How many chances for Once Upon a Time?

20:32, Feb 09 2012

A familiar dilemma reared its head last night: I didn't actually think the first episode of Once Upon a Time was very good, but I like the idea of the show enough to stick with it for a few more weeks. The question is how long I should invest in a show that didn't grab me with the first episode - in fact, I found it downright off-putting at times - when there is no guarantee that I'll enjoy more in a week, or two weeks, or 10 weeks.

(Warning: The following post contains spoilers from last night's Once Upon a Time premiere.)

Most of my qualms are reasonably minor and easily overcome - I think Lana Parrilla is woefully miscast as Regina Mills (though she plays the Evil Queen well enough) and some of the writing has all the subtlety of a Fred Durst lyric - but there are two things that bugged me as I was watching the first episode, which aired last night on TV2.

First, I didn't like the introduction of Emma Swan, the lead character played by Jennifer Morrison who is drawn to Storybrooke (the town name is a perfect example of the subtlety I was talking about earlier) by Henry, the 10-year-old son she gave up for adoption, who believes that the people of Storybrooke are actually characters from a fairytale book he owns, and that Emma is the abandoned daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming (a storyline which we see play out in flashbacks* to before the townspeople ended up in modern times).

It all seemed a little clumsy, even garish, with the development playing out so obviously that they might as well have put a little "this is an important plot point, pay attention" sign in the bottom corner of the screen.

Second, the fantasy scenes - that is, those scenes set in the fictional Enchanted Forest - really started to bug me by the end of the hour. It was like the writers were just including little details in order to prove how clever they are. "Oh look, its Little Red Riding Hood and Grumpy taking part in a round table meeting, look how the writers have twisted my expectations of what a fairy tale should look like!" It was cringeworthy at times, and not in a good way.

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Yet, I think there is potentially the start of a really great show in among all the annoying nuggets we were presented with last night. If the show can exercise restraint, be more discerning about when and how to release plot details, then Once Upon a Time could prove to be a fantastic series.

So how long should I wait for it to get its act together?

I'm definitely going to tune in next week. Giving up on a show after one bad episode seems a little unfair - especially when that show is the first episode, the pilot episode of the entire series. So much can change from the first to the second episode of a series: changes due to notes from the network or feedback from audiences have a big influence early in a show's life, plus there is often a bunch of background information (the setup) to get through.

Think about a recent show like Person of Interest, which seemed clunky and bogged down in detail during the first couple of episodes, but which has now settled into a pretty entertaining groove. Besides, if we gave up on every show that had a bad first episode, The X Files would never have made it to two episodes, let alone 200.

On the other hand, I have no interest in giving a bad show six or eight hours of my life, or more - especially not at this time of year, when there are so many other potentially great shows starting or returning. If a show can't grab you in the first half-dozen episodes, it probably never will.

If you ask me, I think three episodes is a pretty happy medium. When we started On the Box, I made a conscious decision that I would give any new show I started a three-episode chance to grab me; I watch far too much telly to pour more time into shows I don't enjoy, but making a decision on a show in fewer episodes than that seems a bit rash.

Once Upon a Time, you've got two more weeks to impress me.

What did you think of the Once Upon a Time premiere? Did you like it, or did you find some of the same faults as me? And how many episodes should we give new shows before giving up on them entirely?

(*) When a show says "from the producers of Lost", you just know there'll be flashbacks.

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