I’ve always been a fan of the Urban Fantasy sub-genre, that intersection between fantasy, horror and the modern-day. The best known example is Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden franchise, though personally I prefer Mike Carey’s Felix Castor novels. True Blood has been the best example on TV. In comics, the most successful example has been Fables, which places fairy tale characters in modern-day New York.
Which brings me to the two contenders currently bringing the Fables-style Urban Fantasy to our TV screens. Once Upon a Time‘s protagonist enters a community, ruled with an iron fist by an evil stepmother of a boy who believes that they are all amnesiac fairy tale exiles. The narrative of each episode is spliced with a parallel tale from the land of fairy tales yet cleverly leaves the ‘real world’ narrative ambiguous, leaving doubt as to whether the boy is externalising his delusions or whether the fairy tales are true histories.
Grimm on the other hand follows the story of a cop from Portland, Oregon who learns he is the last of the Grimms, the literal descendant of the eponymous writers. Writers and warriors against the unnatural creatures who prey on humanity. Each episode is part police procedural and part individual fairy tale retelling, whether it’s Red Riding Hood or Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
While the scriptwriting in Once Upon a Time is tight, imaginative and clever, Grimm’s is obvious and clichéd. If you think you know where the story is going to turn in Grimm, chances are you’ll be right. It’s lazy, common denominator stuff. Audiences seem to agree; although Grimm has already been green-lit for a second season, Once Upon a Time has managed to draw twice the audience with every episode so far.