When it was originally on: 2011-2018
Original network: ABC
Where you can stream it now: Netflix
Had I seen it before: Yes! I’ve seen the first 3 and half seasons.
What IMDb says: A young woman with a troubled past is drawn to a small town in Maine where fairy tales are to be believed.
Why I picked it: There aren’t a ton of fantasy drama options in the network tv world. Once Upon a Time represents a noble and somewhat successful attempt to turn the procedural drama into fun for the whole family, and for that it’ll always be a fascinating piece of television for me.
Once Upon a Time is also a special show for me personally, as it’s the first show I remember properly binging. There were three seasons out when I got into it, and I think that significantly helped my ability to get into it. Less-than-average episodes didn’t faze me the same way when I could just dive into a (hopefully) better episode right away. I loved the show, but got annoyed with it around that time that it started integrating Frozen.
What I liked: The premise as a whole is so original and intriguing to me. We have a fairytale world, but we also have a real-world parallel where people don’t know about their fairytale counterpart. It sets up a show where any time we meet a new character, we can try to figure out who they really are, and trying to put that puzzle together is part of what makes that show fun.
I also love our first impression of Emma. She’s a badass bounty hunter who can track down anyone! She’s a strong independent woman who isn’t concerned with trivial things like finding a husband and having kids. It’s 100% a trope we’ve seen before, but that’s part of the fun. We know this character, but we’re not used to seeing this character in a fairytale, and I was immediately excited to see how Emma would co-mingle with the rest of the show’s characters.
What I didn’t like: This is the first time I’ve reviewed a pilot for a show I really loved where I can’t help but think “damn, I’m not sure this one holds up.” It’s not that the pilot is BAD, but I forgot just how ridiculous the premise sounds before you’ve really gotten invested in it. The pilot throws a lot of story at you, and unfortunately it isn’t really able to do it in a way that feels organic.
Instead, we essentially just get Henry saying “hey, I have a book, here’s the premise for the whole freaking show!” There’s no real rhyme or reason as to why Henry believes in the book with as much fervor as he does. I wish there had been some way for Emma to accidentally stumble across Storybrooke and we could see its mysteries play out more naturally. Instead, we have an entire character with pretty much no personality outside of telling Emma what Storybrooke is. And it’s not like Henry increases the overall entertainment value of the show a la Jane the Virgin narrator. He’s essentially just a vehicle for exposition. That’s it.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: It was definitely good enough the first time around, but honestly I’m less likely to pencil in a re-watch than I was before I watched the pilot. I’ll still always have a place in my heart for Once Upon a Time, but I think it definitely takes more than one episode to really get into it. It was definitely good enough the first time around,