I don’t know exactly what I was expecting when I started watching ABC’s Once Upon a Time, but it wasn’t this. I figured it would round out my Hulu queue, keep me entertained, but not be anymore than a 5 in my list of Fall TV shows I’m watching. For most of the first episodes it was true, but then, Jane Espenson joined.
I can’t say it’s entirely Jane’s doing that this show has rocketed up the list of one of my favorite shows to watch this season. I think a major decision to focus on the characters rather than the complex storyline was really what made the show so compelling. After all, the series is telling stories that everyone whose grown up with fairytales knows all too well, but they’re adding in enough twists and turns to keep it surprising and enough illusions to make it delightful.
For the past couple months I’ve been struggling with this idea of complex story lines. I love them myself, some of my favorite TV shows have a large mythos and big, overarching plotlines. Yet, lately it’s seemed that those shows have gone a little too crazy with the complexity. Shows like Lost, Fringe and even Eureka have bogged down telling great stories with great characters in a confusing mess of multiple time lines and alternate histories. If I, as a watcher who loves time travel and science fiction have a hard time keeping up I can only imagine what the casual viewer thinks of such shows. So I think it was in the show’s favor to scale back the complexity and move forward with the compelling characters.
Even with compelling characters, it’s hard to tell compelling stories. As a culture we’ve been hearing stories of these fairytales for hundreds and hundreds of years. So it’s up to the writers of Once Upon a Time to remain true to the stories that people love, but keep up the surprise. While not every episode is stellar the show has managed to keep me engaged and keep me guessing. The latest episodes about Little Red Riding Hood and the Mad Hatter have been pure TV magic. They’re episodes that remind you why you watch TV in the first place, to be surprised, delighted and have your expectations subverted.
So keep it up Once Upon a Time I can’t wait to see what happens next.