Fairy tales have long been a core element of Western culture, a base of storytelling that many have built from over time. Many of Disney's popular movies were based on fairy tales, somewhat cleaned up for modern sensibilities. These are stories told as bedtime stories, told around campfires, adapted as plays and movies, and expanded to tell what happened after. The tales are so common that it comes to many people's surprise when they meet someone not familiar with at least one.
The 2011 fall TV season saw ABC air Once Upon a Time. As expected from the title, the series is based on fairy tales. (Why else would I start this entry off discussing them?) However, there is a twist. The evil queen, the one who poisoned Snow White for being the fairest, showed up at the wedding of Snow and Charming to give them an unwanted gift, the knowledge that the queen herself will get her own happy ever after and take away everyone else's. Meanwhile, in the now in our reality, Emma, the lead character, spent her birthday chasing after a bail jumper followed by having a cupcake at home. She made a wish, blew out her lone candle. Immediately after, there was a knock on her door; a boy, Henry, had found her. Henry claimed that Emma is his birth mother and that his home, Storybrook, needs her help. Emma, unsure of the boy's story, took him home, listening to his farfetched stories about how she is meant to save the fairy tales and restore their happy endings.
Back in the fairy tales, Snow and Charming did what they could to prevent the evil queen's happy ending. They even went into the dungeon to speak with Rumplestilskin to find out more. Snow, pregnant, was willing to pay Rumplestilskin's price to protect her unborn child, well aware of the consequences. She received a cryptic answer, enough to figure out what the queen's plan is and brought in her trusted advisors. Ultimately, it was determined that Gepetto can use the magic in an old tree to create a wardrobe that will protect one person.
Meanwhile, Emma has arrived in Storybrook. She stops to get directions from a young man who looks lost. When she and Henry return to her old Beetle, Henry explains that the young man is really Jiminy Cricket. Emma still dismissed the boy's claims and takes him to his home, the manor of the mayor. The rest… No spoilers at this time.
The writing of the pilot was strong. Pilot episodes have a difficult job; they have to introduce the show's premise, the show's characters, and tease viewers to keep watching while at the same time providing a story on its own. Backstory needed has to be brought out without going through an info dump. Once Upon a Time's pilot managed to do all that with aplomb. Henry's stories, bordering on fairy tales themselves, slowly are revealed as truth as the characters, such as Gepetto, Rumplestilskin, the Seven Dwarves, and Charming are revealed to the audience (though not to Emma). The casting is strong to match the writing. Gepetto comes across in the modern era as a lonely old man who desperately wanted a child with his wife. The queen oozes evil when needed. Little touches, such as the mayor offering Emma a glass of apple cider, add to the mystery and the charm of the show. It remains to be seen whether the rest of the show can maintain the promise, but the first episode of Once Upon a Time succeeded in adapting fairy tales into its own narrative.
Next time, experience only works if you pay attention.