What’s going on between NBC and ABC this season? First, both networks premiere new dramas set in the swinging 1960s – ‘The Playboy Club’ and ‘Pan Am‘ respectively. The advantage goes to ABC on that one. Now, both networks also have new series about fairy tale characters living in the modern world. The convergence of ideas strikes me as a little suspicious. As I wrote last week, I personally found ABC’s ‘Once Upon a Time‘ to be really dreadful on every level. If it’s even possible, I went into NBC’s ‘Grimm’ with even lower expectations. Surprisingly, it’s not nearly as awful. Advantage: NBC.
That’s not to say that it’s great or anything, but the ‘Pilot’ episode is unexpectedly watchable.
The episode opens with a college girl in a red hoodie jogging through the woods near her campus when she’s jumped by something and killed. The police can’t quite tell whether her dismembered body was attacked by a person or an animal. As detective Nick Burckhardt (David Giuntoli) investigates this, he starts to have strange visions of people’s faces morphing into monsters. No one else seems to notice.
Later that night, Nick is visited by an aunt he hasn’t seen in years (Kate Burton from ‘Grey’s Anatomy’), who announces that she’s dying of cancer and needs to tell him their deep, dark family secret while she still can. It seems that they’re descendants of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, which doesn’t seem like something they’d be ashamed of or want to keep hidden. However, she insists that the brothers’ famous stories were not just fairy tales. They were all based on true events, and it’s the Grimms’ responsibility to protect the world from these creatures that only they can see hiding in human form. This ability is passed down through the generations, and Nick’s is just kicking in.
Of course, Nick doesn’t believe her at first, until an even younger girl in a red sweater goes missing. Soon enough, he discovers that she’s been kidnapped by a “blutbad” (essentially a big, bad wolf) disguised as a friendly mailman, who has locked the girl away in the basement of his cabin in the woods until he gets hungry again. Nick has to enlist the help of his partner Hank (Russell Hornsby from ‘Lincoln Heights’) to rescue the girl, somehow without letting Hank know that he thinks the perp is a werewolf.
As the network ads have endlessly promoted, the series was created (or co-created) by David Greenwalt, one of the executive producers and guiding creative forces behind ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Angel’. The other co-creator, Jim Kouf, was also a producer on ‘Angel’, as well as ‘Ghost Whisperer’. (You’ll note that the ads don’t talk up that part.) The ‘Buffy’ influence is very obvious. The Grimms are basically Slayers, and the episode starts to lay the groundwork for an elaborate mythology based on familiar folklore. It also has a fairly irreverent tone. The best part of the ‘Pilot’ and most interesting supporting character is a reformed blutbad named Eddie (Silas Weir Mitchell from ‘Prison Break’) who agrees to help initiate Nick into the world he’s just discovered, but isn’t above busting his balls about it.
The series is not, however, anywhere near as witty as ‘Buffy’ – at least, not yet. And aside from Eddie, the characters aren’t particularly compelling so far. Nick is pretty damn bland, and that’s a big problem. The episode tries to strike that delicate balance between campy humor and actual scariness, but doesn’t quite nail it. Parts of it are quite cheesy, especially the ridiculously lame monster effects. But as I write this, I can’t help remembering that the first couple seasons of ‘Buffy’ were also rather shaky.
I don’t think that ‘Grimm’ is the next ‘Buffy’ by any means. But there’s something there. I’m willing to watch again to see how it develops.