Grimm (NBC) is one of two fairy tale shows airing on network television this fall, with Once Upon a Time (ABC). I’ve already given up on the latter, having seen just two episodes — the writers did, I think, a nice job of building a fairly intriguing world, but as individual episodes, hours of television with concrete obstacles for the characters to solve, I was not compelled. It’s not entirely plot-less (the second hour in particular involves our hero trying to fight off attempts by her antagonist to run her out of town), but I’m not convinced that episode six or sixteen is going to have enough in it as an episode to keep me interested.
Grimm is a much more straight-forward show: a police officer finds out that he is a descendant of the Grimms, who did not invent their stories, but wrote about the things they saw. The Grimm family can see that some of the people in the world are actually beasts — big bad wolves, bears, and so on. Each episode has a cop element (two kidnappings and a serial murderer in the first three episodes), but a larger story about a plot by an as-yet-unknown Big Bad is brewing.
I’ve found myself enjoying the show more than I anticipated. In my old age, I’ve come to desire some measure of convention in my television — I still don’t watch any straight procedurals besides Castle, but I do, as I alluded to above, like an episode to feel complete at the end. Even heavily serialized, novelistic shows like Homeland have so far this year melded their continuing and episodic elements effectively. Grimm provides this closure. At the end of each episode, the bad guy is caught (and/or killed), and we’ve learned a little more about the Big Bad.
I could complain, on that front, that the serial story has moved a little bit too slowly so far. We know that Sasha Roiz, the police captain, is involved with the bad guys somehow, and we know that the bad guys are after our hero and his aunt (a sort of combination Slayer-Watcher character with a cache of weapons, books cataloging the various kinds of beasts in the world, and some cryptic advice before she dies from a combination of cancer and an attack). There is a fine line between leaving viewers wanting more information and leaving them frustrated at not having enough. The writers are teetering on that line so far, but I don’t think they’ve actually crossed it.
The major element of the show that’s impressed me, at least compared to every other new show on TV, is its sense of humor. Not every show has to be funny — Homeland and Breaking Bad are serious shows about serious, grounded topics. Their humor is dark and sometimes truly awful. Magical shows about beasts and Grimms or witches or Snow White or an identical twin passing for her sister because a Montana gangster is going to kill her cannot pretend to be grounded. Unfortunately, the art of the quip seems to have been left in the Buffy and Veronica Mars past. Sarah Michelle Gellar, an all-time quipper, was shackled in the first couple of episodes of Ringer (and based on the ads, things don’t seem to have improved after I stopped watching). The Secret Circle is angsty beyond belief and revels in the muck of that angst, never once considering that the entire idea of teens thinking their lot in life is the worst might be hilarious to the adults who TV networks want to watch their shows. And I’m pretty sure that Once Upon a Time didn’t contain a single joke in the two hours I saw, despite being about fairy-tale characters being trapped in our world because of a curse. (!!!)
Grimm, by contrast, gives its characters some room to breathe, despite being a dark, moody show in its cinematography and action — we’ve seen multiple dead bodies, some gruesome (two this week were killed by bee venom, leaving their faces grossly distorted), and Portland, where the show takes place (and is shot, surprisingly — whatever happened to Vancouver?), is apparently not merely dreary and overcast but legitimately scary. Our hero’s cop-partner is a fan of puns (“Our bee guy just gave me a buzz … yeah, I went there”) and a friendly Big Bad Wolf is both a funny character and one who is mined for amusement in other ways (he helps out our hero only after being offered a bottle of 1978 Bordeaux; he complains about being interrupted during his Pilates workout).
The show will likely not be Buffy, but in its growing chemistry between the leads (and potential to add to the core group), its adequate sense of humor, and its solid episodic structure combined with a relatively well-managed serial story, it might well scratch that itch for some of you as it has scratched mine.