Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stories Misbehaving, or some thoughts on "Once Upon a Time"

Some thoughts on “Once Upon a Time”

So I was really excited. No. I mean, REALLY, really excited. TWO shows (Grimm on NBC and Once Upon a Time on ABC) debuting this fall, that promised to make fairy tales the core of their storytelling. I’ve since given up on Grimm. It has some really major story problems (not to mention the fact that there are literally No Women, unless they are tied up in a basement. Seriously, NBC? Why can’t his fiancée be an ally? You can’t just say “She’s a Doctor! There ya go gals.”) It seems almost like NBC is concerned that its core audience is Too Cool For Fantasy (“Don’t worry guys! See? It’s just a cop show! Nothing to worry about!”) so its ripped the story’s teeth out.

So I was maybe a little more happy than I would have normally been with the pilot of “Once Upon a Time”. Colorful, wild and look! Girls! Women! Kind of… being people. Amazing. But then the Disney Movie references.  Then, Jennifer Morrison’s performance which is lackluster to say the least. Then, something about the story was just…wrong. Kat Howard did a great review of both these shows here and here (She likes Grimm more than I do), but something she said in her Once review resonated with why the show wasn’t resonating with me.

I think that, if I were someone who hadn’t thought about fairy tales since I had read them as a kid or seen the last Disney movie, that I would love Once Upon a Time. But as someone who has steeped myself in them, there’s nothing new for me here.”

And this was my problem as well. There was nothing new, nothing…interesting about the retellings. Like Howard, I have steeped myself in fairy tales my entire life. I have reveled in terrific retellings, including many Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow anthologies, and right now I’m reading Margo Lanagan’s “Tender Morsels” and opiate dream of Snow White and Rose Red. So I was disappointed, and let the last four episodes languish on the DVR.

Then, reading Theodora Goss’s blog post On Enchantment she reminded me that what really attracts me to these kinds of stories is the sense of wonder, the wondrous. And I was having a bad writing day, and didn’t have to be at the Athenaeum until 3, and so I released the episodes from their languishment in the DVR and watched them. And what I realized was this:

Once I stopped being irritated that It Wasn’t What I Wanted, once I stopped being pissed off at the thing for Not Behaving As I Wanted It To, I just watched it. For what it is. And no, it’s not a brilliant retelling of a fairy tale. But it’s a compelling drama, with fantastical elements that play to my love of the wondrous, the enchanted. I *like* that Jiminy Cricket is the Child Psychologist. I *like* that it shows we are not always the people we would like to be. I especially like what they’re doing with Rumpelstiltskin. And couldn’t help but relate those storylines with my own. (“I’m sorry Sallie Mae. I should NOT have told the King I could spin straw into gold, it’s true. But don’t you think my firstborn child is a BIT much?”)

So it was good to be reminded, that just because a piece of work (book, movie, television show) isn’t what I wanted it to be, doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it. Sometimes, we just have to let it BE what it IS, and enjoy THAT, not the misplaced fantasy of what we WISHED it would be.

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