We've reached the point in the TV seasons where some of the late-premiering shows (it's not fair to call them mid-season replacements, but for whatever reason they didn't premiere last month) are finally hitting the air. The first of the wave was ABC's "Once Upon a Time", which debuted last night. Initially, I was going to take a wait-and-see approach with the show, but I decided to catch the premiere (on my DVR, after the World Series).
My biggest concern for the show was that coming from a set of "Lost" writers, it would ramble on for weeks, teasing the audience with hints of a broader premise while seemingly going nowhere. However, in the opening episode, the show wasted no time getting its primary premise out in front of the audience: in "fairy tale land", the Evil Queen interrupts the wedding of Snow White and Prince Charming with the threat of a curse, one that will take away everyone's happy endings. That curse takes everyone to the real world, where years later the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming is supposed to return to "Storybrooke" (the name of the fairy tale world's real-world counterpart) and save everyone from the curse.
The concept sounds cheesy on paper, but worked much better on film in the premiere episode. Leaning on their "Lost" roots, the writers seamlessly wove the current story in with flashbacks to the events leading up to the curse. What I thought would be the show's weakness ended up being its strength, along with the fantastic performance in a dual role by Lana Parrilla, who played the Evil Queen who post-curse becomes the mayor of Storybrooke.
However, the show revolves around the character of Emma Swan, the now-adult daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, played by Jennifer Morrison (most recently seen as the destestible Zoey on "How I Met Your Mother"). You could play a drinking game with the cliches they used to create the character, and Morrison's half-involved, half-"get me outta here" way of playing Emma just brought the whole mood of the episode down. I understand that she's the grounding character, the one who was raised in the "real" world and has no natural connection to fairy tale land, but it only took about 20 minutes into the episode before I took a dislike to her. It didn't help that she shared most of her scenes with her biological son, the stereotypical "child who knows more than the adults" we see in this type of show. He was an entirely unnecessary character, and one who creates more of a problem than a solution going forward (if he already knows the key mystery behind the show, then the show becomes more about characters believing him than figuring things out for themselves).
Truth be told, "Once Upon a Time" showed a lot of potential in its first hour. There are plenty of interesting characters, led by Parrilla's Queen, and the groundwork was laid for an added layer of mystery between Snow White, Emma and Rumplestiltskin (known as Mr. Gold in the "real" world). I definitely want to see what happens with Josh Dallas's Prince Charming, who was near death when the curse hit and is in a coma in the "real" world. The flashbacks are interesting enough to keep me watching, but I'd like to see Morrison tone down the incredulity to make the real world scenes more enjoyable in the coming weeks.