Once Upon A Time and Grimm facture traditional fantasy with enchanted dark urban drama.
Fairies challenge vampire dominance in new television season
With vampires growing longer in the tooth, television now appears eager to vary the fantasy diet by tapping into urban fairy tales with a frightful twist of darkness.
Culturally, one can only wonder: are fairy tale folk the new vampires? Is being "Team Edward" or "Team Jacob" (in the Twilight movies' realm) soon to become irrelevant? Is Jiminy Cricket buggy enough to vanquish the creatures of the night?
Two new television series – Once Upon A Time (ABC) and Grimm (NBC Universal) – have seized on to fairy tales being real as the premise for engaging one-hour dramas. This is not Disney family hour; these shows cater to grown-ups who crave more than "happily ever after" as well as mystery, suspense and supernatural horror.
The first, Once Upon A Time, finds the fairy tale characters Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) living in the town of Storybrooke, Maine. In this quaint place, time has stopped and a curse has fed a collective amnesia - they don't even know they're fairy tale characters. The world of magic collides with the modern day in this series from the inventive minds of the Lost executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis. One boy's search, and his love for his real mother, appears poised to upset the Queen's poison-apple cart.
Upon its premiere last week on North American television, Once Upon A Time rocketed ABC to its strongest ratings in three years in the coveted 18-to-49 demographic.
The second, Grimm, a delectably dark police procedural inspired by the classic Grimms' Fairy Tales, sees the homicide detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) discover he's descended from an elite line of criminal profilers known as "Grimms", charged with keeping the balance between humanity and the mythological creatures of the world. He can see things we cannot, such as monsters. This series posits that the fairy tales your parents used to tell you before bedtime weren't stories – they were warnings.
Deep in the midnight woods, where smoke curls lazily out of the Big Bad Wolf's cottage chimney, don't be surprised if that pot pie in his woodstove contains more than chicken (especially when the young girl with the red hoodie vanished off a jogging trail earlier in the day). He's but one of a pantheon of beasts Grimm will encounter as he journeys deeper into a hidden world of fractured fairy tales.
The current wave of vampires sank their fangs into global TV culture with the advent of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) and its spin-off, Angel (1999-2004), and more recently with True Blood (2008-present) and The Vampire Diaries (2009-present).
One clue that the oak stake may be coming down hard on this trend is the fact that the one-time Buffy executive producer David Greenwalt has turned his back on bloodsuckers to reinvent himself as the co-creator of Grimm.
Pop-culture gurus, however, aren't ready to pin vampires down for the count, and point to other reasons for this season's resurgence in fairy tales.
"Hollywood is starting to realise that women are loyal TV viewers, that they go to movies – yes, even on the all-important opening weekend – and that they have disposable income that advertisers want to get their hands on," says Dawn Johnston, a communication and culture professor at the University of Calgary.
"With the success of the vampire genre, particularly among tween girls, and perhaps more unexpectedly, their 30-something and 40-something mothers, there's a lot of capital tied up in fantasy genres right now. But even some of the biggest fans of the vampire genre may be starting to express some vampire-fatigue, and it's hard to see what's left to do in a genre that's peaked with TV shows like True Blood and film franchises such as Twilight.
"I think the second appeal is also economic, if peripherally so," adds Johnston. "People know these stories – they grew up with them. Fairy tales remind people of their childhood – of a time when they were more easily entertained, more easily drawn into a narrative, even more easily shocked or spooked by a story.
"In times of recession, we often see people wax nostalgic about 'a simpler time'. When it comes to eating, we turn to comfort food; and when it comes to entertainment, we turn to the stories that hold fond memories for us – which just might be fairy tales."
Don't count the vampires out yet, says Robert J Thompson, a pop culture professor at Syracuse University.
"It's true that TV and Hollywood have latched on to this fairy tale theme, but it remains to be seen whether these new iterations of fairy tales will grip the culture. I liked the pilot of Once Upon A Time very much, for example, but I'll be surprised if it makes it to a second season. And Red Riding Hood was no Twilight."
Once Upon A Time will premiere tomorrow on OSN First HD, OSN First and OSN First +2 and air on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Grimm will be broadcast on OSN early in 2012; date to be determined