A little different this week, rather than characters we’re going to pit two series against each other - Once Upon a Time vs Grimm. Both of these stories started at the same time and they both cover fairy tales, naturally the two would be compared. We’ve followed these shows since they both started and seen them both grow. I think they’re both still among the shows we greatly enjoy, though neither is safe from deeply problematic elements.
So this week we’re setting them against each other in a face off, which fairytale story is better through our plot and social justice lens?
The role of women:
Grimm: The snarky side of me is tempted to just say “pass” to this one. There are 2 recurring female characters in Grimm - the pathologist (an extra) and Juliette, Nick’s lover interest. Because Juliette isn’t in on the big Grimmy secret, she doesn’t pay much of a role except as someone for Nick to worry about. Now if kick-arse Aunty had lived then maybe. Because there are no recurring female characters women are relegated to victims, monsters or love interests or victims or monsters. And of them all, they’re probably more often victims waiting for the big strong menz to save them. There’s very little good to say here, alas.
Once Upon a Time: Women are extremely central to Once Upon a Time. Both the protagonist and of the antagonists are women. Unfortunately this has often lead the writers to get into the debate as what constitutes a real mother as Henry is the adopted son of Regina and the birth son of Emma.
All of the women in the story are extremely capable and refuse to be handled in anyway shape or form. Emma even chased down a man in high heels in the first episode. There isn’t any situation that they are afraid to handle. While these major characters are indeed women, their femininity does not define or limit them in anyway. They are simply characters who happen to be women.
The treatment of visible minorities
Grimm: There are only two reoccurring characters of colour on the show and unfortunately they largely fill the role of sidekick to Nick. Other than the color of his skin, there is nothing to mark Hank as a man of colour. This is made further problematic by the fact that the only thing we do know about Hank is that he once framed a man he deemed guilty. Though he works as Nick’s partner on the police force, Nick seems far more dependent on Eddie. We don’t know if Hank has a family, or what his interests are. Essentially he is the man with the gun who has Nick’s back, even when Nick’s actions make no sense simply because that’s what partners do.
Sergeant Wu only shows up long enough to deliver sarcastic lines and then he disappears back into the plot box. I will however Wu kudos because many of his lines involve calling out racial bigotry. They have not developed his character at all. We don’t know if he has any family, what his likes or dislikes are.
Once Upon a Time: Are there any? Oh yes Magic Mirror and Regina’s father are both POC. Very limited indeed - the Magic Mirror lives a life of service in both Storybrook and fairy tale land and his story as told in Fruit of the Poisoned Tree is filled with dubious racial tropes and exoticism with him pining after a married white woman and then being betrayed by her and still serving her! While Regina’s father? Is a servant who is again sacrificed. We could talk about Regina but, though the actor is Latina, she’s very much cast in a white role (and something we will be addressing)
Advancement of the plot
Grimm: Put on the handbreak because we’re not going anywhere. The meta-plot in Grimm has not advanced at all. Every now and then we’ll get a hint, brief hop forwards, maybe a new suggestion about the evil police chief and the Reapers. But that’s it. Realistically, the meta-plot has not advanced significantly since, maybe, the 4th episode. And even that may be being generous - it may actually be generous to say there is a meta-plot. Sadly, it’s very much a monster-of-the-week show.
Once Upon a Time: Though Once Upon a Time is basically about fairy tales we have all come to know throughout the years, the writers have given them a fresh spin by moving the characters into the modern world. Each week we get the back stories of these characters and though it does not really add a massive amount to the meta plot per say, it does broaden the story. Each time one of these back stories is resolved in the present day world it moves the plot closer to the day when the curse will be lifted. However, Emma still does not believe the curse exists, nor is she any closer to breaking it.
Adherence to/Creativity with fairytale folklore
Grimm: Naturally the folklore cannot be identical, given that we’re in a modern setting, some twists are to be expected for updating them, to fit the meta-canon and sometimes for clever twists - like the Pied Piper being a Rat creature, the Big Bad Wolves and the Three Little Pigs being at war etc. But sometimes I think the original fairy tale has, at best, the loosest attachment to the story and is generally used only for the monster within it - like the Three Bears and the Goblin Spider. Of course, part of the problem is that Grimm is using some obscure Germanic fairytales I’m not familiar with and I have no idea how true they are. But I think mainly it’s because Grimm is focused more on fairytale creatures rather than fairytale lore and sometimes not even then.
Once Upon a Time: I actually want to give Once Upon a Time kudos for not adhering to the canonical fairy tales. One of the delights of the show is that the fairy tales are twisted and re-interpreted through a different lens. I love that Snow White kicks arse, I love the twist on Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin is a brilliant character and Hansel and Gretel were a great re-examination of the tale. True to the original story? Maybe not, but they flesh out the side characters we don’t see much of in Fairy Tales, side characters, princes who just are charming, princesses who just kick their feet helplessly. They have been adapted beautifully to give you the core - and the fun of fairy tale character spotting - while keeping the parallels with the Storybrook characters.
So, Fang Folks, what’s your verdict? Once Upon a Time or Grimm (and you can’t choose just because Nick is yummy, he’s mine).