***SPOILER ALERT!!! This post contains spoilers about the show Once Upon a Time all seasons and episodes through Season 3 Episode 8 “Think Lovely Thoughts.” Once Upon a Time in Wonderland is also mentioned, though no specific spoilers beyond basic plot situations are given.***
When it began, Once Upon a Time had a lot to recommend it. From the creators of Lost, a show I loved for at least the majority of the seasons, starring Jennifer Morrison, who I enjoyed in House, and Ginnifer Goodwin, who at least showed potential in Big Love, the concept was intriguing and full of promise.
The first season, however, proved fairly disappointing. I tend to give all shows a 5 episode trial run, and if I don’t think there is at least some redeeming element by then (and that could even just mean it’s a guilty pleasure show), I scrap it. The first 5 episodes were very up and down, but the up ones were, for some reason, up enough that I continued watching for another 2 seasons.
Once Upon a Time certainly has tons of character development. In Season 1, I was concerned that Regina was portrayed as the classic evil mother figure (in this case adoptive), and was also the career-driven, non-traditional woman type. It seemed like both Regina and Emma were punished for choosing non-prescriptive mothering roles. However, Season 2 remedied that, and I enjoyed learning more about Regina’s back story.
“Back story” is indeed the catch-phrase for Once Upon a Time. Every episode fills in another chapter of fairy tale history, creating alternate versions and “the true story” type tellings of familiar tales. The thing is, these back stories have become so complicated and convoluted, the only one I can really follow is Regina’s (and Emma’s, though hers is not fairy tale). I’m so confused by Snow’s, Red’s, Charming’s, and Rumpel’s stories by the beginning of Season 3, I don’t even bother trying to keep them straight any more.
So, with all these inner-plots, story-twists, and character-complications, one would think I would really start to care about the characters. Nope…
I’m not really sure why I kept watching for so long. I think it was a good procrastination tool, since I would play with my phone most of the time I was watching anyway. Mostly, I was bored. When Once Upon a Time in Wonderland came out this year, I was pretty excited, because for at least the first two episodes, it seemed like it was living up to the original show’s promise, especially with an interesting blending of Alice in Wonderland and 1001 Arabian Nights. But six episodes in, and I was bored with Wonderland, too. Not to mention the problematic stereotyping the show employed….
What really did it for me on Once Upon A Time was when they killed Henry– and I didn’t care. For a while there, I thought he was a pretty cool kid. But Peter Pan sucked the life out of him, and all I could think was, “I guess the actor was getting too old.” So that was the end of that. Even the next episode title, “Save Henry,” wasn’t enough to spark my interest. My only thought was, “Guess he’s not really dead.”
I don’t think I’ll be watching any more Once Upon a Time series. Sure, they had great character development. I think the characters do truly care about each other, too, though it helps that they are all related to each other at this point. But I didn’t care about them, not at all. Character development is not the key to making a Show with Heart; that takes a little more magic that has been lacking in the fantastical fairy tale world of the Once Upon a Time franchises, and it’s why they are likely to be cancelled soon as well.
For more on Shows with Heart, please read my first post.