“This is no fairy tale,” Portland cop Nick Burkhardt is told when one of his cases appears to involve a monster as the perp. “The stories are real.”
Well, of course they’re real. Did Nick – the hero of NBC’s new thriller “Grimm” (tonight at 9) – not watch Sunday’s premiere of “Once Upon a Time” on ABC, this season’s other new drama about fairy tales come to life?
“Grimm” arrives with the deck stacked against it. “Once Upon a Time” had a five day head start (and had one of this season’s most highly-rated debuts) and much better marketing. In addition, it’s on NBC, which has struggled to launch virtually everything but “The Voice” in recent years, and on Friday nights at 9, a low-viewership timeslot where the sci-fi/fantasy audience is already largely spoken for by FOX’s “Fringe” and the CW’s “Supernatural.”(*)
(*) Tonight, at least, it doesn’t have “Fringe” to deal with – but only because FOX will be airing what should be a massively-rated World Series Game 7 instead.
It also arrives with a variety of stumbling blocks of its own making. Nick, who discovers he’s one of the last in a long line of Grimms, people with the power to recognize and then fight the fairy tale monsters, is played by “Road Rules” alum David Giuntoli, who comes across like a more wooden Brandon Routh, which didn’t seem possible. The show takes its title far too seriously, and with the exception of one character is oppressively humorless. It is, if the pilot is an accurate guide, a police procedural in supernatural drag, and not a particularly inspired one. And the show looks both cheap and quite literally too dark. (Even NBC’s promotional images are hard to entirely make out.)
And yet… in a way, I may prefer it slightly to “Once Upon a Time.” Certainly, it seems better-constructed for the long haul, even if the timeslot, network, etc. make a long haul extremely unlikely.
“Grimm” was co-created (with Stephen Carpenter and Jim Kouf) by David Greenwalt, who was a top producer on “Buffy” and “Angel” for a long time, and he and his partners at least recognize that the Brothers Grimm set out not to comfort kids at bedtime (and provide Disney with merchandising opportunities), but to scare the heck out of them. What we see of the fairy tale characters in the “Grimm” pilot is unsettling, and if the show ultimately takes itself too seriously, that seems more easily correctable than starting out with too much whimsy.
And there’s some welcome humor in the form of Monroe, a big bad wolf (but not necessarily the big bad wolf) who has reformed and curbs his monstrous appetites “through a strict regimen of diet, drugs and pilates.” Monroe is played by Silas Weir Mitchell (Haywire on “Prison Break”), and when he and Giuntoli are on screen together, you can see the shape of a better, more durable version of the show that has far more confidence and energy – one where Giuntoli is only asked to look pretty, set up Mitchell’s jokes, and occasionally shoot things.
And though the cop procedural framework feels tired almost from the second we see Nick and partner Hank (Russell Hornsby) approaching a crime scene involving a co-ed who made the mistake of running through the woods in a red hoodie, the structure itself seems to have more legs than waiting week after week, season after season, for Jennifer Morrison and her son to break the queen’s curse on “Once Upon a Time.”
There’s a potentially good supernatural cop show to be made, and certain pieces in place to make this into that. But the version you’ll see on NBC tonight seems to be embracing the show’s likely failure by being something few will miss if it doesn’t work out.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org