I should really start off by saying that I don’t dislike Once Upon a Time. The problem is that I don’t really like it either. I enjoy watching it when I have time, I loved the first few episodes, and now I just don’t find myself caring anymore.
My biggest problem is the lack of strong antagonist. I know that the Mayor is supposed to be the “bad guy,” but I don’t really care about the her. I find her to be annoying, more than anything else. The character’s strength is reliant on her reputation as the Evil Queen, rather than on character development. There have been a few hints or attempts at building her history, but for me, it doesn’t really work. The other almost-antagonist is Rumpelstiltskin. At the beginning, I thought that Rumpelstiltskin could have been a very effective villain/antagonist, but as the season has progressed, he has become more of an anti-hero, someone the audience can dislike but still relate to. He is a stronger character, one with more mysteries and potential stories.
Another issue is that I feel that the show has no idea where it’s going. We’re more than half a season in, and the important events all happened at the beginning of the season, within the first couple of episodes. Storybrooke was a town in which time didn’t move forward, and seeing the clock tick over to the next minute felt like the climax. It left me wondering what was going to happen next. And since then, not much has. The individual episodes tell good stories, but most of them don’t add anything to the arc. And in a show like Once Upon a Time, that arc is imperative. Back story is great, but not when it doesn’t add anything to the plot.
My third problem is that there are too many characters. I consider myself pretty good at keeping track of characters, even when shows have a lot of them. But Once Upon a Time keeps introducing new ones each week, using them for that one episode, and moving on. I often watch the show with my mother, and both of us have to ask, “Who was that again?” far too often. I’ve actually considered taking notes and creating spreadsheets to remember who everyone is and what their relationships to each other are.
Then there’s the issue of predictability. For a show that should thrive on its plot twists and unexpected developments, I’ve managed to predict… well, a lot of them. I’ve hit the point where I can actually call out the lines before characters. And that’s on my first viewing. Maybe it’s just me, and I watch too much television, but I hate being able to predict the surprises.
But I keep watching, week after week, maybe in the hopes that eventually we’ll get to the pay off? Half a season in, I still don’t feel like we’ve gotten to a true climax. Inching… slowly… towards one, perhaps. I can hope.
The show isn’t all bad. I love the costumes and the scenery is absolutely stunning. The acting is good; if nothing else, I love Robert Carlyle. On its surface, I should adore the show, and at the beginning I did. But the more I watch, the more I can’t get past the problems I have with it. I do, however, think it’ll make a brilliant DVD box set. It’s a show that seems like it was made to be watched straight through.
I want to like it, I really do. But some weeks I can’t even remember what time it airs.