Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Grimm Truth

All right, I started out the fall season excited out of my mind about two new shows based on Grimms' fairy tales. I've always had a weakness for a good fairy tale, and not just those cheery-ass Disney versions, but the darker versions that were originally told back in the day. Like one of the original versions of Sleeping Beauty, in which our heroine awoke not after being smooched, but after giving birth to twins. You just remember that story the next time you bitch about how unpleasant it is to be woken up by an alarm clock.

Anyhow, after having made it almost through the entire first season of both new fairy tale-based shows, I feel like the clear winner between them is "Once Upon a Time." It has its lame moments, but overall, it gets it right. "Once Upon a Time" manages to take just enough from the source material to give us that Grimm flavor, but gives everything a clever enough twist to keep it new and fresh. Plus, the intertwining, overlapping storylines that criss-cross btween our mundane world, where the poor storybook characters have been trapped, and the fairy tale world from whence they came add some interesting layers to the narrative. Not to mention the outstanding talent featured on the show, not only on the regular cast, but popping through in little guest-star-bursts of wonder.  (Examples, you say? You want examples? Well, say hello to Emma Caufield of "Buffy" fame, appearing as the witch from Hansel and Gretel! And isn't it lovely to see Kristin Bauer from "True Blood" as Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty?)

Mirror mirror, on the wall? Who's the best fairy tale show of them all?

"Grimm" is another story. Oh, "Grimm." It's the only one of the two shows to claim the Brothers Grimm in the very title, and yet it does absolutely nothing with their works. Sure, it gave us a few token episodes that reminded us that this whole show has something to do with fairy tales: the pilot with its Little Red Riding Hood plot, "Bears Will Be Bears" with the Goldilocks angle, some Pied Piper action in "Danse Macabre," the Three Little Pigs-themed "Three Bad Wolves," and our Rapunzel episode, "Let Your Hair Down." However, this would be more impressive if this list wasn't only comprised of 5 of 13 episodes. That means more than half of the episodes that have aired so far have been absolutely devoid of any Brothers Grimm-related material. In a show called "Grimm."

This isn't really a complete failing in and of itself. Despite the name, by no means do I think that a show that calls itself "Grimm" needs to be chock full of good fairies, glass slippers, and evil old crones. But it needs to decide to be something instead of meandering back and forth between ideas and occasionally spinning fruitlessly in circles. Does it want to be a show that puts a crime drama twist on fairy tale material or an urban fantasy crime show with absolutely nothing to do with all things Bibbidy Bobbity Boo-ish? When we're alternately faced with a Big Bad Wolf pedophile preying on  a modern day Little Red Riding Hood, a la the former, and then a slew of episodes featuring bee and spider monsters with evil mechanations that bear thwarting a la the latter, the inconsistency grows tiresome. I lost the thread of where this show was coming from and what it was trying to be a long time ago. It's like an indecisive child trying to pick a Halloween costume. Are you a fairy princess or a detective? And yes, wearing a trench coat with a tiara makes you look ridiculous, so decide already.

Where was that woodcutter when Little Red really needed him?

Even if they fix that, the folks at "Grimm" also need to map out their mythology a little more clearly. Sure, it's nifty that we have volumes of weird critters with Germanic names populating the world right under our noses... But they're not our main characters. Our main character is a cop who sees weird people, and that appears to be his only talent. This, in and of itself, is problematic. The whole plot is built around the mythic nature of the Grimms and the terror they strike into the hearts of the monsters in our world. But the monsters appear to have powers, raw strength, and animal ferocity. Our Grimm has a gun and a fine moral character. Big whoop. What else do you got, eh? Strength? Speed? Magical intuition? Invisible shields? Can he fly? Speak to the animals? Do anything that might make me believe that a family of Big Bad Wolves somewhere is checking under their beds and in their closets to make sure that no one as scary as Nick Burkhart is there?

So far, the answer is no. He has nothing else about him that makes me believe he's a legendary warrior who monsters live in fear of.

Oh, no, wait. I spoke too soon. Apparently, he can also research, which seems to be how he's managed thus far. So fear him, monsters, or he's going to look up stuff about you in his book! I mean, if I learned anything from G.I. Joe, it's that "Knowing is half the battle!" But the other half needs to be significantly more interesting and make for more compelling TV than watching Nick Burkhart read a book.

Maybe he battles evil with the power of his sexy pout? Did that work for his elderly aunt, too?

My advice to "Grimm"? Go back to your roots and try to re-work it from there. Once upon a time, we had a pilot which took the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood and gave it both the sinister flavor of an original Grimms' fairy tale with enough urban crime drama flavor to make it truly unique. The creepy magic was there in the form of our Big Bad Wolf, but crossing the old school Big Bad Wolf with his real-world modern day equivalent, the pedophile, brought a reality to the plot that made the fairy tale into a metaphor, of sorts. It was clever. It was unsettling. And it was interesting. And while some of the subsequent episodes have roughly meandered in that general direction, none of them have tried to really make that kind of connection since.

So take heed, "Grimm," and show the world that there's more than one fairy tale show out there that can be a force to be reckoned with. Otherwise, your title is going to need to lose an "m" to be truly accurate.