synopsis (a woman destined to save "a town where fairytale characters live under a spell, not knowing their true identities") and, honestly, I probably wouldn't have watched it if not for the column, but I really enjoyed myself as I watched the first two episodes back-to-back.
It won't be on my must-watch list, but I'll definitely DVR it to keep up. In addition to the escapist plot, the show also has strong actors and very nice production values.
I couldn't find a filming location for the fairy tale world, so it might have all been green-screen magic, but if it's real, I want to go there. It was stunning, particularly the opening scene of a horseback rider racing across a narrow road flanked by two vast expanses of bright blue sea.
The cast is led by the lovely and talented Jennifer Morrison ("House") and Ginnifer Goodwin ("Big Love") as, in reverse order, Snow White and her daughter, Emma Bell. Also key are Lana Parrilla ("Boomtown") as the Evil Queen/wicked mayor and the impressive young Jared Gilmore ("Mad Men") as Emma's son, Henry, who is key to getting Emma to fulfill her destiny.
Plus, there are some great supporting actors, like Robert Carlyle and Giancarlo Esposito. Josh Dallas ("Thor") didn't have much to do in episode two, as his Prince Charming translates to a comatose John Doe in the modern world, but he makes a nice prince in the fairytale world.
Carlyle ("Trainspotting") gets to be totally creepy and insane as Rumpelstiltskin in the fairytale world and is wildly fun to watch. Esposito still gets to be a bit evil as the Magic Mirror/mayor's right-hand man but in a much less chilling fashion than as his phenomenally menacing Gus on "Breaking Bad."
When it came to "Grimm," I was less impressed. Maybe it's because the name brings to mind for me not just the fairytale writers but also Terry Gilliam's "The Brothers Grimm" (an overlooked movie), but I was expecting more excitement, enchantment and, well, fun.