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Tag Archive: Once Upon a Time


Review by C.J. Bunce

Fairy tales seem to be everywhere this past year, beginning with a TV rivalry of sorts between Once Upon a Time and the superb series Grimm.  Lost Girl, the Canadian TV series winding up its third season in the States, has been a brilliant series, full more of folklore than fairy tales per se, yet it truly highlights the “fae” of the genre.  Movies like Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror, Mirror, and Red Riding Hood have shown that classic tales still have resonance with mainstream audiences, because the source stories are, quite simply, timeless.

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By the borg.com Writing Staff

As the spring TV season winds down, we thought we’d take a moment to reflect back on this season’s viewing, looking at what ultimately made our “must watch” list, and what didn’t.  Look back to see our reviews, then check out our weekly lineup!

Let’s start with what didn’t make it for us:

  • The Firm.  Although we enjoyed the performances, and the overall series mystery seemed intriguing, the focus on courtroom melodrama bogged this one down.  The fatal moment, though, was an episode in which the Rules of Criminal Procedure were so wildly distorted as to kill any suspension of disbelief.  Note to courtroom drama writers: We’ve all watched twenty years of Law & Order.  You need to step up the writing if you want to succeed.
  • Terra Nova.  This series just lost us.  The pilot was serviceable and showed us the great potential the ideas behind this series had, but episodes quickly devolved into a weak combination of weekly world-destroying strawman threats (yawn) that just felt more and more incredibly contrived, and a confusing (and, IMO, un-needed) effort to create a dark, mysterious, earth-shattering plot with shadowy characters and alignments similar to the epic Lost.  The last two episodes we watched (in January) were literally painful to watch, mainly due to the largely wasted potential that a time-traveling colony in the Cretaceous era. WeI’ve heard that the last few episodes in this season showed promise, but we won’t be tuning in unless we hear some positive buzz on the show once it starts again in the fall.
  • The Killing.  This is the only show that Jason can remember where he actively rooted against it succeeding.  The first season treated viewers with such contempt for their intelligence, after a promising pilot and first couple of episodes, and that means any resolutions for the plot or characters are unimportant.

Hanging on by a Thread:

  • Once Upon a Time.  This one is still nabbed weekly by our DVR, but we missed a couple of episodes during the holidays and never bothered to get caught up again.  There was nothing really wrong with it; we were enjoying it–but other series (see below) bumped it from the tight nightly schedule.
  • Ringer.  See OUAT, above.  The ongoing soap opera gained momentum after the midseason, but ultimately fell victim to things that held our attention a little bit more.  Escalating outrageousness and cringe-inducing (in a good way!) plot twists raised the stakes for the series, so this one deserves a marathon to get caught up.
  • Falling Skies.  Our review of this summer series here at borg.com remains unchanged; we saw great potential, and though the series had its issues, it also had its positive aspects, and we’ll be tuning in this summer when episodes resume on TNT on June 17th at 9pm Eastern Time.  Hopefully the second season comes out with a bang and delivers on this series’ massive potential.  And you can catch a promising glimpse of the season opener here.
  • 30 Rock.  One of the favorites of past years, it isn’t at the top of viewing lists anymore, though if the episode focus is on Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy, it can still be magic.  Because it only streams on his computer, it is tough for Jason to watch now.

So, what are the big winners this season at borg.com?

Lost Girl.  We are loving this lighthearted adult urban fantasy!  Satisfying world building based in European fairy lore combines with strong performances by the supporting cast to make this a weekly guilty pleasure.  It’s like Buffy for grownups–what Angel was trying to be, only done right.

Awake.  Launched in the same Thursday night time slot as The Firm, (which also hosted another fine debut series, Prime Suspect), this paranormal crime drama only gets better.  Jason Isaacs makes a compelling lead, and the series writers have wisely increased the genre stakes for the series, giving it extra pull.  They’re teasing the paranormal plot out very slowly, but when the moments hit, they pack a wallop.  We’re looking forward to seeing the mystery build.

Grimm.  Elizabeth’s personal favorite this season!  After a compelling pilot, this series has taken a while to get going.  But, as with Awake, they’re finally starting to really build the ongoing genre plot, adding complications to the established “monster murder of the week” formula.  New characters and a stronger focus on the otherworldly underbelly have given Grimm a much-needed boost, and we were happy to see that it’s been picked up for another season!  Friday nights just haven’t been the same without Chuck.  One thing we’d like to see more of, please: strong women characters.

New Girl.  C.J.’s favorite comedy of the past ten years and favorite series of the year.  He still cannot believe each episode is only a half an hour, since the writers crammed so much into each show.  Zooey Deschanel’s Jess is as put-upon as any classic female comedy lead in the Mary Richards variety, and is as brilliantly funny, smart and zany.  The supporting cast only got better throughout the first season, but the funny stories didn’t really explode with humor until they finally linked-up Max Greenfield’s Schmidt with Hannah Simone’s Cece.

Psych.  Still occupying the top spot in our must-watch lineup, the second half of the Psych season really delivered.  From beginning (the great season re-opener guest starring Cary Elwes) to end (that CLIFFHANGER!), with very few missteps in between (not sure what to make of “Let’s Do-Wop It Again,” with Shawn in the hospital and minus Keenan Thompson), all around, the show’s still got it.

The Walking Dead.  The second season of this series just got better and better, with deeper storylines, clever surprises, and a real aura of uncertainty around favorite characters survivability.  And the season finale was one of the best of the year (Michone!!!).  It’s the one series I simply cannot wait to resume in the fall.

Community.  This is Jason’s only show he will watch in real time.  The characters keep developing and adding depth and when the writers create a personality quirk, it is in service of character and not the story of the week.  He would visit the Greendale campus (and did as a background extra) to see all the characters, but attending Greendale would be the worst decision of his or anyone’s life except for those that want to learn to make a diorama.

House, M.D.  After Dr. Greg House (Hugh Laurie) drove his car into Dr. Cuddy’s home we thought this series was pretty much done for.  We still had doubts that we’d need another season after House’s prison stint.  Then BAM!  This last season is on par with the best of its eight season run, especially because the writers have let Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) be Wilson, Chase (Jesse Spencer) be Chase, and Russian bride-in-name-only Dominika (Karolina Wydra) almost make it as House’s single perfect mate.  Although Charlene Yi and Odette Annable are fine as Drs. Park and Adams, the show still struggles with the one note Cameron/Thirteen replacement role.  We wish we had Amber Tamblyn back.  Although Omar Epps’s Dr. Foreman pretty much vanished, Peter Jacobson’s Dr. Taub continues to amuse to the bitter (?) end.

Fairly Legal.  Although we’ve fallen behind thanks to new diversions like Awake and Lost Girl, the sophomore season of this unusual, lighthearted legal drama continues to entertain. Star Sarah Shahi is cute and engaging (although we liked her better as a cynical cop in Life and as Gus’s adrenaline junkie girlfriend in a guest spot on Psych), even if her harried approach to life gets a little exhausting.  We’re hoping for a bigger role for Gerald McRaney this season.

In Plain Sight.  We’ve let the final season of this solid crime drama get backed up on our DVR, but from what we’ve seen so far, they’re going to round the series out nicely, with the same sharp dialogue and complex relationships that have given this series staying power despite a history of scheduling mishaps.  It’s nice to see Tangie Ambrose (Agent Parmalee) get a stronger role, Tia Carrere is always fun, and all things considered, I think everyone prefers baby Norah to Jinx and Brandi.

Parks and Recreation.  April Ludgate, Andy Dwyer and Ron Swanson continue to be three of the best characters on television.

A few other shows we’re thinking about, but haven’t mentioned here before:

  • Surburgatory. Jason has no clue what makes this interesting.  He laughs and that’s a big part.  The supporting cast (Alan Tudyk (Firefly), Ana Gasteyer and Chris Parnell (SNL) and Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm) is just so, goofy and fun. Mostly, it is earnest father and daughter relationship of the two leads, Jeremy Sisto and Jane Levy.
  • Modern Family.  The second season of this award-winning series was side-splitting.  Better than the great comedic actors and fantastic use of the “mockumentary” format is the terrific writing of the scribes behind the show, particularly Jeffery Richman  & creator Steven Levitan. The stories of the three households making up the dysfunctional Modern Family intertwine effortlessly to create the funniest half-hour on network television.
  • CSI (Crime Scene Investigation).  After a dozen seasons in the bag and numerous cast changes, CSI could easily be slipping off of most people’s radar, especially with the mid-season exit of long-time favorite Marg Helgenberger.  And though it will never likely recover the viewership it enjoyed when William Peterson was on the cast, the new additions of Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue has been a breath of creative fresh air.  After missteps with recently departed cast, especially the badly conceived Dr. Ray Langston character portrayed by the excellent Lawrence Fishburne, the series seems to be back on an even keel and cranking out the crafty, clever alternative plotlines to the rote procedurals currently on the air everywhere else. Amen.
  • Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23.  Only four episodes in, but having James Van Der Beek play a cartoon version of himself, keeps paying funny dividends.  If that lasts, this will be a keeper.
  • Mad Men.  Jason got rid of his cable and finding this show in a legal manner can be tough, but he knows it is worth it.
  • Archer.  Jason says, “Give me the voice of H. Jon Benjamin in crazy spy situations or give me death!”
  • Bob’s Burgers.  Jason says, “Give me the voice of H. Jon Benjamin in crazy burger joint situations or give me death!”

Review by C.J. Bunce

(Spoilers!)

Dark shows have tended to monopolize new genre TV series in the past few years.  We’ve been overwhelmed with underwhelming vampire shows, and not since Buffy and Angel have we seen anything in that category worth watching.  The NBC series Grimm has been an exception, and that series keeps moving along without any bad episodes so far.  Sometimes you can’t even get past the pilot of new series, and shows like Being Human, Terra Nova, Invasion and The 4400 move along a slow trajectory toward cancellation.

Overall the Syfy Channel has had a good showing over the past few years, with shows like Battlestar Galactica, Sliders, Warehouse 13, Haven, and the short-lived Dresden Files at the top eschelon of what the network has to offer.  The series Alphas started off slow but showed some promise, but other shows were bombs from the start, like Caprica and Bionic Woman.

So when you do find a solid, entertaining pilot episode, it really stands out.  Lost Girl is one of those pilots.

From the first scene, you hope this tall, dark haired woman is the protagonist, even though she appears to have just murdered someone, albeit in a very supernatural way, seemingly sucking away the soul or spirit of a villainous scumbag, like the alien visitor in the 1980s British movie, Lifeforce.  She does it in part because she has a “hunger” and in part to protect a younger woman who has just been drugged by the man.  We learn our protagonist’s name is Bo (played by Canadian actress Anna Silk), and her new, younger hanger-on is Kenzie, and although they could have probably used some better character names, Kenzie is plucky and funny, and even for a genre show they immediately come off as real people.

Kenzie is a pickpocket who immediately sees Bo for what she is, some kind of superhero, even if she is a murderous self-described freak.  Kenzie’s dialogue is expertly written, and the writers amazingly know their characters from minute one.  Both beautiful in their own way, Kenzie more Goth and Bo in a more Xena meets Wonder Woman Amazon princess looking way, Bo actually shows some vulnerability despite her powers as she engages in a question-answer session with Kenzie.  But the full scope of Bo’s powers are only partially revealed in the pilot, as we learn she is also some kind of pusher.

A pair of cops show up on the scene of the scumbag’s death, and instead of being the typical oafish humans not-in-the-know, these two guys know exactly about the supernatural nature of the crime.  Clearly these cops will be recurring characters and their odd looks and style quickly grow on the viewer as they seem to walk the line between a dark world and being outright good guys.  We learn there is a world of supernatural beings called the Fae, and within the Fae two rival gangs that appear to be keeping the peace so long as their turf lines are respected.  We learn from a mystical bartender that Bo may be some type of prophesied visitor.  The heads of the two houses squabble little instead of engaging in a time-wasting battle as you might expect, and instead follow the “old rule,” where Bo must make a choice of houses after first proving herself in a battle to the death with two creatures.

Bo acknowledges she is entering into her very own Thunderdome sequence.  Her confidence throughout the episode makes it credible that she can win these battles, the first a typical thug to outsmart, and the second a brilliantly concocted act of trickery.  By herself, she cannot beat the second challenge.  Luckily Bo brings with her the desire for others to like her, and immediately can garner loyalty or outright love from whomever she touches.  The reason for this is because she is a succubus (for South Park fans, note that she is not as vile as the succubus that married Chef and tried to kill him).  This succubus is pretty kick-ass, as female protagonists in genre TV is concerned.  The episode never gets silly or campy like Buffy the Vampire Slayer did (a good thing for that series), but Lost Girl takes itself a bit seriously, giving you the idea the stakes will prove to be greater as the series progresses.

The production quality doesn’t lack anything, the sets and overall design and look are dark and slick, but not grimy or ugly.  The women dress cool, and the guys dress stylish as well.   The story elements are fresh and original, and if you’re looking for something different in genre TV this may be the next new show to watch.

The cast is new to American TV screens, with Ksenia Solo as Kenzie.  Actually you kind of wish Ksenia Solo and Anna Silk could haved used their own names as the characters, as their real names are pretty cool as slick heroine names go.  The female head of the house of the dark Fae (Emanuelle Vaugier) has the same feel as the Wicked Queen of the ABC series Once Upon A Time, only this leader is less vile and over the top, and her reserved nature makes her far more compelling to watch.  And a scientist played by Zoie Palmer appears to be a series regular.

It’s refreshing to see two strong female leads helm a new series like this, and you hope they can keep the world building and strong characterization moving forward into something that can last.  The crazy thing is that the series is in its third season in Canada, and only just this week premiering in the U.S.  So the hope from episode one that this series won’t just fizzle out has already been determined by the Canadian viewers.  So even if Syfy doesn’t continue with the series there is always the boxed set or streaming video version to catch up on!

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Ok, it’s probably not fair to call Grimm and Once Upon a Time rivals, exactly. There’s definitely room in the fairy tale universe for multiple retellings; indeed, that’s part of what’s kept the form vital and relevant for hundreds of years.  But in the days of hotly-contested ratings shares and limited viewer time (and attention spans), one can’t help pitting one series against the other.

First, both are watchable. NBC’s entrant, Grimm, is a supernatural crime drama set in the misty Northwest, and, coming from former Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel producer/creator David Greenwalt, it sits squarely in that urban fantasy niche. ABC’s Once Upon a Time is a frothy fantasy bedtime story, spinning a “what if” story of fairy tale characters trapped in our world, and still duking it out with their ancient enemies.

I enjoyed elements of both series, but if I only had time for one, I’d watch Grimm. From the opening sequence, I was hooked.  Filmed in Portland, Oregon in early spring, among bare-branched trees and chilly overcast skies, the show just looks amazing, in that spooky-yet-beautiful way we loved in The Dead Zone and The X-Files.  The premise is also fun—a homicide detective discovers he’s the latest in a long line of Grimms, or… well, we’re not entirely sure what those Grimms do, yet, as Nick Burkhardt’s (David Giuntoli) mentor inevitably falls into a coma before getting a chance to explain Burkhardt’s new destiny.  But Episode One gave us enough clues to play along, as destiny and day job collide when a serial killer strikes local girls in red hoodies, and turns out to be a “Bludbad,” or big bad wolf. It’s a familiar setup, but it’s handled beautifully, and Episode One of Grimm was one of the best pilots I’ve seen in ages, with smart writing, smart characters, and a tantalizing premise.

Giuntoli is likeable as the not-so-hapless ordinary guy thrust into a strange, otherworldly adventure, both a caring family man and a sharp detective, and we sense he’ll handle the burden of his new role just fine. Borg.com editor C.J. Bunce praised the show’s special effects, particularly the startling transformation of ordinary passers-by into demonic entities that only Nick can see. The rest of the cast is likewise enjoyable, from Bludbad C.I. Eddie (Silas Weir Mitchell, Burn Notice), to Nick’s partner on the force, Hank Griffin (Russel Hornsby), to a fantastic appearance by Tim Bagley (Monk) as the Big “I do my own needlepoint” Bad hunting Little Reds.  Though this is unabashedly paranormal, it’s nice to see a show that respects both the genre and viewers’ intelligence–Nick’s special abilities lead him to the perpetrator, but the crime is ultimately solved by smart (wholly natural) police work.  It’s this combination of the normal and the para- that will make Grimm a standout this season, and two moments in particular characterize the smart, surprising elements that have me hooked. When Nick first meets wolfish Eddie, we see him walk out his back door to mark his territory. My immediate reaction was an exasperated, “Why would anyone leave their house to… oh, right.” Subtle, and spot on. The other was the chilling glimpse inside Bagley’s armoire full of red hoodies. It’s just the perfect amount of creepiness, without descending into horror.

Once Upon a Time time also features lavish production values and is (mostly) lovely to look at.  The writing is capable, if nothing special, and the actors—particularly leads Jennifer Morrison, Jared Gilmore, Lana Parilla, and Robert Carlyle (in a creepy turn as an impish Rumpelstiltskin)—give solid, enjoyable performances.  The trouble comes when you look closer.  First, the concept is nothing new—we’ve seen fairy tale characters trapped in our world before, and done better, in Bill Willingham’s landmark Fables comic book series, and Sarah Beth Durst’s award-winning novels Into the Wild and Out of the Wild.

More bothersome is the handling of the source material—instead of acknowledging the richness of the fairy tale tradition, Once is stuck firmly in the Disneyverse, populated with characters straight out of the Disney versions of fairy tales (and, confusingly, stories that aren’t fairy tales at all, like Pinocchio), but without the charming irony and acknowledgement of the inside joke that made their similar offering, the 2007 film Enchanted, work so well. Instead, the world feels oddly proprietary, as if, Evil-Queen-like, they’re clamping down on the traditional stories and adhering only to their own canon.  Sadly, this won’t bother most viewers, but the show would be more fun for everyone if the nods were more obvious and played up (a sherrif named Woody, perhaps?).

Though each series shows promise now, unfortunately both networks have a history of failing to follow through on great setups (Lost and Heroes), so neither show really has an edge in that respect.  Once has the better timeslot (the 8 pm Sunday night slot that has performed historically well for Disney), but hopefully Grimm can pick up enough of Chuck’s loyal fan base to encourage a better move for next season.  Grimm has the better premise and payoff, but Once boasts familiar actors that will draw viewers. All things considered, it’s definitely a great time to be a fairy tale fan.