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Grimm: A cult series in the making?

NBC’s darkly atmospheric Grimm premiered last Friday, blending the good old fashioned police procedural with the legends of the Brothers Grimm in a world that one of the characters assures us ‘is no fairytale.’ It’s unfortunate to see the show shunted into the infamous Friday night death slot, as this suggests the network may not be ready to give it a fair chance, and it’s a series well worth an opportunity to shine. Unlike a lot of what’s airing right now, Grimm is fun. If there’s only room for one fairy tale retelling on television, Grimm definitely wins out over Once Upon A Time.

There’s a solid blend of creative talent working on the show, which has a fairly simple premise with a lot of room to grow. Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) was your ordinary detective in Portland, Oregon, until he started seeing things that really didn’t belong, and then his aunt rolled into town with two revelations: one, she’s terminally ill, and two, he’s one of the last in a line of Grimms. Nick can see the true aspects behind the monsters living under human guise, and he’s been tasked with a mission to hunt them down, courtesy of a family curse. As his aunt sinks into a coma, Nick frantically scrambles through her papers in an attempt to make sense of his new reality.

The pilot episode took on Little Red Riding Hood, complete with an explosive opening sequence overlaid with the sound of the Eurythmics ‘Sweet Dreams Are Made of These,’ which became a refrain throughout the episode (I’ll be curious to see if the show makes a habit of soundtracking each episode this way). Nick and his partner Hank (Russell Hornsby) are puzzled and frustrated by a case of a mutilated jogger where DNA evidence is ‘inconclusive’ until Nick puts his Grimm skills to use and enlists Hank in some late-night detecting to collar the big bad wolf. Along the way, we learn that there’s more than one big bad wolf; in fact, an entire community of them exists (they even go to church!) and one, Eddie Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), is ‘reformed.’ A tough regimen of diet and exercise keeps him on the straight and narrow.

Big bad monster turned good through sheer source of will might seem a bit tired, but I could get to like Eddie, who splits his time between making clocks and marking his territory by peeing on his fence. He’s Nick’s liaison with the supernatural world, and brings a delicious note of wry sarcasm to create some comic relief for viewers. Unlike pop culture’s current crop of reformed monsters, he’s not a tormented, brooding, darkly thoughtful kind of character, and I rather appreciate that. I’m delighted to note that we’ll be seeing more of him, since he’s part of the regular cast.

Portland makes a superb setting for Grimm, as the Pacific Northwest can be strongly reminiscent of a fairy tale world at times. Towering trees loom in many of the scenes, and the damp, wet, continually dripping environment makes a nice, if sometimes a tad over the top, backdrop to Nick’s discoveries. The climate also provides ample opportunities for epic fog, clouds, and rain to heighten the dramatic tension, and the collection of historic homes adds texture, and creepiness, to the scenery.

There’s a faint flavour of Buffy to Grimm, which is probably not surprising, since David Greenwalt is one of the executive producers. Greenwalt was heavily involved with both Buffy and Angel, shows which definitely laid the groundwork for this kind of storytelling on television, a blend of fun, mythos, and intriguing characters. There’s an overarching plotline as Nick wrestles with his secret identity and how to achieve work-life balance in a world where monsters are following him home, but it’s tempered with a classic monster of the week format which allows the show to keep regular viewers rewarded with a season-long narrative without avoid alienating people just tuning in.

Buffy in particular perfected this blend, and fought its way to cult classic status after a rocky start as a mid-season replacement. Perhaps Grimm will share the same trajectory; it’s one of the later starters in the 2011-2012 network season, which was a conscious decision to premiere close to Halloween, and I think it might have some staying power.

This narrative sets viewers up for plenty to chew on, and I suspect that sales of Grimm’s Fairy Tales are about to experience an uptick as people get into the mythology behind the show. A world where fairy tale monsters are real is not particularly new to television, but Grimm is taking it in fun directions. Like Once Upon A Time, the show is taking itself a little too seriously, but it feels less stiff, forced, and cheesy. The actors, for instance, don’t seem to find their lines embarrassing, and the dramatic setting has a faint whiff of camp mixed with the horror; it’s less self conscious, and has the ability to poke fun at itself.

It’s hard to tell if Grimm will keep up the momentum of the pilot, but I certainly hope so. This is one of the few shows airing this season that I’m actually excited about after viewing the first episode, and I’m looking forward to tuning in for future installments. As with Buffy, there’s something for those who like monsters of the week backed by mythology and those who are interested in human dramas, like the partnership between Nick and Hank, and Nick’s own coming of age as he grapples with a new life as a Grimm.

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