Fall TV First Impression: ABC's Once Upon a Time Is Fairy Ambitious

The broadcast networks have more than 30 shows debuting this fall, including Steven Spielberg’s dino-mite Terra Nova, J.J. Abrams’ Person of Interest, and a U.S. adaptation of the UK’s Prime Suspect. To help you prep for fall, TVLine is offering First Impressions based on the not-for-review pilots. Next on our list is…

THE SHOW | ABC’s Once Upon a Time (Sundays at 8/7c, premiering October 23)

THE COMPETITION | NBC Sunday Night Football, CBS’ The Amazing Race, and Fox’s The Simpsons/Allen Gregory (new)

THE CAST | Jennifer Morrison (House) as Emma Swan, Ginnifer Goodwin (Big Love) as Snow White/Mary Margaret Blanchard, Lana Parrilla (Swingtown) as Evil Queen/Regina, Jared Gilmore as Henry, Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting) as Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold, and others

Fall 2011 TV Grid: Where Did Your Favorite Shows Land?

THE SET-UP | It’s tricky, so let’s see if I can boil it down (and not spoil the many cool twists). Once upon a time, in the Enchanted Forest… the Evil Queen crashed Snow White’s wedding to Prince Charming with the news that she had cast a powerful curse that would rob everyone of “everything they loved” and thus deprive them of their happy endings. Translated: The memorable fairy tale figures are transported to Storybrooke, Maine, a town frozen in time, and with none of their past memories intact. Flash forward (this is from two writers of Lost, after all) to now, where a 10-year-old lad named Henry tracks down his birth mom, bad-ass bail bondswoman Emma Swan, to bring her home with him to Storybrooke with the hope that she can make things right. Thing is, the woman who raised Henry is a real w-i-t-c-h — the Evil Queen’s alter ego, Regina, aka the town mayor. (Then again, Henry’s schoolteacher is a real princess.)

Pilot Preview: Jennifer Morrison Says Lost Fans Will Love Once Upon a Time

THE GOOD | Once Upon a Time is shaping up to be the most polarizing pilot among those of us who cover TV. Basically, you either found it to be magically delicious, or you failed to fall under its spell. I fall into the first camp — a gut feeling that was confirmed upon my second viewing. The set-up of the enchanted backstory is thrilling at times, with Goodwin and Parilla seemingly born to bite into the apple roles of Snow White and Evil Queen. (Plus, it’s just plain fun to catch glimpses of Grumpy, Jiminy Cricket and Tinkerbell.) Morrison does a nice job of mirroring the viewer’s disbelief of this fantastical dilemma — and Emma looks like she could become a worthy adversary for Regina — while Carlyle is slithery-good in both of his roles. Plus, did I mention all the Lost references sprinkled throughout? (Look at the clock tower in the clip below.) Now, with all of that said….

THE… COULD-BE-BETTER | I need to see Episode 2, because — as I have contended to peers — I don’t believe the pilot showed us what the series will really look like, given its requirement to deliver so much backstory from once upon a time. Visually, Storybrooke appears a bit bland; maybe they filmed on an overcast day, or is it to suggest the residents’ sad destiny? Lastly, the premiere isn’t until late October? Boo.

Read TVLine’s First Impressions of Ringer, 2 Broke Girls and The Playboy Club

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE | This is a show worth checking out, if only because it’s trying to pull off something special, and given its “out there” nature, it’ll need to open big and hold tight to its genre-TV audience.

Matt’s Inside Line: Once Upon a Time and Other Top 10 Pilot Rankings

Watch a video preview for Once Upon a Time, then vote in our poll below.


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125 Comments
  1. Sally says:

    Thanks for the insight! I’m looking forward to it :)

  2. jon says:

    seen the pilot twice too
    easily my fav pilot of the year!

    • Shuayb says:

      How have you watched the show twice already?

      • ggny says:

        most of the pilots leak online and can be found if you know where to look

        • concerned citizen says:

          where do i look? ;)

          • oh please says:

            oh please. this pilot didn’t leak. if you know any person who works in the industry, you can score a screener or a web link. i’ve seen it too, and i’m cautiously optimistic. the fairy tale bits are cheesy, and i really think it all hinges on the second episode.

          • oh please oh please says:

            I don’t think the fairy tale bits are cheesy at all. Obviously they will take some getting used to but I hope the producers keep that element to the show and don’t downplay it too much. Be proud of your fantasy geek.

        • Justin says:

          Well than maybe you should give me your email address so you can send me the links.

  3. Kevin says:

    I vote for MAYBE but I really don’t know if this fairy tale drama will get past the first season even though it won’t be airing until October 23rd about a month after premiere week. This doesn’t look for ONCE UPON A TIME.

  4. Pedro says:

    I’m really looking forward to watching it and this review only made me even more sure about it. Thank you.

  5. Carrie says:

    It sound a lot like The Sisters Grimm series. I hope it is as good!

  6. Joanna says:

    Looks a little like Happy Town on acid. Could be interesting.

  7. kmb55 says:

    There is a series of children books out called “The Sister Grimm” by Michael Buckley. These two things have a lot in common. Will be watching.

  8. Alicia says:

    Really hope this show delivers, I adore JMo and hope OUAT is a worthy vehicle. Also, they better know where they’re headed from the get-go, lest they make the same mistakes as Lost.

  9. PPPG says:

    I hadn’t heard of the premise until now. It sounds like something I’d like. I’m not a sports or cartoon guy so between my DVR I’ll be fine with Race and this.

  10. Luka says:

    It sounds awful!

  11. Alex says:

    Jennifer Morrison was HIGHLY annoying on How I Met Your Mother this year, but the premise looks interesting enough snd there’s not much else on at that time, so I’ll give it a shot. Could be a little too cult to last, but we’ll have to see.

    • jenna says:

      The premise of the show looks exciting but I agree that after HIMYM Jennifer Morrison has become one of my least favourite actresses. I’m definitly going to tune in for Ginnifer Goodwin alone but I might not end up sticking with it because of Jennifer

    • andrew says:

      I am a very big fan of Jennifer Morrison’s work on “House MD” and Dr. Cameron, but her appearance on “How I Met Your Mother” left something to be desired. I don’t believe that it was Jennifer’s fault, I believe she played her character well, but nothing was really going to make anyone like Zoey Pierson. It didn’t help knowing that Zoey wasn’t going to be Ted’s wife either.
      I will definitely check out “Once Upon a Time”. Also interested to see Ginnifer Goodwin; I enjoyed her in both “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton” and “Walk the Line”

      • @andrew says:

        You are right, Zoe was unbelievably annoying. Jennifer Morrison is not really a character actress and comedy is not her strongest suit, so the fault lies mainly with the casting department. Hopefully she will be able to redeem herself in this new show, so the HIMYM fans can “forgive” her and move on.

      • Erin says:

        I found her annoying as both Cameron (at times) and Zoe so it doesn’t bode well. I know it was mostly the characters and how they were written but alas I actually think her portrayal made it that extra bit irritating. I mean there are some characters that are written to be annoying but yet the actor brings something to the table that you can’t help but like them (Alison Brie?) whereas with JMo’s mugging – I cant wait til she shuts up and we go to a scene without her.

    • Lucila says:

      I´m a huge Lost fan and i was really excited about this upcoming show but when i learned that Zoy from HIMYM would be the lead I almost lost the faith. I read that she was casted because there wasn´t a lot of time left to find somebody else and she was the one available but i´m not sure about this decision. Anyway i´ll give it a chance. Maybe she is better here than in HIMYM but is gonna be hard.

      • Damien says:

        I read lots of reviews for this show and they all loved her performance
        I don’t think you have to worry about that :) and those rumors are false
        sorry I don’t speak english very well….

      • sara says:

        ”I read that she was casted because there wasn´t a lot of time left to find somebody else and she was the one available”

        No, Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis are professionist and work around ”Once upone a time” since october 2010, so ”wasn’t a lot of time” is false, she was casted because they want her. And Carter Bays and Craig Thomas (HIMYM) choice Jennifer ”unanimously” for Zoey’s role.

        Also, Jennifer is in a extraordinary film, ”Warrior” (”a oscar perfume movie”):

        ”Jennifer Morrison adds of her on-screen husband, “Joel has a huge heart. He always wants the best for those around him, and he’s incredibly disciplined. Having all those qualities in Joel obviously infused the character of Brendan. They automatically make you want to stand behind him and root for him. Whether it’s him working out his finances, saving his family, or winning the fight, you want him to win.”

        Though the primary relationships explored in the film are father-son and fraternal, Jennifer Morrison’s character Tess is in many ways the “heartbeat of the film,” as producer Greg O’Connor puts it. Where Paddy is holding together Tommy’s side of the fight, his training and his business, Tess is holding Brendan’s world together. “If it’s not for Tess’s female qualities holding these men together,” explains co-star Nick Nolte, “we don’t have a film.” With the audience’s investment in Brendan and Tess’ relationship the key to their emotional investment in the final fight and indeed the whole story, the filmmakers were prepared for a vast search for their Tess. But Gavin O’Connor tells of turning to the casting director after hearing from Morrison, only the fifth actress to read, and calling off the search on the spot. “That very rarely happens, and when it does, we don’t challenge the movie gods on those things. She just had it. She had the fire, the spirit, the compassion, the sexiness, the toughness, the maternal qualities.” On-screen husband Edgerton agrees, “The warmth of Jen becomes the warmth of Tess. The goodness you see on screen is a quality that cannot be manufactured for a role.”

        Jennifer have in the works other three movies: ”Project five”, ”Over the wall” and ”Knight five”.

  12. Saracen Riggins says:

    I’m looking quite forward to this one because of how different it looks. And the presence of Ginnifer Goodwin, who I think is A-dorable, can’t hurt.

    • Lauren says:

      I’ll watch anything with Ginnifer Goodwin in it. I even enjoyed her parts in He’s Just Not That Into You, and Something Borrowed was only bearable because of her (and John Krasinski).

  13. carolyn says:

    How did someone else get to see the pilot? Is it out there someplace? Or is Jon someone special also.

  14. Michael Sacal says:

    Whatever happened to the Fables TV show based on the DC/Vertigo comic of the same name?

    • M Sacal's secretary says:

      Sir, I’ve checked and you’re the only person who could ask OR answer that question.

    • aaron says:

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. It sure looks like it, doesn’t it? A menacing adversary, a wolfish looking sheriff, fairy tale characters stuck in the real world. There are a lot of similarities. Just looks like development took it in a different direction so they could make it more focused on a few characters.

      • really says:

        No argument, fairy tale characters stuck in the real world. “Wolfish” looking sheriff – fine. Though most small town sheriff’s are usually either fat old guys, no-nonsense gals or lanky, “wolfish” types.

        But “menacing adversary”. Casting the net a bit wide there don’t ya think?

      • Michael Sacal says:

        It’s a Volcano/Dante’s Peak, Armageddon/Deep Impact-type situation.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that this show came about after something prevented ABC from producing a Fables TV show… maybe the fact that ABC and Marvel are both owned by Disney, while Fables is published by DC Comics, Marvel’s competition.

        I bet Marvel will publish a comic book version of this show.

    • Evan Meadow says:

      Good lord MOTA, you’re everywhere.

      But otherwise yeah this whole thing does feel like “We’re not gong to do a show based on Fables, but we’ll take all the good stuff from Fables and save ourselves the licensing money since all the stories anyway are in public domain.”

      So I’ll be watching it, but knowing they decided to steal everything from Bill Willingham.

      • Michael Sacal says:

        Notice that Fables began on NBC before it moved to ABC, and now both networks have similar TV shows, Grimm on NBC and this on ABC.

  15. Lu says:

    I like how Storybrooke is like another island that people are trapped on with time stuff. Those Lost guys! : )

  16. Jason says:

    This might finally be proof that Jennifer Morrison and Ginnifer Goodwin are not in fact the same person.

  17. hugo says:

    I really liked the pilot as well but that trailer was pretty horrendous. They really need to fix the marketing. This could be a great show to watch with your family on Sunday night in the old Wonderful World of Disney slot, but the trailer makes the show seem a lot darker then it does and looks like its aiming for an older audience which i think is a mistakes. They should really be highlighting more of the fairy tale characters and the magic of the premise. Did they even mention Snow White at all in the trailer?

    • Tarc says:

      And why would they do that? Kids are not the demo they want – they want young adults, most of which have a clear taste for darker, supernatural fantasy judging from every quantitative measure of book and movies sales to that demo. An adult targeted fsiry tale is a magnificent idea!

  18. Amy says:

    I was on the fence about this pilot but you had me at Lost references. I will definitely give it a shot. It looks fun and that it could be one of those shows you really have to dig into. The cast is good too!

  19. mdaily says:

    Visually, reminds me a little bit of the Harry Potter movies. I for one will check it out.

  20. Renee says:

    My first love is the football, but I will DVR this one and check it out.

  21. Tim says:

    The show does not have to worry about COMPETITION from NBC Sunday Night Football. The NFL is dead for this year.

    • Danielle H. says:

      Lol I know, and people are still trying to deluge themselves into thinking that we are going to seen a season.

      I will give this show a couple episodes, and if it doesn’t grab me by then I’m out. That’s going to be my philosophy with 95% of the shows I’m checking out this year.

    • Renee says:

      Now come on Tim. Allow me some illusions. I love football.

    • Cloudy Knight says:

      Oh please. They are days away from a settlement. NFL Football will be played on Sundays starting in September, bet on it. Now the NBA . . .

  22. :) says:

    Thanks for the heads-up, Matt. Definitely not my cup of tea (not a fan of Disney product placement or Jennifer Morrison), but TV nowadays needs some kindness. I certainly hope this family show will stick around for a while.

  23. Fido says:

    It stars Morrions, Goodwin and Dr SGU so I’ve had this favouritised for months :)

  24. Grace says:

    Thanks for these fall show previews, Matt–I love them! I’m always excited when I check TV Line and find a new one. The new shows look pretty good this year!

  25. Deej says:

    Filming starts on July19th so no 2nd episode yet, but it’s on the way.

  26. Aurore says:

    I’ve been looking forward to this show!!
    Love Jennifer Morrison.She’s a wonderful actress

  27. Amanda says:

    it looks awesome; thanks Matt

  28. Liv says:

    Jennifer Morrison,Ginnifer Goodwin and the two writers of Lost!!
    I can’t wait to see this show :)

  29. Nam says:

    I’m so looking forward to this. I love Jennifer Morrison and am happy to have her on my TV screen again.

  30. Rey says:

    This looks like it’d be a great mini-series, but I don’t see it as a series.

  31. Matthew says:

    I just see absolutely no reason for this series to exist when you could take Bill Wllingham’s Fables mythos and make that into a series instead. Not to mention, it’s financially more sound too, as it’s dealing with an already-established franchise instead of starting from scratch. For those reasons alone, I won’t watch this, and can’t condone it’s existence. Come up with an original idea, or if you’re gonna blatantly rip something off, just get the rights and make a real version. I think Walking Dead proved to use that you could make a series out of the comic without following the comic exactly. Bleh.

    • Jay says:

      Sadly I think someone above hit the nail right on the head in regards to this: ABC is owned by Disney. Disney owns Marvel. Marvel competes with DC and as a result Vertigo. ABC does not produce a Fables TV show. And that is incredibly unfortunate.

      Like you, I will not be watching this show.

  32. lacey says:

    It sounds like an interesting show but I think it will get boring after episode 2. Storybook characters are frozen in time and only Emma can break the curse, and this has to last a whole season at least. Then assume it makes it a whole season, what then? Does the show move on to a different fairytale or still stuck on Snow White?

  33. Jorge Jose Herrera says:

    This looks amazing! By far the pilot that I am looking forward too the most. I love Jennifer Morrison! I enjoy HIMYM and didn’t like her character on there, but it had nothing to do with Morrison. Her performance was fine, the character just sucked. I also loved Morrison on House and am glad to see her back in a regular role this season. I think the casting of Ginnifer Goodwin is the best piece of casting of the new season. Can’t wait!

  34. XK says:

    Really looking forward to this one.

  35. Grace says:

    I’ve mentally/emotionally begun to prepare a space on my DVD shelf between Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies for this probably-fantastic-but-inevitably-doomed show.

    I’ve had my heart broken enough times to know by now that the American viewing public doesn’t respond to whimsy. Doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy it while it lasts though!

  36. was says:

    I think the premise is interesting but the actors don’t seem to have much charisma judging by the previews.

  37. Erin says:

    I love fantastical stuff ala pushing daisies however really not sure about this one. And with JMo heading it, puts me off even further (used to be a big fan of her during the early House days (back when it was actually good) but then, I don’t know if it was her characters (Cameron and Zoe) but these days she irritates the heck out of me. Even the wonderful Ginnifer is unlikely to override that.

  38. wooster182 says:

    I just can’t buy Morrison as bad ass or a bondswoman. If this show is from Lost writers, I can’t understand why in the hell they didn’t hire Paula Malcomson or Elizabeth Mitchell. As for the story itself, it looks pretty stupid with some bright spots mixed in. I’d bet this will get nixed in 2 episodes–canceled in 1 had it been on Fox.

  39. Lexy says:

    Don’t know, looks like a kiddie show to me. Ginnifer Goodwin could have been the main attraction for many but casting her in a supporting role with a limited screen time is a questionable decision IMHO. When fans don’t get to see their favorites enough, the other people hogging the screen may become perceived as really really annoying. Well, you get the picture. The timeslot is kinda unfortunate too. Thanks, but most likely I’ll pass.

  40. Mandy says:

    I really don’t see this show making it. I could only imagine how big the budget has to be. Not only do they have a bunch of well known people on the cast, but the way they go back and forth between the two worlds, has to cost them alot. I can’t see them being on ABC and getting extremely high ratings, so therefore I can’t see them being able to pull in enough advertisers to cover the costs of this show. Thats why cheaper shows like Modern Family make it. They film on a sound stage/studio and don’t have too many bigs names with the expection of O’Neil. You either have big names which cost alot and film on a studio/sound stage which doesn’t cost alot or the other way around. In this show they have both, I will be shocked if they make it.

    • @Mandy says:

      They shoot in Vancouver, as far as I know. As to “big names”, they got Ginnifer Goodwin and maybe Robert Carlyle, the rest should be on the cheap side, relatively speaking. Also I think the usual economics does not apply to the show that practically advertises Disney products on Disney network. It’s like an hour long commercial, a dream come true.

      • ? says:

        Jennifer Morrison is a big name, she is famous and request actress (movies and TV) and have a lot of fans, more info:

        http://jmolove.forumfree.it/

        and Lana Parilla is amazing! (she is puertorican like me!)

        • ? says:

          Sorry.

          ”Also I think the usual economics does not apply to the show that practically advertises Disney products on Disney network. It’s like an hour long commercial, a dream come true.”
          So cynical and bad things! It’s a great project and great concept, I’m sure will be a success!
          P.S.: They choice Vancouver just for special effects.

          • ? says:

            ”Sorry.”
            Sorry for double comment, obviously

          • @? says:

            First and foremost – TV industry is business, and speaking of it as such is not offending or detrimental at all. If you don’t like that part of the process, that’s fine, just don’t participate in the discussions and don’t take as a personal attack. As to success of this project, like with everything else, time will tell. :)

        • @? says:

          LMAO. Don’t get me wrong, but you don’t do Jennifer any favors by posting a link to that fangirl disaster of a site. If you want to make an impact, get it done professionally and buy normal hosting. Ginnifer and Robert won some awards which usually reflects in salary. That doesn’t take anything away from Jennifer, of course she is well known and has her fanbase.

        • Serk says:

          Sorry but if you like the actress you shouldn´t post a link to a forum with minimun traffic like that one. You are not doing her any favours. It looks lame and embarrasing.

        • janealle says:

          I`m not sure why some people here have to mock this Jen-fan-community. It takes a lot of time,money,dedication and admiration to keep a fansite running. I appreciate this hard work and i won`t call it a “fangirl disaster site” or “embarassing”. I like it and the girls are cute, so far i`ve seen.
          When you have nice & kind improving advices then you should go to this place and talk to them personally but badmouthing them here is kind of rude.
          Furthermore with all honesty the last thing i check when i visit a fanpage of a star is checking the traffic, if ever. Sorry, i look for some interesting news, pictures and other juicy stories and check how reliable it is. This fansite meets my demands and this is all what matters.
          I have no clue why this site is doing Jen any disfavours. I´m sure if she knows about it she will savor the work of her fans.
          Additionally I highly doubt when she goes to a casting of a movie the producers will ever say: “Hey we really like you and want you for the job but your fanboards aren`t awesome enough that`s why you won`t get the job.” Won`t happen!!
          So girls of Jmo-love, chin up and don´t let spoil your enjoyment!!!

  41. Brooklyn TV Watcher says:

    Jennifer Morrison is just a terrible actress – annoying and distracting and limited. The show sounds interesting, but she’s just a complete turn off. Won’t be watching.

    • @Brooklyn TV Watcher says:

      I don’t think Jennifer Morrison is a bad actress at all. She might lack personality so her characters come out a bit flat, with the exaggerated designated traits (hence perceived as annoying), but given proper material, she can shine. In my opinion, Cameron worked great for her, before the writing had gone stupid. So if you like the show otherwise, you should give it a try. Just IMHO.

  42. melissa s. says:

    amazing

  43. Matt says:

    the cast is amazing:Jennifer Morrison,Ginnifer Goodwin,Robert Carlyle….I will definitely watch it!

  44. navistart says:

    I’m huge Jennifer Morrison fan, so I’m so happy for her

  45. Karo says:

    I´m excited for this show. I love fantasy/sci-fi shows and i have absolutely no problem with the casting choices. I guess some people should quickly forget Jens horrible written Zooey part in HIMYM and give this show a chance when they are interested in.
    I´ve read that other TV-media bloggers who weren`t impressed by her performance on HIMYM liked her part in Once upon a time. Hence before dooming the show because of her,you should wait and See it for yourself!, maybe you`ll like her.

  46. Kacey says:

    While it’s vastly different, I feel like this could fill the gap left when Eastwick was cancelled last year. I loved that show and it seemed so perfect for a fall evening. A little fantasy, some awesome female leads, and a mysterious backstory. I’m in.

  47. frega says:

    I’m not familiar with either of the main actresses but I’m a devoted fan of Robert Carlyle. I’ll be watching him! The man is an amazing actor!

  48. xxx says:

    I’m so impresssed! ”Once upon a time” is well done! Thank you, Matt Webb Mitovich!

  49. CHT22 says:

    I love fables so I’m sooooo curious now!!!!!!
    ……!kisses from Florida, guys!……

  50. Lucifer says:

    Definitely going to watch this show! Jennifer Morrison and Robert Carlyle are brilliant actors. (HIMYM wasn’t Jennifer’s fault for being a little annoying, it was the writer’s fault)
    And why are they starting it so late :/ I was so excited for this show!

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