Third-episode verdict: Once Upon A Time (ABC)

The CarusometerA Carusometer rating of 3

In the US: Sundays, 8/7c, ABC
in the UK: Not yet acquired

Not that it’s statistically significant, but it’s worth noting that a lot of shows this fall season have proven to be better with their third episode – which is also their first episode written by someone who isn’t their showrunner. We’ve had a look at Boss today and American Horror Story also took a slight turn for the better with its third episode. I hear Whitney‘s picked up now Whitney isn’t writing it and much can be said for 2 Broke Girls, now Whitney and Michael Patrick King have handed over writing duties to the staff.

Of course, Suburgatory‘s only good when showrunner Emily Kapnek (or other women) are writing it so it’s not a golden rule. Interesting, all the same, though, given the recent ‘cult of the showrunner;.

But Once Upon A Time is definitely following this new trend. After the dull first episode, Once Upon A Time followed up with a very dull second episode that suffered from all the same problems as the first episode. But Sunday’s third episode did some interesting things. Rather than giving the baddies all the fun, we got signs of Snow White not being all that uninteresting, Prince Charming turned up and did something heroic, Jennifer Morrison got to make wise-cracks, and there was daring-do and excitement. That’s all new.

Unfortunately, by providing an improved script, a dull plot could no longer distract from the show’s other flaws also exposed a lot of the show’s weaknesses. Jennifer Morrison is quite dreadful as the heroine; Ginnifer Goodwin as Snow White is only marginally better; the PG rating (if that) on the show means there’s no chance for bloodshed, even when swords are scythed at people’s legs.

The show’s problems are essentially that it falls between two stools: it’s a little too adult and concerned with adult themes to work for kids but at the same time it’s too childish and lacking in grit to appeal to adults either. If we could have a full-blooded adult show that exploited the psycho-sexual nature of fairy tales, for example, or that really turned fairy tale characters into real-world people, rather than ciphers with single character traits, that would be a show worth watching. A TV version of Enchanted would be equally good. But this fails to be either so instead, while it does have some qualities that are relatively engaging (Lana Parrilla, Robert Carlyle and the original fairy tales), it’s ultimately a weak, watered down concept that fails to really doing anything remarkable.

Might watch just to see what happens with Cinderella and Rumplestiltskin next week though.

Carusometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: Might last a season at best


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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