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TV Series Review

"And they lived happily ever after."

This is what we learn from our fairy tales, and we learn it at our peril. As we grow, we see its folly: We do not seem to live happily ever after. We pay bills and go to the dentist. We worry about our kids and labor at our jobs. We struggle. We suffer. We die. This is no fairy tale, this life of ours, no Eden. But living an actual fairy tale life isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be either.

So we've seen from the characters of ABC's Once Upon a Time, who for much of the series have lived a sort of dual life: one in the land of fairy tales, and another in the more rote world of Storybrooke, Maine—a place given life through a curse. And it gets complicated. Really complicated.

Once Upon an Object Lesson

Originally the story of how a bail bondswoman named Emma reacquainted herself with her biological child and wrested him from his evil witch of a stepmother, Once Upon a Time has become a labyrinthine fable that even the Brothers Grimm might not be able to piece together. Characters from ancient fables and legends mingle with more modern Disney princesses. Well known heroes turn villainous, and vice versa.

It's the brainchild of Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, who helped form that other ABC mythical world Lost. And, indeed, this new flight of fancy embraces some Lost-like elements: different worlds, bewildering timelines and interwoven relationships that can be deciphered only through obsessive viewing or a cheat sheet.

Die-hard Lost fans will say this latter series doesn't have the same depth or resonance. And, frankly, as the cast of characters here grows ever larger, the storylines sometimes seem to get shallower.

But under the surface, there's still some pretty interesting stuff going on. As Mary Margaret (Snow White) told us way back in the pilot, bedtime stories become "a way for us to deal with our world." As such, the show itself has the potential to allude to greater truths and become a springboard to deeper themes.

Consider how Emma escaped the original curse that set this story in motion—a curse that, in Season 1, magically created the non-magical hamlet of Storybrooke and caused most of the characters to forget who they were. As a baby, she was placed in what's characterized as a "wardrobe" (a seeming nod to The Chronicles of Narnia) where she's transported to our world, apparently biding her time until she's ready to return and save her people.

It's a scene rich in archetype, both pagan (Perseus, sent away from his rightful kingdom in a chest) and Judeo-Christian (Moses, placed in a basket and set on the Nile). Clearly, this program has ambition to tell us more than just ... fairy tales.

Happily Ever After?

Once Upon a Time sets up strong distinctions between good and evil, at least when it comes to selflessness and family loyalties. It gives us characters who seem to care about one another. And it provides for us a litany of bedtime morals. It continually pounds away at the idea that nothing good comes cheap and that taking shortcuts (using magic, in its ethos) always comes with a price. One might be tempted to use evil to fight evil, it tells us, but a darkening of the soul will always follow.

Through its fairy tale proxies, the series communicates another important truth: We're all more than we seem. We can be worse than we want. But we can also be better than we are. In the midst of our pain and suffering and workaday lives, there's an actual fairy tale to be found—not a fictional construct, but the understanding that our lives are wondrous, miraculous and highly improbable gifts.

But the series stumbles around in the dark forest quite a lot, too. Magic—both "light" and "dark"—is used nonstop, which for some families might make this show a non-starter. The execution of that magic often involves incantations, spells, bubbling cauldrons, etc. Glowing, beating hearts are routinely pulled out of people's chests. Necromancy has played a pivotal role several times through the seasons. Characters fight, bleed and die—and then come back from the dead to do it all over again.

Profanities pepper short spurts of dialogue. Costumes can be immodest. And untoward intimacies are hinted at, both visually and verbally. Homosexual pairings have also emerged. Characters sleep together, and couples opt to live together before getting married. The temptation of marital infidelity (oddly, in the name of "true love") has been a theme.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles



Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Once Upon a Time: May 15, 2018 "Leaving Storybrooke"
Once Upon a Time: Oct. 16, 2016 "Strange Case"
Once Upon a Time: Apr. 17, 2016 Ruby Slippers
Once Upon a Time - October 11, 2015 "Siege Perilous"
OnceUponaTime: 10-5-2014
OnceUponaTime: 12-15-2013
OnceUponaTime: 10-28-2012
OnceUponaTime: 1-22-2012
OnceUponaTime: 10-23-2011



Readability Age Range



Jennifer Morrison as Emma Swan; Jared Gilmore as Henry Mills; Ginnifer Goodwin as Mary Margaret Blanchard/Snow White; Lana Parrilla as Regina Mills/Evil Queen; Josh Dallas as David Nolan/Prince Charming; Robert Carlyle as Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin; Colin O'Donoghue as Captain Killian ‘Hook’ Jones; Emilie de Ravin as Belle; Raphael Sbarge as Archie Hopper; Beverley Elliott as Granny; Meghan Ory as Ruby; Lee Arenberg as Leroy; Sean Maguire as Robin Hood; Christie Laing as Maid Marian; Michael Socha as Will Scarlet; Wil Traval as Sheriff of Nottingham; Michael P. Northey as Friar Tuck; Lee Arenberg as Grumpy; Faustino Di Bauda as Sleepy; Mig Macario as Bashful; Jeffrey Kaiser as Dopey; David-Paul Grove as Doc; Michael Raymond-James as Neal Cassidy; Mike Coleman as Happy; Gabe Khouth as Tom Clark; Keegan Connor Tracy as Mother Superior; Rebecca Mader as Zelena; Sunny Mabrey as Glinda; Eion Bailey as August Booth; Sarah Bolger as Princess Aurora; David Anders as Dr. Whale; Georgina Haig as Elsa; Elizabeth Lail as Anna; Scott Michael Foster as Kristoff; Tyler Jacob Moore as Hans; Barbara Hershey as Cora Mills; Giancarlo Esposito as Sidney Glass; Kristin Bauer van Straten as Maleficent; Robbie Kay as Peter Pan; Freya Tingley as Wendy Darling; Jamie Chung as Mulan; Rose McIver as Tinker Bell; Chris Gauthier as William Smee; Charles Mesure as Black Beard; Timothy Webber as The Apprentice; Alan Dale as King George; Victoria Smurfit as Cruella De Vil; Jason Burkart as Little John; Merrin Dungey as Ursula; Julian Morris as Prince Phillip; JoAnna Garcia Swisher as Ariel; Jakob Davies as Pinocchio; John Rhys-Davies as Grand Pabbie; Liam Garrigan as King Arthur; Sinqua Walls as Lancelot; Joana Metrass as Guinevere; Rose McGowan as Young Cora; Gil McKinney as Prince Eric; Elliot Knight as Merlin: Richard Schiff as King Leopold; Alex Zahara as King Midas; Paul McGillion as Knave of Hearts; Greg Germann as Hades; Hank Harris as Dr. Jekyll; Sam Witwer as Mr. Hyde; Karen David as Jasmine






Record Label




On Video

Year Published



Paul Asay

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