A tale of two tales..

Tele of late has been a bit grim for me but now its looking a lot more Grimm. I like…
grimm
If you don’t know it, its a urban fantasy based around the fairytales of the brothers Grimm. A modern day cop discovers he is descended from an ancient line known as Grimms, they possess the ability to see the hidden face of ‘wesen‘ what we would consider fairytale creatures, such as wolves, dragons, witches, who to the outside world appear human.

It came out around the same time as Once Upon a Time. Funny how that often happens. It was I suppose quite a natural evolution of the urban fantasy genre as vampires had taken centre stage for too long. One, to be honest, I am much more interested in. Vamps suck.

As I don’t have sky/cable I was unable, until Santa finally put me on the nice list, to compare the two. My instincts would, on paper, draw me to Once Upon a Time. The concept was ripe. An entire fairytale realm transported to a small town in modern America, isolated and with no memory of who they truly are, the battles they fought so hard to win in the stories we know so well, undone and unremembered. Our world is meant to be their hell, a drab bureaucratic little prison; the potential for satire on modern existence makes me drool. The contrast between fantasy and reality, the black and white morality of witches and fairy godmothers versus the shifting grey lines of ..well, us..

I made it to about half way through the second season before surrendering. once uponIt committed every sin. A bland soap opera that utterly squandered its premise. And as such I came to Grimm from behind crossed fingers, prepped for disappointment. I’m pleasantly surprised and planning on treating myself to the second season. Though I’ll admit, my fingers are still crossed.

Grimm is much more formulaic in its delivery. But its worth remembering formulas arise for a reason. Each episode is a stand alone murder mystery, and while it rarely offers a catch-your-breath twist, it does well to keep you guessing until at least half way through. It keeps the focus on our hero and a tight group of allies and antagonists, the other characters serving, as in most police procedurals, mostly as extras. Once Upon a time, by contrast, introduced new characters and put their story centre stage with every episode, never allowing us to really connect and get to know anyone. Even Emma Swan the common thread was mostly relegated to standing around shaking her head in disbelief.

Grimm does however have a greater arc running through it. Seen in small snippets, its just enough to wet our appetite and give a sense of the greater world of the wesen and its politics. It’s also managed to develop an antagonist who by the end of the first season has enough depth that we are no longer sure he is a threat to our hero or a protector and potential ally.

The morality is rarely simple and more importantly remains consistent. One of our heroes greatest allies is a reformed vegetarian blutbad, that is, formerly a big bad wolf. His struggle to resist his innate nature is touched upon in several episodes. grimm3

There are issues. It lacks the quirky brilliance of shows like Buffy and Angel. While the characters are endearing on the whole,  our hero is a little bland and his girlfriend painfully so, while the supporting cast, and surprisingly the baddies, are the most interesting. A little more humour wouldn’t go amiss either.

The reasons it works while Once Upon a Time fails can be boiled down to subtlety and consistency. Lets face it, fairy tales are ridiculous. Grimm recognises this and rather than aping incredulity at every turn, instead goes to great pains to ground the world; dark lit and underplayed cinematography, guns and autopsies over swords and chanting, matter of fact dialogue, unflinching violence. The fantasy function like a glimmering thread running through it, twisting the familiar, pulling out elements that work, abandoning the more ludicrous and restrictive. Our hero, beyond his ability to see the wesen’s true faces, displays no super human feats of heroism. He manages to maintain his job and life without elaborate or farcical cover ups – these creatures have after all co-existed with us for centuries – yet by the end of the first series several seeds have been sown to suggest that things are changing and he will feel the impact. We don’t spend ages dwelling in exposition, the pace constant, the world exposed piece by intriguing piece. Nor are we subjected to painful soliloquies on their feelings or existential rants.

Some might say it plods as it lacks that fizz, bang, pun that characterises so much of what we are given these days. As much I look forward to the second series, I do so with some trepidation.  So far it has immersed us in its world, resisted the urge for cheap gags and throw-the-cauldron-at-it- and-hope-something- sticks approach,  it’s played the long game, the loyal game, but that thread must now develop. I hope it wasn’t fools gold. I want my tele to remain Grimm not grim.

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