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There's fairytale fun in 'Once Upon a Time'

Courtesy photo
From the inventive minds of "Lost" executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis comes a bold new imagining of the world, where fairytales and the modern-day collide. "Once Upon a Time" stars Ginnifer Goodwin as Snow White/Mary Margaret and Josh Dallas as Prince Charming/John Doe (pictured) as well as Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Jared Gilmore, Robert Carlyle, Jamie Dornan, Giancarlo Esposito and Raphael Sbarge.

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.

The one thing this supernatural crime procedural has in common with both of those Grimms is its dark tone.

Not only is the material dark, but so is the color palette, which I appreciate. The grisly makeup/special effects that are used on the villains are well done, too.

Star David Giuntoli, who could be Brandon "Superman" Routh's doppelganger, has a lot of credits to his name but no particularly recognizable ones. He's fine here, but like his resume, nothing about his performance really stands out.

Supporting players include not one, but two, "Prison Break" alums: Reggie Lee (Secret Service agent Bill Kim), who plays a police sergeant, and Silas Weir Mitchell (Haywire) as a reformed werewolf who helps Nick with his supernatural problems. Also, Russell Hornsby ("Lincoln Heights") is entertaining as Nick's partner, who provides a bit of comic relief, and sci-fi fans might recognize Captain Renard (Sasha Roiz of "Warehouse 13" and "Caprica").

Perhaps I wasn't in the right mood for a darker show after watching "Once Upon a Time" right before it, so I will definitely give it more episodes to win me over. Besides, it's on right after "Chuck," so I'm tuned into NBC already.

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Series premieres: "Hell on Wheels," 10 p.m. Sunday, AMC (Western about former Confederate soldier working on the transcontinental railroad and seeking revenge on the Union troops who killed his wife); "Call of the Wild," 10 p.m. Sunday, Animal Planet (colorful Kentucky animal rescuer).

Season premieres: "Bones," 9 p.m. Thursday, Fox; "The Real Housewives of Atlanta," 9 p.m. Sunday, Bravo; "Police P.O.V.," 10 p.m. Sunday, truTV; "Quints by Surprise," 10 p.m. Tuesday, TLC.

Returning: "Burn Notice," 10 p.m. today, USA.

Specials: "Tim Gunn: Behind the Seams of Season 9," 9 p.m. Thursday, Lifetime; "Ashes to Glory," 10 p.m. Sunday, PBS2; "Vietnam in HD," 9 p.m. Tuesday, History (history of the Vietnam War with rare restored footage; two hours each on three consecutive nights).

Music specials: Miranda Lambert and Jeff Bridges on "Austin City Limits," 10 p.m. Saturday, PBS; "All Access Nashville," 10 p.m. Tuesday, ABC (with Kenny Chesney, Faith Hill, Keith Urban and more); "CMA Awards," 8 p.m. Wednesday, ABC.

Of note: Part one of a two-part "NCIS," 8 p.m. Tuesday, CBS.

W.Va. alert: "Country Justice" follows the Fayette County K-9 unit, 10 p.m. Tuesday, Animal Planet.

Reach Amy Robinson at flipside@wvgazette.com.


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