TV Report Card | 'Once Upon a Time' Season 2 Review

Overview: The second season of the fairytale adventure series saw our heroes battle giants, Queen Regina and find a new land.

Storyline Development: “Once…” seemed to be fighting the sophomore slump as hard as its characters were fighting for and against magic. Showrunners, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, led a show that was more determined than ever and gave it all they had. Focusing on anti-hero/villain(?) Gold and Regina served the series well, as they are the show's most compelling characters.

It also focused on the rivalry between Hook and Gold which provided some highlights. The thing that you have to appreciate about “Once…” is it is one of the more ambitious shows on TV. There isn’t a world they’re scared to venture to or a character they’re scared to tackle.

You have to admire its spirit and at least they’re taking chances with their storytelling. Is it a little out there sometimes? Yes. Are the almost completely CGI’d sets relied on a little too much? Perhaps. It is a show that is really trying though.

This season was a step in the right direction and it defeated its most difficult villain, the sophomore slump. The stories moved at a decent pace and the worlds of Storybrooke and The Enchanted Forest felt much more cohesive this season. They complimented each other and provided a better insight into both universes, instead of just feeling like an excuse to cover another fairytale character whose backstory had no real influence on the overarching storyline.

There were missteps, for instance, getting rid of Eion Bailey (August) so that Pinocchio could return to child-form was a giant-sized disappointment. How exactly does that drive story? It was a hugely wasted opportunity. 

Production Caliber: With that said two things continue to bother me about the show. The first being that it constantly reminds me of “Faerie Tale Theatre”, a show from the 80’s that I used to watch as a kid when they came out on video. Actors would re-enact the fairytale stories.

They weren’t connected to a greater mythology or anything so they aren’t any more parallels between the shows. Seeing the stories that Disney turned into those memorable cartoons and seeing them brought into live-action was a big thrill.

This brings us to the second problem, “Faerie Tale Theatre” had to keep the appearance of their characters separate from Disney’s incarnations because of obvious legal issues and yet “Once Upon a Time” does the same thing for no apparent reason. They make no effort to tie together the look of the Disney incarnations and their characters. That is perplexing to no end because ABC is owned by Disney and Disney owns the cartoons.

So why does ABC, being the shameless cross-promoters they are, not take the opportunity to tie-in the look of the cartoons and the live-action characters on the show? It is bothersome and it makes “Once…” feel like a knock-off show from an imitators network instead, of a show on a brand network.

Performance Quality: Robert Carlyle (Gold) was excellent as always. He may be the hardest working actor in primetime. He plays 4 different characters on one show; Mr. Gold, Rumpelstiltskin, the Dark One and The Beast. It is an impressive feat and he does so rather effortlessly.

His portrayal of the characters provides a character study that adds a dimension and depth to the series. As many emotions as he bestows upon the characters he also holds enough back to keep us guessing as to what will come next and leaves the their next move rather unpredictable.

Lana Parrilla (Regina) sparkles in a role that she too, keeps us guessing in. She makes for an excellent villainess, she imbues within the character intelligence, wit, and overall charm that keep us hoping she will do the right thing in the end and forgive her in the meantime for doing the exact opposite.

If she didn’t have that down, Snow/Mary Margaret’s (Ginnifer Goodwin) character would look like a fool for always having faith in her turning things around, instead she reflects the audiences (this member at least) desire to believe the same. 

Colin O’Donoghue (Hook) was a fantastic addition to the cast; he has also shown great capability in playing a rogue. They’re spinning-off “Once…” with next fall’s “Wonderland” and that feels like a lost opportunity that could’ve been given to the character of Hook.

He has what it takes to carry his own show. The actor is leading material. It was nice to see him evolve more into the fabric of the show and it seems that the series knows they have something special with his and Gold’s rivalry.

Jennifer Morrison (Emma) had some good moments in the finale. She seems to be struggling to find the maternal warmth necessary for the role. I know that her character is new to the whole mother thing; despite spending another season with Henry their connection didn’t seem to develop any more warmth to it.

It seems clear that Morrison wants her character to be perceived as a strong woman and that is great. Strong woman can be caring mothers without losing their edge in fact; it can provide them with more of one.

Musical Score: It was in keeping with the original score from last season and it is a good adventure soundtrack. The opening title is still super cute and haunting at the same time.

Overall Grade: B+, this was better than the last installment and they led us into the next season with a fantastical cliffhanger. The battle to protect magic and vice versa will lend itself to some fun material. The main problem continues to be what the show is trying to be identified as.

It’s trying desperately not to be pigeonholed into being a family show and yet it doesn’t make any bold moves to drop that perception, except for some behind-the-scenes shenanigans with the scripts.

It doesn’t necessarily need to shed being a family show either. There aren’t enough dramas for families to watch together on TV where they can both enjoy the show for different reasons and still be happy. So for that I applaud the series and the network for including it in the line-up.

As for those who have perceived that it is solely a family show, they would be surprised that one of the biggest demographics for the show is actually college-aged girls. So any inclination that it is “just for kids” hasn’t seemed to turn older audiences off. The next season is something to look forward to. The show is finding its footing and keeping us intrigued while doing so.