How Once Upon a Time Surprised Me

Once Upon a Time Promotional Shot of Emma, Henry, Snow White, Prince Charming, Mr. Gold, The Evil Queen and the Huntsman

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.


Tabz (aka Tabitha Grace Smith) is a omnivorous geek with a special love of television. She's a writer, social media strategist, and teacher. In her spare time she blogs over at Doctor Her (a Doctor Who blog) and runs Between the Lines Studios.

3 thoughts to “How Once Upon a Time Surprised Me”

  1. I agree, it’s been pretty consistent. I have doubts about the addition of “Alice in Wonderland” to the mythos. What are the “stories are real” rules in this case? As long as Disney has covered it? Are we going to learn Disney’s some kind of magic minion of Reinga’s? LOL (I was more annoyed until I remembered Pinocchio, although borrowing from older traditions, wasn’t a traditional fairy tale. The thing they all have in common is Disney, and A: they’ve been VERY twisted-disneyfied in the work B: this parenthetical is way too long.)

    What do you think?

    1. Actually, the Alice in Wonderland was the most like the original story of them all. I think that episode also opened us up to the idea that all stories are real (especially with the alternate universe theory).

      I think I’ve been very surprised at the wide berth Disney has given the writers, after all this is the first time you’ve seen Snow White so kick-butt with a sword. Disney is notoriously closed most of the time. I think it’d be great to have some non-Disney stories, but we’ll see.

  2. I was thinking about how annoyingly close the Beauty and the Beast episode tried to be– or at least the sly little nods. Even Snow white got those, here and there, outfits, the little tweeting birds.

    It’s not the ORIGINALITY of Alice stories I’d debate, but the distance from the “Fairytales In Exile” theme of it. I recognize I’ve got a negative tone, but I do quite like the show, and I’m sort of devil’s advocate playing, here. My usual gush is only slightly tainted by my minor trepidation about Alice stories being shoehorned in. I loved the Hatter’s actor, and the portrayal. I really hope the Queen of Hearts thing gets woven in more intricately, if it’s to be there. I love the intertwined story lines that have, so far, not been shallow.

    I would prefer, though, for the stories to stick to the fairy tales and that sort of literature– the kind that is sort of an entity in and of itself in culture– there is SO MUCH left that they haven’t used, probably because it’s not been Disney-ized and put out there.

    That said, I am a big Snow-fan, but she’s kind of second-place for butt-kicking Snows to Fables’ Snow White. If you haven’t, check 1001 Nights of Snowfall, if nothing else.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *