Fall TV Preview

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

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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.

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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.