If you’re a television nerd like me, you’re well aware of the duo behind ABC’s newest hit drama, Once Upon a Time. Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis both wrote for one of the most elaborate mysteries to ever hit television: Lost. And if you didn’t know that already, every early promo for Once made sure you found out. Naturally, this invites a certain level of comparison, and while the connection is a bit weaker between the two series than you might hope, it pretty easy to spot the lessons the creators learned from their time writing for Lost. And now that the it’s six episodes in, it’s safe to say those lessons are the biggest reason the new series actually works…sort of.
The series finds Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) as a bounty hunter who’s tracked down by the son she gave up for adoption, Henry (Jared S. Gilmore). He believes that she’s the daughter of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) and that the Evil Queen’s (Lana Parilla) spell has trapped the couple, along with a slew of other fairy tale characters in a town called Storybrook, where time has stopped and no one remembers their true fairy tale origins. It turns out he’s right and the Evil Queen is ruling over everyone as a small town mayor. Emma feels for Henry and decides to stay, meaning she starts sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong and our characters’ backstories and the mystery behind the Queen’s evil plan slowly begin to unravel. The series also stars Jamie Dornan as The Hunstman (and Sheriff of Storybrook), Raphael Sbarge as Jiminy Cricket (and Henry’s therapist), and Robert Carlyle as the mysterious, sinister Rumpelstiltskin.
Now, before I have a slew of Lost fans jumping to conclusions, Once doesn’t touch the brilliance of Lost. It is, however, very easy to spot the elements our writers are pulling from the beloved series. The pilot dropped us right into the action: Emma goes straight to the fairy tale town just as Lost dropped us right into the aftermath of the crash of Oceanic Flight 815. From this sudden beginning, we start to unravel the mystery of this strange small town through the fairy tale characters’ flashbacks. We see glimpses of their alternate existences before the disaster of the Queen’s spell. While it’s an obvious repurposing of the Lost format, it’s what gives the series its teeth. This style of slow reveal is what hooks us, whether we appreciate the show’s other elements or not.
And when it comes to Once’s other facets, the fantasy element is a little overgrown. The writers obviously need to fiddle with fairy tale lineage, storylines, and interactions amongst well-known characters in order to deliver a story that we haven’t already read as young children. That’s all good and well, but it seems that their ideas often exceed their budget. The result is a series of fairy tale scenes that could be fantastical, but feel more like a well-produced video game than a scene from a primetime drama. These scenes attempt to be ultra-serious and modern, but the problem is they are fairy tale scenes and their appearance doesn’t merit the severity the writing bestows on them; the series should probably lend a little more levity and whimsy to these moments, especially if they continue to include an alarming excess of rhinestones and feathers on every princess’ outfit. (Not a good look – in any century.) So, I ask, Once writers, why so serious? They seemingly have no issue including silly little Easter eggs like the Apollo candy bars Hurley loved so much and the latest episode’s flash of Charles Widmore’s beloved MacCutcheon scotch or even Disney nods like dwarfs humming “Whistle While You Work” or Archie naming his Dalmatian Pongo; I just wish that same level of fun and playfulness was consistently throughout instead of in tiny little spurts here and there.
Even with this glaring issue, and the annoyingly cardboard leads, Emma and Henry, the series is still taking some serious steps to ensnare us. While our leads are little dry, they’re combatted by the colorful cast around them. From the sinister Rumplestiltskin to the unrelentingly dreamy Prince Charming to the wistful and maddeningly sweet Snow White, Emma and Henry have enough characters to bounce their straightforward roles off of that we stay entertained. Most recently, we saw the real world school teacher Snow White get just inches from her Storybrook happy ever after, only for the amnesia-afflicted real world version of the Prince to return to his wife. (Oh yes, he’s married to someone else in this version of their lives.) Her heartbreak leads her to another potential suitor and we find that this love story is far from reaching its happy ending, but we know it will get there eventually. The obstacles are so large though, that we can’t help but be curious as to how they’ll possibly overcome them.
Once Upon a Time is not a show any of us are likely proud to watch, but if we’ve been at it this long, we’re sort of stuck. Those Lost-esque devices and whimpering, heart-breaking pouty faces from Goodwin are keeping us on the hook. But by the same token, I doubt this hit show is about to inspire a slew of blogs and message boards hell-bent on solving the mystery before the show can get us there. It’s fun and engaging, but impressive, high-minded television, it is not.
It’s almost here. The day we’ve all been waiting for: Oct. 16, 2011. Also known as the day The Walking Dead will drag its busted ankles and gurgling growls back into our lives. We’ll finally feel whole again. We can once more depend on Sunday nights to deliver a devastating mix of blood and gore alongside humanity in the face of sheer destitution. There are many things we love about The Walking Dead, but having screened the first episode of the season, I can say with confidence that these five things are some of the best reasons to come lurching back to AMC on Sunday night at 9 p.m ET/PT.
1. The Zombie Kills Are Still Plentiful and Gloriously Grotesque
If you thought that they weren’t going to top the incredible scenes from last year, like the one where Rick and company disembowel a zombie only to wear its remains to fool the other walkers or the time Carol took and axe to her undead husband’s skull, you would be incredibly wrong. I don’t want to spoil the upcoming smack-downs and gore-fests for you, but just know, it might make you queasy in that awesome, Walking Dead sort of way.
2. The Stakes Are Higher From Minute One
Basically, this means you can’t get home late from shopping or whatever you do on Sundays. This means that the writers are delivering the goods up front, just like we wanted and those of you who were disappointed with the season finale last year will go into this season feeling a sense of redemption. Now enjoy waiting patiently until Sunday night.
3. That Love Triangle is Still An Issue
It seemed that with the dramatic events at the CDC, Rick and Lori were securely bonded and back together, but luckily for fans of drama, it's not that easy. There are no sweeping dramatic overtures or salacious twists -- there's no time for that when walkers could be around every corner -- but it's obvious that the Shane-Lori-Rick issue is far from resolved, which lends itself to some difficult decisions for Shane as well as increased tensions between all three characters. And since the incredible attention to detail regarding the humanity of the survivors is what makes this show great, the continuation of this conflict is certainly welcome.
4. Andrew Lincoln Develops A Thicker Georgian Accent
Last year it was painfully obvious that Andrew Lincoln was an Englishman trying to pull off a Georgian accent – though his acting is certainly good enough to overlook it. This year, it’s like he spent years in the Deep South, because his twang is out in full-effect. It’s so noticeable it’s almost a problem, but once you get used to the shift, it actually works.
5. Daryl Goes From Token Jackass To The Badass You Want On Your Side
Last season, he was all shook up from losing his brother Merle when T-Dog left him on the rooftop in Atlanta, but it seems that after everything he’s been through with the group, he’s realized that survival is more important than holding a grudge. And I don’t know about you, but characters that bounce back like that are my absolute favorites – the reformed bad boy, so to speak. Only since this is The Walking Dead, he’s less of a romantic interest and more of a good person with a testy attitude. And we love it.
S5E15: We all have our ways of dealing with breakups. Some of us buy pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream (New York Super Fudge Chunk all the way, baby), some of us go through three boxes of tissues while watching Finding Nemo, some of us turn to a few glasses of scotch and a cute bartender but Liz Lemon does the Liz Lemonyist thing possible: she puts her hair in a chip clip, puts on a baggy sweatshirt, starts using a fucking FANNY PACK, and devotes her life to her new cat, Emily Dickinson.
While I’d like to say this was all just a little too cartoonish for my tastes, I can’t because a Liz Lemon cartooney episode isn’t just wacky and zany; it’s still smart under all of its surface funny. That’s exactly what last night’s 30 Rock was: a cartoonish romp anchored by smart, cohesive writing. Solid.
“I had three chances. Floyd, then Carol and I was once in an elevator with Tom Brokaw and I blew all three…opportunities!” –Liz
Now that Carol is out of her life, Liz Lemon is giving up. Now that’s the Liz we all know. She’s decided she’s had her chances and now she’s going to become a spinster – she even buys a cemetery plot and joins a book club for senior citizens. Whoa. I like the fact that they aren’t just ignoring the epic breakup this time around. Liz always seems to bounce back a little too well, and that’s the one complaint I have about her character. Lemon is a heroine for regular women and as such, she should be a fucking depressed wreck when something like this happens – of course, she has to do depressed the Liz Lemon way which is far more hilarious than how the rest of us would choose to deal.
“Also I’ve been taking these new Czechoslovakian organ-slimming pills. They contain a little bit of meth, which is something by body needs anyway.” -Jenna
As any good girlfriend would, Jenna makes Liz get out on the town to help her get past her decision to become a comatose, cat-loving spinster (seriously, she swaps a picture of Carol for a picture of Emily Dickinson, THE CAT). Liz comes up with an excuse about editing and decides not to go out, but when her editing tech gets sick suddenly and has to go home, she’s forced to take Jenna up on her offer. At the club, which is disturbingly catered to her outlandish venue needs, Liz finds that everything falls into place so easily. She meets a hot guy, they talk about the politics of STAR WARS, and then thanks to a bar fight they leave together and hook up. Woo, go Liz Lemon. The funny thing about this part is that a similar ease of post break-up flirtations is something that seems to happen in real life time and again, but this is 30 Rock so of course it’s not that simple.
“What this? I got hit by a bird on a rollercoaster.” –Lutz
Liz finally puts all the pieces together (because she’s been taking solace in old mystery movies now that she’s a spinster) when she sees Jack high-fiving all the writers after they congratulate her on her baby-pink sweatshirted walk of shame. She figures out the intricate way in which the whole plan was actually an elaborate ruse that placed a Swedish prostitute (recommended by Martha Stewart, yuck) in a fake bar with a cheatsheet of Liz’s interests, her previously stolen ID and twinkling eyes into a staged bar fight all so that Liz would hook up with him and feel better about her prospects. This whole unraveling of the plot that worked out far too easily reminded me a bit of How I Met Your Mother, but done in a decidedly 30 Rock fashion and it totally worked. While the TGS staff’s concern for Liz’s happiness reached disturbing levels, it’s something only 30 Rock can get away with and I love when they take advantage of that fact.
“It was nice negotiating with you and here is all of your money.” –Jack
Jack, being the celebrated business wiz that he is, is prepping for a big meeting with the Kabletown execs and he’s bragging about his top-notch negotiating skills. (Cue dig after dig at the new Comcast/NBC merger.) This whole notion gets tossed on its head when Jack tries to negotiate wages with his nanny while Avery is out of town (maternity leave, schmaternity leave). His nanny is rock solid, tearing Jack down and disabling his negotiating abilities. Liz helps him realize that this is because the nanny can hold the love of his daughter and the need for someone to take care of her over his head and that he’ll do anything to keep her there as someone to watch over Liddy. He eventually settles with the fact that he’ll have to pay the nanny more when he’s able to use her negotiating techniques (complete apathy – “So. Whatcha gonna do about it?”) to win his battle with Kabletown because like Liddy, NBC is a helpless baby that needs his care. BLAMMO.
I enjoyed this plot, but I wish they would have been more subtle about it. 30 Rock viewers are smart. We can see that this whole thing is unraveling Jack’s very being without him having to spell it out for us. Alright; complaining is over.
“Rock stars man. People screaming your name. Hot women throwing themselves at you.” –Pete
“Living on a bus.” –Frank
If Pete had to be a former member of any 80s band, it would definitely be Loverboy, so thank you for that, writers. This little side plot was a little silly, having Pete and Frank start a band together and then fall into bickering about song credits, but it was completely enjoyable and it was integral to the Liz fake setup plot (“It’s never too late for now!”). That little bit with Frank’s new girlfriend Yuki who was helping to break up the band was a little obvious (Oh, Yoko) but it was brief enough that it worked.
And now, a little more from Pete and Frank, a.k.a. SOUNDBOARD. (You’ve gotta love that terrible name.)
S2: E7 Usually, Community is one of the best shows on television. It’s tight, everything fits together like a little complicated puzzle, and it’s also terribly funny. Then there are times when it bites off a little more than it can chew. This episode, while still funny and entertaining, is one of those episodes. It played off of three wholly different film-related themes: Mean Girls, The Secret Garden, and RoboCop. (I can sense your brow wrinkling in confusion, and that’s because yes, they don’t go together.) It was still a good episode and if anyone is fit to try such a thing, it's Community; I’m just saying they could have done better. (But to be fair, it is the episode following an epic school-wide zombie fest from last week, so maybe the bar’s just a little too high right now.)
The cold open hit us with a little Mars versus Venus on the basketball courts. The ladies have signed up for a women’s studies course and as they sit idly by while the “men” play basketball, decide that they have it all figured out. After rattling off all the different butt-related threats that men yell at each other while playing sports, Britta concludes that men play sports to dull out their sensitive sides. (And you’re right, Annie; no one actually says “I’m gonna punch your butt.” That’s just weird.) The ladies are psyched to take a class with just girls, but no one’s more excited than Annie. (No one actually “brings it in for a boob bump” either, Annie. Sorry, sweetheart.) Pierce comes in with his “Dragonflier” complete with camera. He says he can’t control it, so Jeff throws the basketball at the ladies in an attempt to crash the flier, angering them and causing them to storm off to their women’s studies class. But Abed wants to join, and before they can deter him he rushes off to change out of his basketball clothes. Whoops.
When they get to class, Abed’s already saved the ladies a few seats next to him, but they’re still trying to do their own thing so they grab three seats in the front. And here we go Mean Girls. Guest star Hilary Duff plays a resident mean girl, Megan, with two equally awful sidekicks and the trio kicks the study group ladies out of their seats with a select number of one liners about Britta’s roots and Annie’s mustache. Ouch. Britta, Annie, and Shirley reluctantly take their places back by Abed who’s ready with surprisingly bitchy comments to sling at the mean girls, like “Megan’s the one with crooked ears and no ankles?” Damn Abed. Damn. Of course, the ladies realize they’ve tapped the hidden resource of Abed’s uber-bitchiness. They instantly love him, but already things are starting to get out of control. Abed approaches Megan and her minions, landing zinger after zinger and fielding her “nerd” insults like they’re nothing. Of course, this gives the study group trio far too much confidence and Britta jumps up on the table calling the cafeteria a bitch-free zone. Things can only get worse from here.
In a bout of anger after Troy beats him at basketball (and does victory song and dance) Jeff kicks the basketball over a few campus buildings, forcing Troy to go searching for it. But he finds more than just a basketball. Enter the Secret Garden segment of the episode. Troy comes upon a hidden grove, complete with soft lighting and covered in lush greenery and blooms, and in the middle stands a huge trampoline. Jeff and Troy discover the wonders of bouncing on the secret trampoline (it’s illegal to have them on school campuses); it makes them feel light, “like the baby on the knee of a goddess.” Yes, mysterious groundskeeper man, that’s exactly what it’s like. The mysterious groundskeeper insists that if they are to keep enjoying the trampoline’s tranquil benefits, they must promise to keep it secret and they must commit to no double bouncies. That’s some serious shit, man. I’ll give them this, the creators of this show are damn good at doing comic recreations of pretty much any movie they want. Kudos, Dan Harmon and friends.
Now that they know what Abed’s capable of, they teach Abed the ways on insults. It’s okay to insult girls if they are bitches. They also make the mistake of comparing him to RoboCop; where have you been ladies? Don’t you know Abed has that whole meshing reality with movies thing? Big mistake. Suddenly we see the hallway through bitchy-insult-RoboCop’s eyes as he takes down another target and sends her running down the hall in tears. Not good. Of course, Abed’s success goes to the ladies’ heads and they’re on their way to becoming the exact dreaded trio that they originally sought to defeat.
Jeff and Troy return from the secret trampoline at complete peace, completely missing Pierce’s attempts at smack talk. (No Pierce, they don’t want to throw “the rock” around and you aren’t going “to slit their butts’ throats.” Is anyone else getting tired of the whole "Pierce is so old and doesn’t know anything" shtick?) As Jeff puts his feet up on the table (in Ugg boots, UGG BOOTS I TELL YOU) he and Troy are annoyingly at peace and Pierce assumes their stoned, so of course he wants some. (And if it will tone down the crazy, I’m all for it.) The girls and Abed come in, still high on their insult parade and Annie’s ready to take down “all the bitches.” (God I love her character.) Abed determines that Jeff is, in fact, a bitch and thus takes him down, ragging on his Uggs. “2008 and called and said that even in 2008 those boots were tacky.” Snap. (And are you listening, women of America? Seriously. Knock it off with the Uggs.) Jeff reacts with a Zen solution, boring the ladies and sending Pierce into a rage over wanting to know how to be so Zen. Yeah, good luck with that rage, old man.
After sending Pierce packing, Jeff and Troy run off to the secret trampoline, but Pierce’s robot dragonflier follows them and records video of them entering the secret place. Pierce discovers the secret grove and demands to be part of the trampoline fun, but threatens to tell everyone about the trampoline if Troy doesn’t double bounce him. (Remember the rule? NO DOUBLE BOUNCIES.) Troy bows to Pierce’s threat to tweet about the secret trampoline and double bounces him, sending Pierce flying out of the grove and into a dumpster just outside. Well crap. Bye-bye secret garden. The garden is torn down and the groundskeeper is fired. When Troy and Jeff try to apologize, the groundskeeper says it’s okay, it’s his fault, and “I guess that’s what I get for trusting some black guy.” Wait, what? WHAT? (I can use capital letters all I want, but nothing can top the way Donald Glover expresses shock and surprise. The kid is a comic genius. Seriously.) What a racist twist. But hey, they learn a lesson, so it’s cool. They realize that paradise that’s exclusive isn’t really paradise. Pierce approaches in a wheel chair with double leg casts and says “Paradise is right here” putting his hand on his heart (even though it looks more like he’s cupping his manboob, and it turns out that he’s actually cupping the bottle of pain killers in his pocket).
Meanwhile, Abed finds that his study group ladies have become bitches too and when they tell him that they’re all bitches, Abed’s RoboCop brain goes into serious insult mode. Abed insults everyone, even his juicebox (which was a little lame), leaving him with a buffer of empty tables as he eats lunch in the cafeteria. He realizes he must be destroyed, so he gives Megan the destruct codes for his insult robot brain – a.k.a. flash cards with pointed insults. She calls out Abed in the cafeteria in front of everyone, enjoying the “aw snaps” from the one-man peanut gallery that Chang has been providing all episode. As the crowd gets on board and cheers on Megan’s insults, his RoboCop insult brain self destructs and the study group ladies apologize for being insecure and turning him into an insult monster. Of course, being the wonderful person he is, he’s already forgiven them. Awwww.
The tag gave us a return to “Troy and Abed in The Morning” and like the rest of the episode while it was entertaining and by no means awful, I was hoping for a little something more.