The TV world has resembled the film one quite a bit this fall, taking a play from Hollywood’s book of delivering two similarly themed projects at about the same time and hoping audiences won’t mind. We’ve already been introduced to the ’60s (the cancelled “The Playboy Club” on NBC and ABC’s “Pan Am”) and the awesomeness of man (“Man Up” and “Last Man Standing,” both ABC), and all of these shows range from “Meh” to “This is what’s wrong with society.” This week, we received the fairy tale portion of the fall repetitiveness, first with ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” on Sunday and now NBC’s “Grimm,” which premieres tonight. And like “Once,” a flawed yet potential-filled show, “Grimm” lacks the courage to be truly bold and unique. The premise, again, is an OK one: What if the folk tales recorded by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were true and there exists a line of criminal profilers who can see the monsters of the Grimm brothers’ tales for what they really are? If only the execution of the drama, created by Stephen Carpenter, David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf, were as clever.
Parts of “Grimm” are appealing, starting with the opening in which a sorority girl, clad in a red hoodie, heads for a jog in the Portland, Ore., woods as “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by the Eurythmics plays on her iPod and for the audience. A figurine of a small girl (looking a bit like Gretel sans Hansel) perched on a log catches the jogger’s eye, and as she stops to examine it, she’s attacked. Screaming and what could be munching sounds ensue off camera, but this isn’t “Walking Dead”-level creepy. What that show lacks in writing it makes up for in mood, which “Grimm” sorely needs. The monsters (at least in the pilot) aren’t as scary, and the lead? He’s downright dull. Portland homicide detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) is the Grimm here, although he doesn’t yet know his fantastical fate as he investigates the jogger’s murder. He’s busy preparing to propose to his girlfriend, Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch), and taking a good old ribbing from his partner, Hank Griffin (Russell Hornsby). He’s dull, too. Together, these two could be the nicest and most boring detectives in history, the anti-McNulty and Bunk.
The “Grimm” character that does have potential is Eddie Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), a reformed Grimm creature himself (a werewolf) whom Nick comes across while investigating another crime, this time the disappearance of a young girl, who also happened to be wearing a red hoodie. Nick can see Eddie’s true nature — Eddie’s head shifts into wolf form when he smells children walking by his house — and Nick only recently began seeing such things. The face on a pretty woman the day before transformed into a monster’s; so did the face on a prisoner at the station. But instead of questing his sanity, Nick didn’t give the occurrences much thought.
His Aunt Marie (Kate Burton) however, unexpectedly shows up at his house to let him in on the reason why he’s seeing freaks on the streets. He’s part a long line of Grimms (we have to assume the brothers were, too) who are charged with battling mythological creatures, who in turn are aware of Grimms and are fighting back. Marie is dying of cancer, meaning her powers are transferring to Nick. The detailed books Marie has in the trailer she brought help fill Nick in on his new plight, and Eddie sets himself up to become a reluctant and wise-cracking sidekick, helping Nick look for another Big Bad Wolf who could be responsible for the red-clothing-induced crimes. Future episodes appear to cover more tales from the Brothers Grimm, such as Snow White and Cinderella.
Not a bad concept. If only Nick were more than a pretty face and Giuntoli had Mitchell’s charisma. Building a genre show around such bland or despised characters is risky, although with a strong enough supporting cast, it can work (see “The Vampire Diaries,” “True Blood”). But Nick is surrounded by equally uninteresting people, especially Hank. How they examine the crime scene where the jogger was ripped to shreds speaks volumes of the series itself:
Nick: [Walking through woods] “Do you hear something?”
Nick: “Music … Hank, we got an iPod over here.” [Kneeling down beside it]
Hank: “What’s the song?” [Thinking it sounds familiar]
Nick: ” ‘Sweet Dreams.’ “
Hank: “The Eurythmics! One of their better. [Kind of singing] ‘Sweet dreams are made of these, who am I to disagree?’ “
Nick: [Smiling, slapping Hank’s knee and standing up] “I didn’t know you couldn’t sing.”
Both: [Stand up, walk away, leave the iPod playing]
Such an awkward, wasted moment. (And was the song on repeat? Who jogs to that on repeat?) The use of “Sweet Dreams” went from ominous to ridiculous, and the detectives’ banter is unbelievable and unnecessary. Why not just let the audience in on the fact the song is still playing, panning to the iPod as the detectives are in the background, then cutting away? Or why not give the detectives some better lines — not even an easy Annie Lennox joke?
“Grimm” is worth watching for a few episodes to see if the cast and production team find a solid rhythm for telling the darker original side of fairy tales, which mostly have been sanitized throughout the centuries. But whether the drama will get better is unclear because “Grimm” suffers from the same problem “Once Upon a Time” does: It’s too middle-of-the-road. Either go dark, or go light. Either make us scared and wondering if werewolves really do exist, or make us chuckle right along with the detectives as they bat about witticisms and approach their world wryly. Pick a direction, TV writers. The mundanity is killing me.
“Grimm” airs at 9/8C Fridays on NBC.
Sarah Carlson has a front-row seat to the decline of the newspaper industry and lives in Alabama with her overly excitable Pembroke Welsh corgi.