This post covers Season 1 only of Once Upon a Time; there will be some light spoilers. And I warn you that this is one of my long and rambling posts.
I've had Netflix long enough that it tends to know what I'll somewhat like and somewhat dislike; it'll at least know the general direction my opinion will go in. It's not always a perfect guesser, but it's a good one. Netflix seemed to think I would like Once Upon a Time, but I spent some time avoiding the show (is that my precursor to everything? I'm such an avoider, apparently).
But the magic is in the click.
Click on the first episode and enter the realm of the show you go. The first episode or so had me thinking, this is better than I was expecting. I was delighted to find engagement with fairy tales--versus simply alluding to characters, images, etc. and letting the only "engagement" be juxtaposing the fairy tales with modern characters, settings, or objects. But Once Upon a Time has quite a bit of thought behind it--enough to remind me of the Nick Willing miniseries I've enjoyed (Alice is my favorite, but Tin Man and Neverland are also of interest). (I once saw a comment that Once Upon a Time's Hatter ripped off of Alice's--but I'm not sure I agree that they're all too similar, after all.)
As I moved on, I also starting thinking of Wishbone. If you know me, you'll know that this comparison became a profound compliment coming from me: I think Wishbone was a wonderful show and was probably partially responsible, in a roundabout way, for my eventual decision to major in literature. Coming into Once Upon a Time, I was expecting to mainly see things in this world. At some point, I was feeling unsure about the amount of time spent in the fairy tale world. But the parallels between what was going on in that world and in this one were cleverly put together, much like the parallels Wishbone offered between books and modern day stories.
It was also fascinating to discover the characters and then rediscover them. To wonder which person in Storybrooke was which character or to see adult Pinocchio acting, thematically, like the Pinocchio of the story. The way that the characters translated into our world was fantastic, really. The fairies becoming nuns, Red Riding Hood working in a cafe, Rumplestiltskin having an antique shop and owning the whole town.
Oh, yes, Rumplestiltskin.
I love Rumplestiltskin; he's the best part of the show. No one can convince me otherwise.
Rumpelstiltskin was always one of my favorite fairy tales, maybe my top favorite. I just never knew why. It was odd. And creepy. And compelling somehow. I just liked it. I never even knew what it meant--and I wonder if most people do. It's easy to assign basic things to stories like Snow White: virtues like goodness, patience, hope and even the other one I sometimes hear of "don't talk to strangers." But Rumpelstiltskin? What does that mean? The power of language? Or cunning.
I love what they did with this character. It made me realize things about the story I like so much. They brought in his cunning and his penchant for making deals and designed an entire plot around that. Oh, and the actor--again, just try convincing me he isn't the best actor in the show (yes, his role also calls for something very different from many of the others, but still). The combination of his story with Beauty and the Beast was unexpected and also perfect (Snape and Lily, anyone?).
Which brings me to: the way the show combined fairy stories in general. I also wasn't expecting that. I was expecting them to be isolated stories that had all come together in this town. But they fit together quite well back in their own world. I enjoyed the way we were given tidbits of the story, then later learned what had happened before or after in order to gain a new perspective. We see Snow White being reawakened in the first episode and it seems like the simple Snow White story, but then we come to learn the complete (maybe) story throughout the season. This way of presenting the story I find evocative of the chameleon nature of fairy stories in general: they're told a thousand different ways, but they're somehow always the same basic beings.
That's another thing I think this show balanced well: familiarity with newness. There was mystery involved; there were surprises. But the characters also felt familiar. Even as a school teacher, that's Snow White there; we recognize her (might I also take this time to gush over her house: I want to live there; it's perfect).
I withhold my complete opinion until I've watched Season 2 (I may have to try out Hulu Plus so that I can watch the first 15 or so episodes that are out). But as you can see, my reaction is fairly positive. I don't know if this'll be a show I rewatch again and again or forget about as soon as I'm finished with it. But I'm enjoying it for now: it provided both diversion and thought. I appreciate that.