The good news is that supernatural-themed sci-fi dramas have been making a comeback on broadcast TV, which is terrific for those of us who want to avoid the constant onslaught of reality series and even more standard cop dramas. The bad news is that NBC decided to make a bonehead move and schedule their new series GRIMM opposite two other already established shows within the same genre, CW’s “Supernatural” and FOX’s “Fringe.” Considering that the pool of viewers usually drawn to such shows is already rather small and currently fractured between Supernatural and Fringe, adding a third player into this mix makes no sense at all. Rather than trying to fracture the small pool even further, it would have made more sense to capture a greater sample of this genre’s available viewers by scheduling opposite, well, anything else the rest of the week that isn’t sci-fi!
The premise of GRIMM puts a new twist on the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm by having a homicide detective learn that he is a descendant of a group of hunters known as “grimms” whose job is to keep humanity safe from the supernatural creatures of the world living among us. The addition of the supernatural element certainly puts a twist on the typical cop procedural show. The real Brothers Grimm created their fairytales in the early 1800s. While we are certainly familiar with the cleaned up versions of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, The Princess and the Frog, Hansel and Gretel, and Rapunzel (to name a few), many of these original tales had dark, gruesome and macabre elements. It is this scary element that GRIMM will be trying to capture.
If you would like to avoid spoilers about details in the episode, then scroll down to the Discussion section.
THE STORY opens up in present-day Portland, Oregon as detectives Nick Burckhardt [David Giuntoli] and Hank Griffin [Russell Hornsby] investigate the gruesome death of a college student on her morning jog. She is wearing a bright red hoodie and the park she is jogging through certainly looks like a forest. It wasn’t hard to recognize that the first story revolves around Little Red Riding Hood, as it contained elements of the red hood(ie), the big bad wolf(man), grand(father)’s house, and a trek through the “woods”. Not to mention that the initials of one of the victims was R.H.
As the detectives work on the investigation, Nick’s aunt Marie comes into town, clearly suffering from a serious medical issue. It appears that if she does not make it, the special family abilities will go to Nick, who is completely unaware of his family legacy. He suspects that something is wrong when he starts to see the faces of perfectly normal-looking people morph momentarily into creatures.
As Aunt Marie tries to break the news about their ‘family curse’, they are attacked by a creature thus setting into motion a series of events. Nick is given an important artifact, surprised with a family secret, and starts to spend a lot of time in Marie’s trailer which appears to house a treasure trove of information on creatures and hunting them. Nick makes quite an effort to keep his girlfriend and soon-to-be fiancé Juliette Silverton [Bitsie Tulloch] from learning anything about these latest developments.
In the meantime, the big bad wolf(man) has grabbed a second victim and is holding her for a later feeding in a few days, thus beginning the race against time to find the little girl. In a case of mistaken identity we see that the creatures of a particular species are not unique. This also gives us some of the more humorous moments as Nick finds himself working with one of the creatures in order to track down the other big bad wolf guilty of the crime. Sasha Roiz portrays the squad’s Captain who seems to have secrets of his own and sets up an intriguing dilemma.
DISCUSSION: So far, the monsters are all basically quite human and the only thing that differentiates them is when Nick is able to see their ‘true nature’ when their faces morph momentarily into the creature they represent, or when we are able to see them in their true form during one of their attacks. The morphing effect is actually very effective and well done, as are the prosthetics used to create the creatures in their true forms. There is also adequate tension and ominous foreboding, exemplified by dark lighting and lots of use of flashlights. It actually made me wonder why there was such a lack of electricity at times! And many of the scares are courtesy of a couple of standard horror elements, the jump scare, which is effective but expected, and the misdirection.
We didn’t really get to know Nick very well, but it is difficult to fit everything into a pilot episode. We got a good glimpse and there is plenty of room for exploration. He has a journey ahead of him as he unravels more info on who he is, what his destiny is, and how he will be applying his increasing skills as a grimm to his ongoing detective work. David Giuntoli who plays Nick is charming and personable, and conveys a certain innocent boyish appeal as he discovers new things about himself, his family, and the supernatural world.
Of course, just like Clark Kent, Nick will be constantly challenged to use his special skills without those closest to him realizing he is doing so. Unless, of course, this series does something a bit unique and not keep it a secret, but it isn’t looking like that will be the direction. I like the partnership between Nick and Hank, but at this early stage there does not seem to be any special spark that will make them a memorable team in the long run, like Starsky & Hutch, Crockett & Tubbs, Mulder & Scully, or Sam & Dean.
By putting a twist on well-know fairy tales, GRIMM tells the story of hunters known as grimms whose job it is to keep humanity safe from the supernatural forces. I believe we already have that basic formula with the Winchester brothers of Supernatural, who have been keeping humanity safe for seven seasons now and have not only tackled the Grimm fairytales but a lot of other creatures in mythology and folklore as well. And in a much scarier, gruesome, and occasionally comedic fashion.
Since the sci-fi audience is already busy watching and running their DVR with Supernatural and Fringe, all I can say is that it’s a good thing Syfy, which belongs to the NBCUniversal family, will be re-playing episodes of GRIMM in an attempt to get it more exposure. (check your listings) It is doubtful that viewers already entrenched in the worlds of Supernatural and Fringe will want to jump ship at this point, although with the options of DVR, iTunes, and online viewing, they will no doubt want to sample this series within the same genre. Since GRIMM isn’t really very grim, with the bad things happening mostly off-camera and the scares at an average level, perhaps it will gain new viewers to the genre looking for lightweight scares.
In the meantime it is my hope that the scheduling ‘genius’ over at NBC might quickly see the value of moving GRIMM to another day and time where it isn’t competing for a very limited sci-fi audience. One can easily argue that this is what TV competition is all about. Granted, that’s true. But splitting a viewing audience between a choice of comedies (or procedurals) is not the same when you have a pool of 20-30 million viewers versus the anemic pool of, say, 10 million or less dedicated to sci-fi. And on a Friday night to boot! Even better, schedule it at 10 pm and really have some freedom to scare the audience. Otherwise the Grim Reaper might be knocking on Grimm’s door and that would really be a shame for this promising series.
GRIMM stars David Giuntoli, Russell Hornsby, Bitsie Tulloch, Silas Weir Mitchell, Sasha Roiz, and Reggie Lee. It is interesting to note that its producers Jim Kouf and David Greenwalt previously worked on Angel. It is currently scheduled to air Friday at 9:00 pm on NBC and will be premiering this week, a one-week delay of the original schedule, no doubt in an effort to capture the interest in creatures right before Halloween.
GRADE for the Pilot episode: B- / GRADE for NBC’s scheduling: F