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Once Upon a Time … There Was Scripted Television

Tuesday, 06 March 2012 00:00 Jennifer Devore TV Reviews
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Hey, kids! It's me, Miss Hannah Hart, ghostdame of The Del and ring-a-ding-ding it’s like Springtime for Hitler around here! The set-design faeries must have had a March 1st deadline and, boyzo did they ever make it! 85 degrees, postcard blue skies, a sparkling ocean view that just won’t quit and a rainbow of pastels and brights everywhere you look! Dames are in their sugar-pink dresses, guys are sportin’ their Peeps-yellow polos and the air smells like strawberry salt water taffy and lemonheads. San Diego’s ready for spring and so am I!

Being a ghostie girl, I’m kippy enough to get to haunt the Hotel del Coronado, as many of you know. Now that I’m all moved into my new digs in the Resort Suites, I’ve packed away my velvet opera coat, my tweed jackets and my fur-topped pirate boots and moved my warm weather gear front-and-center stage. Hello, Betsey Johnson floral tea dresses, JLo floppy hats and 1970s wooden platforms! Unless you’re allergic to fun, smiles, hibiscus cocktails and feeling good, get yourself out here and enjoy our warming, welcoming, California sunshine.

What else fills my noodle in the spring, besides fouffy dresses and perfume that smells like caramel corn and cotton candy -Miss Dior Chérie by Christian Dior is just such a scent- ? Flowers! Springtime means flowers and when I think of flowers, I think of forests; when I think of forests, I think of der Schwarzwald; wenn ich denke an dem Schwarzwald, I think of fairy tales. When ich denke of fairy tales I think of Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, The Pied Piper of Hamlin, Three Little Pigs and Little Snow White. When I think of them, I think of … American network television? One thing I have been enjoying, when not out sunning my chilly gams by the pool, is watching loads of Grimm and Once Upon a Time on Hulu. Scripted television, fantasy-themed at that, is back, babies!

No! It can’t be true, Miss Hannah! Surely you jest! Scripted television? You and your ghost tales of the good old days! No, little children, ’tis true. Yes, I’ve been dead and holed up in The Del for nearly a century, but I consume far more media than the living and wow, have your modern viewing habits gone to dust over recent years! Some of you are probably too young to remember, but if you sit back and sip your champagne coolies I’ll tell you a story, a fairy tale of wonder and woe.

Once upon a time there was a magical place called The Writers’ Room where smart and witty folk thought about fresh ideas and interesting characters and how to best interpret and present them to entertain the good people of TV Land. Then, the gruesome and greedy producers emerged from the fjords and hollers and swathed the land in the blackness of Reality TeeVee …

Television, unlike film, has gone the way of Wal-Mart: cheap and easy to produce, cheap and easy to market to the lowest common denominator. It’s a sure fire return on investment: no actors, no scripts, just a flat-fee to participants, some base expenses like housing and booze and maybe a prize for the last one standing. It’s good enough … in the absence of anything else. So is Grapeade, but ick. Don’t get me wrong, kids, film can be total schlock, too. Ever seen the Fred franchise? Heavens to Murgatroid! Yet, we’re talking television here and this medium still reigns supreme where garbage stacks up like London’s Daily Mail in a shut-in’s Yorkshire cottage.

Certainly, one can always turn to the likes of the BBC for trips into the fantastic: Being Human, Whitechapel; Masterpiece Classics for, well, classics: Downton Abbey, Sherlock ; and HBO & Showtime for something freaky and fab: Game of Thrones, True Blood. Further, as many a Hannah reader knows, American television rules where comedy is concerned, when producers care to take a leap of yuks. Yet the broadcast airways of the big four generally run scared when presented with concepts outside reality and talent show programming. Happily though, it seems as of late the powers that be of network teevee have begun their commendable trek back into the dark and misty forests of fantasy. We may ne’er see the likes of The Twilight Zone, Star Trek or The X-Files again, but ABC, NBC and Fox are making remarkable efforts to reward us for sitting through years of The Bachelor, The Biggest Loser and American Idol.

Those who oft read me, know my love for FX’s American Horror Story. Thrillingly, I now have a few more options for fantasy via Grimm and Once Upon a Time . ABC and NBC have both brought the medieval fairy tales to the small screen; though, I think ABC has an edge. Once has the benefit of two Lost writers, which explains the bouncing around, parallel-universe storylines: Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis. It also has the benefit of, as Rolling Stone reviewed, “the first hot Snow White ever.” Ginnifer Goodwin’s Snowy is certainly a more grown up version than the Jessie Wilcox Smith or Walt Disney reiterations we’re used to, but if you ask me, Snowy’s always been a bit of a hot patootie, especially the truly Teutonic version with long, blue-black, curly hair and sky-blue eyes. Bonkers hot! That’s the reason she was left behind in the forest, then later hunted by her mother’s goon, in the first place. Original tale by the Brothers Grimm lends a far more sinister version than the colourful Disney tale we all know, and which I love equally. (No implied cannibalism with Disney! No, Sir! Don’t know the cannibal-angle? Read the original.)

A bit stormier than The Happiest Place on Earth’s Fantasyland, and taking itself very tongue-in-cheek, the sylvan hamlet of Storybrooke, Maine is where the world’s fairy tale characters have been sent to live in exile by the Wicked Queen, a hateful gift thrust upon fairyland at the wedding of Snow White and Prince Charming. Storybrooke? Seriously? asks Emma Swan, played by golden girl Jennifer Morrison, the unwitting offspring of Snow White and Prince Charming, and soon-to-be the sweet-and-spicy sheriff of Storybrooke. Natch, not only Grimm characters reside in Storybrooke.

Perrault’s Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood make their lovely but forced homes there and Collodi’s Geppetto, Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket are trapped as well. A perfect example of that tongue-in-cheek? Jiminy, looking like a poor, literature professor, is Dr. Hopper, Ph.D., psychologist. Continuing the Grimm thread, Robert Carlyle plays a captivating, slimy, slithering Rumpelstiltskin, spinning gold and profiting from desperation and the Evil Queen herself, Ruby, serves as mayor of this Stephen Kingesque burg.

It’s a darker setting than The Magic Kingdom, but it’s done remarkably well and beautifully shot: cinematography by Stephen Jackson. Similar to American Horror Story and The X-Files, this is a tale best watched at night and with a glass of red. Also similar to The X-Files, it’s shot on location in Vancouver. Not to put too fine a point on it, but just like AHS, X-Files and Grimm, Once uses very cool, spooky and blue-hazed opening titles to keep us from trolling for other programming during the first commercial break. Finally, apropos and pivotal to fantasy television, another Northwest metropolis serves as backdrop for yet another reiteration of the grim, children’s tales.

If Law and Order SVU relocated from Manhattan to the Black Forest, you’d have Grimm. It takes the NBC model of cop shows they just can’t seem to chuck and turns an affable, modern-day Grimm (traditional hunters of the supernatural in this version) into a detective working homicide cases in the eerie outskirts of Portland, Oregon. Amidst his work, he sees the supernatural beasties and, lo and behold, they seem to be at the heart of every crime scene. Hitler himself, according to the latest episode (S1E13) Three Coins in a Fuchsbau, it seems was a Blutbad, a werewolf. In Grimm, the Mausehertz, Lausenschlange, Fuchsbau, Eisbiber and a host of other creatures replace the antagonists in your standard cop show; these guys just happen to morph in and out of their animal forms.

Supposing the audience knows more about Grimm’s Fairy Stories than they probably do, each episode is fitted with an opening quote from the originating tale. Pleasingly so, there is also a nice smattering of German in each episode, thanks to he whom carries the show: a Big Bad Wolf, or Blutbad, named Monroe and portrayed brilliantly by Silas Weir Mitchell. Funny enough, Mitchell’s first role ever was Hansel, in a grade-school production of Grimm’s Hansel und Gretel. Mitchell plays a reformed Blutbad whom has assimilated nicely, has a quiet business fixing antique cuckoo clocks and sustains his bloodlust with handy-dandy, blood ice cubes in his soup.  He’s the conduit to the supernatural and has all the answers for Detective Nick Burkhardt, a newbie to the supernatural whom had no clue he was a Grimm until his auntie, his nearest living kin, passed away and passed down the family business … and a trailer full of what looks like props left over from the attic set of Charmed.

Although the characters and mythical figures are well represented, Grimm‘s plots are certainly stretched and reshaped, like a shrunken cashmere sweater on a drying rack, to embrace modern issues and appeal more to the CSI viewer whom likes his steak rare, and less to the Snow White of us whom like a deep cabernet with our pink rose cupcakes.

Overall, it’s just peaches to see the fairy tale genre taking hold once again. Fairy tales have been around, be it oral tradition or written, for centuries. They are the stuff of human interaction and, moreover, offer up the most primal of emotions: fear. Fairy tales are the tales of mankind: good vs. evil, right over wrong, romance and terror. Steampunk Dr. Lucy, my fellow ghost pal at the hotel, loves fairy tales as much as I; she finds the rebirth sehr interressant, in her words, “because too much of magic has left the world”. She certainly has a point. Star Wars is even fairy tale fodder, as much as is Sleeping Beauty: good vs. evil, larger-than-life villain and a steamy romance, to boot! Han Solo in those breeches and jack boots?! Sweet biscuits!

I’m just happy to see that some bravehearts in the decision-making, turreted towers of TVLand have the strength and courage to wield their broadswords and fight the dragons and trolls whom have led us headlong into harm, feeding the masses incrementally more and more poisonous, shiny, shiny candied apples.

As a side note, yours truly was at the original premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs … looking smashing in Chanel, if I I might say. Yeah, I was dead by then; but it made for no less of an event. (I did have to get my Chanel dress on a dead girl before I could actually wear it, but that all worked out just fine.) Sure, with a packed house, too, I had to sit on Clark Gable’s lap, but zowie! He never knew what he missed!

It was Christmastime in L.A., 1937, and the history-making film was introduced to the world at the Carthay Circle Theater in L.A. What a lineup of stars and lookers who showed up to see 90 minutes of animation! Shirley Temple was there (total doll) and Charlie Chaplin (what a smooth talker). Marlene Dietrich graced the place (What a face, but what a piece of work! Honey, you ain’t the only one in H-town with a million-dollar caboose!) and funny men Milton Berle and George Burns helped fill the celeb seats. Cary Grant showed up (What a man!) as did the luscious Ginger Rogers. What a set of getaway sticks on that broad! The place sold out and at five bucks a ticket, that was a lot of chicken feed back then, cats! Left 30,000 un-ticketed fans pouting outside the theater. (Sounds like this year’s Comic Con.)  Good for Mr. Disney!

The naysayers called it Disney’s Folly, but they were a bunch of mooks and flat tires. Little did they know the markers Walt and Snowy would set: first feature-length cel animation, first full-colour animation, first American feature-length animation, first Walt Disney Productions production. Whilst the theater is long gone, with the exception of a replica facade at the Walt Disney Studios, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and die Bruder Grimm continue to bring us generations of dreamy fairy tales, lingering nightmares and the brilliant juxtapositions of  mayhem, cannibalism and really, really pretty dresses.

Bis später, alligator!

 

Update: May 1, 2014: Since this original scribbling, I am happy to report a huge uptick in scripted television, especially historical-fiction! Notably, Sleepy Hollow, Turn, Salem, Reign and Complete Works. Let us hope the trend continues!

Looking for more Hannah Hart rants, kids? Here I am!

Last Updated on Thursday, 01 May 2014 16:13

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So, here's the low down, all you Joes and Janes ... I'm Hannah Hart, dead girl. Don't fret, it's actually a sweet dish being dead. Having perished in 1934 in a terrifically vicious accessories incident with actress Ida Lupino, I reside where I died: San Diego's gorgeous Hotel del Coronado. It ain't a bad gig at all, really! Great weather, swanky guests (not to mention a few fellow ghosties), amazing amenities, my own private turret overlooking the sea and all the java juice and giggle water I can handle; plus, these bartenders know how to make a Planter's Punch like nobody's business! See, I've been waiting for this Internet thing forever ... now, instead of slamming doors and moving lamps, I get to wag my tongue all I like at goodtobeageek.com

Abyssinia, kids!