This fall, we’ve got so many writers who’ve seen these pilots that we thought getting two takes on each show would be helpful to you. The first review is the “official” TV Club review, and the grade applies to it. But we’ve also found another reviewer to offer their own take on the program. Today, Kevin McFarland, who’ll review the show week to week, and Ryan McGee talk about Grimm.
Kevin: Man, NBC really can’t catch a break. When the St. Louis Cardinals came back twice in dramatic fashion to force the first World Series game 7 since 2002, it made the network’s decision to delay the première of Chuck’s final season and the debut of Grimm to late October look like a terrible bet. The odds have only been piling up against the show over the past few weeks. Once Upon A Time—the other fairy-tale-themed show on the fall schedule—premièred to unexpectedly great ratings, and stole the thunder as the first show to debut. For most viewers, the chips are already down on baseball playoffs, another show, or another night. Realistically, does Grimm even have a decent shot at survival?
That’s a grim outlook (come on, you had to know that would get used at least once) but Grimm isn’t quite dead on arrival. It feels like a mix between Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Psych, with a visual style that’s certainly as saturated as Pushing Daisies, just with the contrast turned all the way up to add more black. David Greenwalt is one of the creators, and his work as executive producer on Buffy and co-creator of Angel clearly influenced this pilot, especially in the creature effects—but there isn’t a larger commentary at work like the high school monster parallels of Buffy.
One Upon A Time started with an inciting incident that at least felt natural for the fairy-tale genre. When Zoey from How I Met Your Mother turns 28, the arbitrary age that Snow White’s daughter is destined to return to their fairy-tale world and save all the characters, she gets a knock on her door from a little kid and they’re off. It’s completely made up and of no real significance, but it works because of the fairy-tale template. Grimm doesn’t have that same luxury.
When we meet homicide detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) and his partner Hank Griffin (Russell Hornsby), it’s apparently the first day that any crime with fairy-tale-esque qualities has occurred in Portland. He’s also started seeing strange things, people suddenly turning into strange looking creatures. If that wasn’t enough, Nick’s Aunt Marie, who raised him after his parents died in a mysterious accident just happens to show up at his house, and then get attacked by some sort of creature. Aunt Marie explains that Nick is a Grimm, a descendant of the famous brothers, and that their stories weren’t just fairy tales, but that they could see the creatures in the real world and protected humanity from them. Why Portland? Why today? Why not the whole world? There’s no Hellmouth explanation here, which hurts a lot of the ability to get viewers hooked on the premise. All of the rushed exposition doesn’t help things towards the end of the pilot either, when a creepy guy humming the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” becomes the key to solving a Little Red Riding Hood-style kidnapping.
Grimm may get looped into the category of “fairy tales come to life” along with Once Upon A Time, but the two are fundamentally different shows. Once Upon A Time is building a much larger mythology with its characters, and doling out its little surprises for moments where the fairy-tale characters show up as different people in Storybrooke—the type of “Aha!” scenes where the camera tracks around slowly to reveal that Prince Charming is in a coma or Snow White has a pixie cut. It’s aiming for a much bigger arc, something that makes sense given its creators’ Lost heritage. That also creates a potential problem, since, unless that show plans on moving very slowly, the pilot doesn’t really offer too many stories to tell, just one big one that might last for the first season—and here I’m thinking mainly of the huge problem that eventually plagued Heroes. Grimm doesn’t have those kinds of problems from the outset. It’s definitely more rooted in police procedural than beholden to supernatural drama, which affords it the opportunity to take the tried and true Case-of-the-Week format and add the fairy-tale twist, revealing backstory over time and allowing Nick to learn his heritage.
Unfortunately, Grimm’s biggest problem is that it just isn’t very exciting. The pieces are there, and if you jumbled things around I’m sure there’s a way to get a show like this made right, but this just isn’t it. There are too many scenes with long, slow shots of silent characters reading, searching, or thinking, without any shred of interest in explaining the big questions that this whole situation brings up. The scares don't really work, Nick doesn't garner much emotional connection, and the most interesting things going on are at the fringes with supporting players.
By the final 15 minutes, the addition of Silas Weir Mitchell as Eddie Monroe gives a better idea of what mixture Grimm needs to start working. He’s the best part of the pilot, and truly the only aspect of this episode that doesn’t feel lethargic and uncertain. The reformed Big Bad Wolf, and the idea that he’s not the only one of each creature the Grimms described in their fairy tales, is a nice revelation, and Mitchell’s humor and chemistry with Giuntoli—who gives a performance that betrays his origins as a reality show contestant more than his guest stints around the networks—makes me wonder why Grimm bothered to make Nick a detective at all. It seems far more interesting to make him a normal person, then twist his Grimm heritage and give him a Big Bad Wolf for a partner—but alas, he’s stuck between two partners.
Like many pilots, Grimm shows a handful of directions the show could take, but I’m not sure if any of them could really help it survive. Certainly Nick keeping Hank in the dark about his ability makes things more difficult, and the chemistry with Eddie is the best element of the show so far, but it’s unclear just how much the show will stick to the usual procedural elements and slow down the overarching plot advancement to a crawl. There are a lot of plates spinning, with Aunt Marie in the hospital, Nick’s girlfriend/fiancée-to-be nothing more than a background figure, and the final twist of the episode making things with the police chief a lot more sinister as Nick develops his abilities. Grimm is trying to fit the mold of a cult show, something like Buffy and Chuck managed to find, but the deck may already be stacked against it getting enough time to find that niche.
Ryan: As he is the co-creator of Angel, I give David Greenwalt a lot of slack. That comes in handy, because much of Grimm is rough going at the outset of the series. Then again, so was Angel, which took nearly two years to find its rhythm. Say this for Grimm: Unlike many pilots this fall, it’s easy to see how the series could play out past the première. While I can’t imagine what the sixth episode of Once Upon a Time might look like, I easily imagine what the sixth episode of Grimm will be. But will I stick around to that sixth episode to see if my prognostications come true? That’s unclear at this point.
While the structural concept behind Grimm is fairly strong, its execution is pedestrian at best. The show seems so afraid that you’ll turn the dial that it keeps throwing ideas and twists that probably could have been deployed over the course of a season. For a show so ostensibly keen on mystery, it features far too many scenes of people explaining things at one another. It’s hard to wonder what’s going on when the show won’t gives us any mental time to do so. A pilot episode should bring viewers in, not deliver exposition to ensure they aren’t confused. Confusion works for a show like Grimm, not against it. By revealing too much too soon, the show strips itself of its central power in order to rapidly get into the mundane business of Monster-of-the-Week episodes.
It’s not all dreariness and tedium, however. By giving Grimm the proper respect it deserves (which is to say, very little), Mitchell’s character injects something sorely lacking in the show’s universe: humor. There are life-and-death situations aplenty in Grimm, but those mean very little if there’s not much life to the show itself. Will Monroe’s energy infect the rather lifeless lead? Probably not. Giuntoli looks and acts like a poor man’s Brandon Routh, and his character is a black hole at the center of the show. But if Grimm builds a solid cast of secondary characters around Nick as he uncovers the history of his lineage, this could turn into a solid if unspectacular addition to an already crowded genre lineup on Friday nights. If the show doesn’t, well, then this might be one of the scariest shows on television for all the wrong reasons.