NBC's "Grimm" and ABC's "Once Upon a Time" are two structurally different shows — one is a police procedural, the other a family drama — that share the same twist: fairy tales as historical nonfiction.
In "Grimm," David Giuntoli plays Nick Burckhardt, a Portland, Ore., police detective who discovers that he is the latest in a long line of second-sighted slayers, sort of like Buffy only with fairy-tale monsters instead of vampires. In "Once Upon a Time," Jennifer Morrison (late of "House") plays Emma Swan, a bail bondswoman who will discover, eventually, that she is the child of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) and is the only one who can lift the curse that has trapped her parents and the rest of their storybook friends in a place "with no happy endings." As in "Enchanted," that would be modern-day America, this time New England rather than New York.
If only Bruno Bettelheim were alive to note the current climate of financial and socio-political unease and wonder aloud if our return to the tales of childhood isn't an attempt to boil things down to the basics and fight our fears through metaphor.
Nah. TV is a business, business is about making money, and fantasy, still riding the cloak-tails of Harry Potter, remains hot enough for writers and network execs to cast about for the next way to package it. HBO's "True Blood" started off with vampires and werewolves and branched out into witches and fairies; the CW gave us "Vampire Diaries" and, this season, teen witches in "The Secret Circle"; AMC raised it a zombie with "The Walking Dead"; MTV remade "Teen Wolf"; and FX resurrected ghosts with "American Horror Story." So having run through Bram Stoker, Lon Chaney, Nathaniel Hawthorne and George Romero, a return to the primary source, fairy tales, was inevitable — but still quite risky, as both "Grimm" and "Once Upon a Time" make clear, relying on old formulas in the hopes of toning down the inevitable, and audience-narrowing, lace-and-leather requirements of the genre.