As with last year, I'm not sure what I think of Once Upon A Time. The fairy-tale show is entertaining most of the time, but it does skew a little toward pantomime from time to time. There's a good cast in place, even if some have taken more of a backseat this year. I'm a sucker for anything with a longer story arc. Yet, I often find myself distracted during episodes, and I find it hard to think of it as a really good show.
Still, it isn't all confusion where Once Upon A Time is concerned. Here are eight things I think I know about the show ... (Warning: spoilers follow.)
Those writers really like their surprise familial relations. OUAT creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz were on the writing team on Lost - and I mention this because they seem to really like those "Woah, he/she is related to him/her?!" moments. For example, it was revealed last week that Mr Gold/Rumpelstiltskin is Henry's grandfather. Remember how it was revealed on Lost that, woah, Jack is Claire's half-brother?! Same thing happened there. Do you suppose Kitsis and Horowitz just bounce family ideas back and forth across the writers room? "Hey, what if Regina is related to Tiny?!" and "Woah, and what if Grumpy/Leroy is their cousin!"
They need to invest in a new green screen system. We upgraded to a brand new 55" Sony Bravia at our place a few weeks ago* ... and Once Upon A Time's CGI-drawn sets only measure up slightly better than an old episode of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. C'mon guys, step yo' CGI game up.
Cheesy characters come perilously close to ruining this show. Fortunately, we only have to contend with characters like Tiny (the giant, played by Lost's Jorge Garcia) and Grumpy/Leroy (Lee Arenberg) on rare occasions - because they are absolutely no fun at all. The episode we spent with the giants, which ended with Tiny finding a new field in Storybrooke where he could plant magic beans, was probably the worst of the season. But it isn't just minor characters ...
Cliché villains come perilously close to ruining this show, too. Barbara Hershey is a screen legend, I know that. But has her character, Cora/The Queen Of Hearts, actually done anything interesting since she arrived on the scene? You know, for someone who is meant to be the most evil person imaginable, she spends a lot of time spitting out one-liners normally reserved for bad guys in The Fast and The Furious movies, and getting thwarted by anyone she comes into contact with. Maybe it's just me, but I reckon Regina (Lana Parilla) is a much better villain. Luckily, Once Upon A Time doesn't spend too much time with these cliché villains and cheesy characters; if they spent more time on these folk, I'd have a hard time tuning in every week.
Jared S Gilmore might be the best child actor on television.Or, to put it another way: Jared S Gilmore might be the least annoying child actor on television. Young characters on television are wall-to-wall terrible - from Charlie on Revolution, to the kids on The Americans and Homeland, to Carl on The Walking Dead, and even Oliver's younger sister on Arrow. The only exceptions: Gilmore is fine here, occasionally carrying scenes and generally making sure not to be a pest, the kids they've cast on Game Of Thrones, and the seventy toddlers they've used to play Hope on Raising Hope.
Rumpelstiltskin episodes are always the best episodes. Mr Gold - played brilliantly by Robert Carlyle - is easily the most interesting, and most conflicted, character on the show, meaning that the episodes that focus on him are generally the most entertaining. The episode earlier this season, when he confronted Hook for the first time, was a tour de force for Carlyle, an actor who deserves to be in the Best Supporting Actor discussion come award season. Gold is mysterious, he's a pretty typical anti-hero, but he also seems like a fun guy to have around on a show like this. Still ...
Threatening to kill a kid is always creepy. I couldn't help feeling a little icky after that final scene last week.
If any show would benefit from fewer episodes, this is it. This last point actually solves some of the earlier problems I mentioned. Fewer episodes means that less time is given over to those cliché baddies, and would mean those cheesy characters wouldn't have to show up as much (or show up at all). It also solves another problem for the show: Once Upon A Time seems to drag for a handful of episodes in the middle of each season - it happened last year, and it happened this year after Cora and Hook showed up in town. Limiting a season to 10 or 13 episodes would mean that the show gets through its longer plots more efficiently. And there is a precedent for this: American broadcast networks are starting to take a leaf from cable, and commissioning shorter seasons. Hannibal is a recent example, while Crossbones, Under The Dome and Dracula show up later in the year. I'm convinced this would be a good thing.
Are you watching Once Upon A Time this year? What do you think of the latest season? And do you agree with any of my points? Would a shorter season be beneficial for this show?
(*) Yes, we did this because of Game Of Thrones.