In their search for inventive approaches to drama, two networks have followed similar paths.
At 8 p.m. Sunday, ABC premieres "Once Upon a Time," a drama in which characters from the fairy-tale world (including Snow White and Prince Charming) have been moved to modern times and deprived of their original identity. At 9 p.m. Friday, NBC offers "Grimm," in which a homicide detective learns that creatures from the Brothers Grimm stories are in fact real — and it's up to him to keep them from disrupting the modern world.
I suppose that these will appeal to some viewers on a very basic level. Considering what the real world is like these days, who wouldn't want to live in a fairy tale?
But these lives are, you will excuse the expression, grim. Indeed, "Grimm" seemed deliberately gloomy fare on first viewing, based more on the nasty business of fairy stories — the dark, wooded paths, the deceptively innocent-looking homes deep in the forest.
"Once Upon a Time," on the other hand, mines old stories for excess and mystery. Both stem from the characters' lives in their original fairy-tale world; in that world, the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) has placed a curse on everyone to prevent a happy ending. For example, Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) has become Mary Margaret Blanchard, a teacher who is terribly lonely because she has not found her Prince Charming (Josh Dallas). Like most of the other characters, she lives in the town of Storybrooke, where the Evil Queen is mayor.
But the mayor's grip in the town is threatened by the arrival of Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), a lost soul who has been given an idea of what's going on in Storybrooke — not least because she may also be the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming. Through her character, "Once Upon a Time" can blend in mystery and soap opera, while also flashing back to the fairy-tale world to underscore what the characters had and lost.
The best word I have for "Once Upon a Time," which I like much more than "Grimm," is nutty. But it is unapologetically, entertainingly nutty. While some performers, including Morrison and Goodwin, aim for some naturalness in their performances, Parrilla at her Evil Queeniest is delightfully over the top. The storytelling may not always make sense, especially when you start trying to sort out the show's timeline. But I found myself grinning through the pilot.