I love fairy tales. I’ve always been fascinated by fairy tale archetypes and story structure. And my husband will tell you that I’m obsessive about seeing every contemporary adaptation of a fairy tale that comes down the pike, however cheesy it may be.
So I really wanted to like ABC’s new show, Once Upon a Time. I almost even did like Once Upon a Time, in a guilty late-night, real-butter-on-my-popcorn, to-hell-with-the-fifteen-huge-holes-in-the-premise kind of way. But in the end I choked on the fact that the only vaguely ethnic or at least kinda swarthy characters in the show are the evil queen/adoptive mom (you know- same difference) and the evil Jewish banker/Rumpelstilskin (you know- same difference).
It’s pretty much de-rigeur for fairy tales to deal with adoption in some way. Protagonists of fanciful stories are often orphans. As an adopted child, this was always important to me. I cast myself in my own fairy tale, in which I had been left on my parents’ doorstep by a princess mother who couldn’t care for me because she had been transformed into a swan by an evil spell. It was the only explanation for how I had landed with such regrettably normal people.
The archetypal orphan embodies the broad and magical possibilities that lie in having an origin that is shrouded, at least partially, in mystery. Also, there is a mystical quality associated with borders- with the edges between one thing and another. Adopted children live in two worlds, on some metaphysical level. We hold two stories at the same time. This makes us uniquely suited to stand at the helm of a fairy tale.
In any adaptation of a fairy tale, I’m expecting some evil step-mom dynamics at the very least. As a fairy tale connoisseur, I have a high tolerance for this sort of thing. But I think I’m going to have to say that this show is over the line. As an adoptive mom, it sticks in my craw to watch a face off between evil adoptive mom and savior birth mom that contains dialogue like, “I will destroy you if it’s the last thing I ever do.”
And the racial stereotyping is subtle (mostly because the only ethnic diversity is in tiny variations on shades of white), but it’s there. Don’t get me started on the usurious Mr. Gold…
I hung in there for a couple of episodes, but I’m afraid that I’m not going to wait around for the happy ending with this one.
Have anyone else caught this show? I’d love to hear your thoughts? Adoptive mommies? Evil queens?