Pilot rapid-fire review: Grimm

There are so many new series debuting and unfortunately, there is only so much time in the day for me to write about television while balancing my “real” life. You know, the one I spend on Twitter. ANYWAY, I’m going to try to touch on each new series once it airs a pilot, but these posts probably won’t be too long or too in-depth unless they really need to be.

It’s really easy to want to hate Grimm. Ever since NBC picked up the series in the spring and a few clips made their way to the internet, the jokes have been flowing. Once critics saw a full pilot this summer, well, they certainly didn’t stop. Because of the circles I exist within, I’ve basically been pre-screened to hate Grimm, whether fairly or unfairly. And while this short review won’t be singing the pilot’s praises or anything, I do have to say that Grimm is at least a bit better than I was expecting. There is no question that the Grimm pilot is lackluster, but I would argue that there were multiple other pilots this season that were worse, including NBC’s own Playboy Club and the similarly-themed Once Upon a Time.* In the pilot stage, Grimm isn’t dreadful, it’s just substantially dull. But there is…hope?

*Oddly, both series are ratings surprises. Grimm hauled in a 2.1 in the 18-49 demographic on Friday against Game 7 of the World Series. That was the biggest scripted demo figure in almost a year and if I’m not mistaken, the best demo debut for any NBC hourlong this season. It also topped the likes of Community, Parks and Recreation and, well, Chuck. That’s a damn good start. And somehow, Once Upon a Time is arguably the biggest hourlong hit of the season thus far. Its week two ratings only dipped one-tenth in the 18-49 (from 4.0 to 3.9), which is kind of unheard of in today’s age. So expect a boat-load of fantasy/fairy tale scripts during development season!

Listen, Grimm isn’t good. The pilot struggles primarily due to the dullness I mentioned, but also because it’s just so self-serious and matter-of-fact. It isn’t easy to manage the different kinds of tones and atmospheres that is required for a high-concept premise like this, but instead of trying to manage them at all, Grimm decides to be as stern and plodding as possible. Much has been made about David Giuntoli’s wooden delivery and while I don’t disagree with those evaluations of his performance, I’m not entirely willing to place the blame all on him. The episode flows somewhat awkwardly, and relies way too much on his character’s aunt to provide constant info-dumps that set up the series’ premise. This is a problem that many pilots suffer from, but in Grimm it’s all so convenient. It’s not that Nick is just seeing weird things, it’s that his aunt shows up at the exact same AND he’s working a case that may or may not be related to the weird things he’s seeing and his aunt is talking about.

Worst of all, Grimm has almost no levity to it. Part of that stems from all the conceptual table-setting this pilot has to do and even more of it stems from the weak dialogue, but focusing too much on those things leads to the kind of stuffiness that this pilot suffers from. In certain moments, there’s a sense that the series wants to poke fun at Nick’s stick-in-the-mud persona, but it’s too busy throwing him into intense night reading sessions to really make a dent in that regard. I’m hoping that future episodes will use his stiff demeanor and inexperience as a way to point out the campy ridiculousness of all this. But that’s just hope.

Grimm is actually kind of intriguing in a conceptual sense. A cop drama set in a world where the Grimm Brothers’ stories come to life isn’t wholly original, but it certainly has the opportunity to be more engaging than something like Unforgettable, just on premise alone. At the pilot stage, it’s nice to know exactly what a series would look like and with Grimm, I have it. I know what episode seven of this series will look like. I can’t really say that about Once Upon a Time, even after two episodes. David Greenwalt has the experience of taking a solid concept that’s a bit weak in the early stages and melding into a successful story and although I don’t think Grimm will or will even get the opportunity to become Angel-like, the pedigree and the concept/framework give me some hope.

And there are moments in the pilot where this intriguing concept shines through. Throwing Nick into the world of Grimms and fairy-tales-come-to-life works quite well and the opening episode is especially peppy when Silas Weir Mitchell’s reformed Big Bad Wolf character is on the screen. Though I understand why the series starts off with Nick having two partners, I’d much prefer it if he spent all his time learning from Eddie the Wolf than spending time lying to Russell Hornsby’s Hank. Lying is one of those things that a series like this always has to use and it’s just frustrating to have to go through that because the audience is smart enough to know that the hero is eventually going to reveal the truth. Just get on with it.

Moreover, aesthetically speaking, Grimm is actually very lovely. Marc Buckland’s direction makes great use of the lush Portland landscapes and the use of color filter and saturation is pretty fantastic. Grimm’s visual pallet is much more interesting, purposeful and vibrant than the flat, dreary schemes that Once Upon a Time works with and in terms of just pure aesthetics, Grimm might be the best broadcast hourlong of the season. The CGI work on the creatures isn’t too hot, but everything around the upright, breathing characters works wonders.

Ultimately, I’m kind of intrigued by Grimm. I watch a lot of terrible television  and once I get started, I feel this inherent sense of commitment that compels me to keep watching no matter what, but that’s not all that is in play with this series. Grimm has a solid conceptual framework that could and honestly should lead to an interesting future, but it’s really all in how Greenwalt and his team approach the material. If the series (and the actors) continues to be as self-serious and stiff as it is in the pilot, Grimm won’t work. But if the writers can find a way to balance the narrative stakes with a little humor, the series could find a nice rhythm as middle-of-the-world entertainment. It won’t be good, but it could be finely entertaining.

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