Despite my love for sci-fi and superheroes, fairy tale characters have never been my thing - although, having a niece, I'm acutely aware of the adventures of every one of the Disney Princesses - so I'm surprised at how taken I am with what has become my new fall obsession, ABC's Once Upon A Time. Especially considering I was highly skeptical of the premise in the beginning.
But here we are, weeks later, and it has me glued to the tube more than any other new series of the season.
For some, Once may harken back to the Sunday nights when families would gather around the tube to watch The Wonderful World of Disney, but I love that it's more than just a relatively kid-friendly tale of princesses and evil queens - it's a fairy tale saga with bite.
And that bite comes in no small part thanks to the gifted actors playing the iconic roles.
You may be thinking of how there are a number of shows that feature far grittier and realistic depictions of life and relationships. Absolutely, that is true. And, of course, every now and then the dialogue does veer into an area that could satisfy the yearnings of anyone craving dairy. However, the ability to take these characters and actually get you to take them seriously is not an easy feat - yet the cast of Once Upon A Time is doing just that and faring very well.
Consider last week's telling of how Snow White and Prince Charming first met. Initially, I considered Ginnifer Goodwin's Snow White to be the television equivalent of that moment you wake up and realize you have no feeling in your arm because you were sleeping on it and you flail it around trying to get the feeling back. But then, as if my mind had been read, Snow suddenly evolved into an action heroine, which Goodwin more than proved capable of handling. In the life of her Storybrooke counterpart, she deftly characterized the emotional subtleties in the turmoil experienced by Mary Margaret, eliminating any lingering concerns I had about Goodwin tackling the role.
Equally as pleasant were her moments with the charismatic Josh Dallas, which demonstrated that a pot-boiler of chemistry exists between the two after all. I'm fully on board the Snow and Charming shipper train now and cannot wait to see the relationship between the Storybrooke versions of themselves unfold.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Morrison has given Emma some shining moments in her own right, and her interactions with young Henry (the endearingly spry Jared Gilmore) have given me reason to smile on more than one occasion. I enjoyed how she handled the situation with Ashley/Cinderella this week, particularly in the laundry room when she was offering advice to Ashley regarding expectations and impending motherhood. The conflict in her eyes over how she managed the situation with Henry's birth was visible and affecting.
Speaking of conflict, we have seen very little of Sheriff Graham to date - that is, unless you take the photo above into account - but he already appears to be one of the most conflicted characters in this story. Although his fairy tale alter ego hasn't been explicitly revealed, it's all but confirmed at this point that he is the Evil Queen's henchman, The Huntsman, who could not bring himself to kill Snow White in cold blood. In Storybrooke, he seems to be equally as trapped inside Regina's web of treachery as he is her sheets. I'm looking forward to Jamie Dornan getting an opportunity to flex more than his pecs as we delve deeper into his complex relationship with Regina, as well as with newly-minted deputy, Emma.
If Alias' Irina Derevko and Heroes' Sylar had a daughter, I have a feeling she'd look - and act - a whole lot like Regina/The Evil Queen. What more can one say about Lana Parrilla that her rapturously wicked performance doesn't already communicate week after week? Acidic dialogue drips off her stinging tongue like honey from a beehive, and is equally as rich. She slithers across the screen with a haunting precision that engenders equal amounts of grim fear and ecstatic delight. Never has evil tasted so diabolically sweet, and Parrilla coyly appears to be relishing every delectable morsel. I know I am.
Last, though certainly not least, I have to give props to the one actor whose performance takes Once Upon A Time to stratospheric heights: Robert Carlyle as the morally defunct Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin. Carlyle ensures that one of the most nefarious characters in the history of literature is delivered with exactly the right amount of menace and maniacal wit. The man plays creepy like few others and makes Rumplestiltskin seem like the lizard-fleshed cousin of The Cryptkeeper. His presence elevates the performances of everyone else around him. In particular, with the most recent episode, "The Price of Gold," he gave me the same chills I felt watching the late Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight - and we know what that performance got him.
It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if Carlyle's performance also has him spinning gold come Emmy time.
Much like how Smallville pulled from the annals of the DC Universe and weaved them into the story of Clark Kent's rise to superhero majesty, Once Upon A Time has an endless supply of fantastical characters at its disposal, ensuring that there would be plenty of tales to tell for seasons to come. I have no doubt each new character we visit will bring with it equally enjoyable performances harmonizing with those of this stellar cast.
Jeffrey Kirkpatrick is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.