When Once Upon a Time premiered on ABC in 2011, I wasn’t sold. The fairy tale series had promising aspects, but the story was all over the place. The villains switched from bad to good and back at the bat of an eye, the CGI was shaky, and the dialogue ventured into the territory of downright corny. However, the premise was solid–an Evil Queen had cursed the residents of the Enchanted Forest, wiped their memories, and brought them to the fictional “real world” town of Storybrooke–and I liked the idea of seeing my favorite characters from fairy tales and Disney films on a weekly basis. And when you’re in a realm that features places like the Enchanted Forest and people like Snow White, some camp isn’t a bad thing. I stuck with the show created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, and it’s come a long way in four seasons and found its stride. There are plenty of reasons to watch Once Upon a Time (or to give it another chance if you bailed after Season 1).
The primary hook (pun intended) is that the series stars characters you know but with twists. Familiar stories are flipped on their heads and/or expanded into something new. Most of the time, this is excellent. Other times, you get a version of Little Bo Peep who is a warlord. No, really. The mythology has built over time and because the show features regular flashbacks, you’re constantly learning new background tidbits that give characters and their choices depth.
Let’s go back to warlord Bo Peep for a moment. Though that particular interpretation wasn’t my cuppa, the fact that it’s even an option is sort of wonderful. The show isn’t afraid to embrace the silly aspects of being set in a world where fairy tales exist. You can see this in the characters, the subplots, and in the costumes. Oh my goodness, the costumes. They’re intricate and add so much. They walk the same lines as the story, too. For example, it would be easy for the Evil Queen’s over-the-top gowns to come across as gaudy, but they don’t. In this setting (and with the help of Lana Parrilla’s regal manner), Regina’s elaborate ensembles are powerful and stunning.
The cheese factor definitely adds a fun appeal not quite like anything else on television, but that’s not to say that Once doesn’t tackle heavy material. After Season 1, characters’ arcs became more interesting. Villains have started to become more heroic, and heroes have taken actions you wouldn’t expect. These changes didn’t happen overnight. Different situations and external influences stretched out over time, giving characters space to stretch their legs and decide which side they want to be on. Heartbreak, love, loss, self-discovery, and adventure have all happened along the way. And because it wouldn’t make sense for every villain to be redeemed or every hero to fall, there are still more extreme archetypes on every side for balance.
Guest stars sweep into Storybrooke for varying periods of time – some of them overstay their welcome (I’m looking at you Peter Pan and Elsa) — but the series shines when it focuses on its ensemble cast. Getting to know Emma, Snow White, Prince Charming, Regina, Rumpelstiltskin, Belle, and so many more faces is worth the price of admission. Each character gets his or her own moment to shine and watching them all learn to work together and/or stay out of each other’s path is a delight. Also, trying at times.
Once Upon a Time will make you laugh, cry, occasionally roll your eyes, and feel nostalgic about the Disney animated films you watched as a kid. I won’t pretend Once is perfect. I can’t. However, it is enjoyable, often clever, and almost always entertaining.
Season 5 of Once Upon a Time will premiere on September 27 at 8:00pm ET/PT on ABC. You can stream past seasons at Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and iTunes.
Are you a Oncer? Head to the comments and share why you think people should check out the series (or why they shouldn’t). Please keep your comments spoiler-free.
Image Credits: ABC