Grimm S1 E1-4

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There’s a later updated review for Grimm now available.

Grimm gives the impression of having been sold to the network on the one line premise of “police procedural investigates modern day takes on fairytales.” A “CSI: Red Riding Hood”, if you will.

The trouble is, there really doesn’t appear to be much more to it than that: it hasn’t been thought through sufficiently to provide any sort of extra texture or depth, unlike its most obvious progenitor Buffy the Vampire Slayer which was stuffed full of all sorts of imaginative twists. This takes one fairytale of the week and then presents a rather dull (not to mention procedurally laughable) plodding police investigation into it, making it also something of an echo of The X-Files but with classic storytime demons replacing aliens. It’s rather ironic that a show drawing upon the rich heritage of fairytales from the Brothers Grimm et al should struggle with such an evident paucity of creativity itself.

The show overtly riffs off Buffy from the start (one of the new show’s creator-producers, David Greenwalt, was a Buffy production stalwart) by having the lead character Nick Burkhardt(David Giuntoli) inherit his role as the fighter of supernatural forces – known in the parlance as a “Grimm” – after his aunt dies, in much the way that there can be only vampire slayer at a time and the next one is activated when the previous one dies.

Sadly, the only things that he gets to do the job with are access to his aunt’s accumulated archives and an intuition that allows him to sometimes see through the disguises worn by the demons – no kick-ass fighting abilities for Nick who just shoots the demons like he would do any other felon, meaning way less fun for the audience. And where Buffy subverted convention right from the start by revealing the dizzy, air-headed blonde cheerleader-type character as the hero of the show and saviour of the world (a lot) rather than the clichéd victim, Grimm takes the traditional good-looking, square-jawed hero cop with a gun, and makes him … a traditional good-looking, square-jawed hero cop with a gun. Wow, that took some time to come up with, I’d imagine.

Given that the whole fairytale aspect might conceivably play better to a female audience than a male one, it’s a show that rather curiously manages not to have a single significant female character in it all. Okay, there’s Bitsie Tulloch as Nick’s absolutely perfect-in-every-way girlfriend, but she gets one scene a week if she’s lucky and no semblance of a believable or worthwhile character to work with. It’s actually genuinely uncomfortable to find a TV show in the 21st century quite so impervious to a female presence.

The weekly fairytale-of-the-week stories generally have an interesting updated central core to them, but not one that comfortably stretches to a whole hour’s material and which then ends up in a pat resolution by the end of the episode. The show instead tries to pad things out by grafting a conspiracy arc onto proceedings in which Detective Nick’s police captain boss (played by Caprica’s Sasha Roiz) appears to be in league with the demon sect dedicated to wiping out the Grimms. They’re known as the Grimm Reapers – geddit? Yes, of course you do. Nothing is very subtle here.

Of course, the first series of Buffy and The X-Files could also be rather faltering as they found their feet, compared with the juggernaut shows they eventually became. Perhaps all Grimm needs is time, a lick of paint and a new suit to get it up to scratch? The show is certainly not without evidence of promise lurking close to the surface. Giuntoli, for example, shows sufficient signs of comic timing to suggest that he could do very well given some improved, more personable scripts to work with. And Silas Weir Mitchell as a reformed “big bad wolf” called Monroe is a delight in every scene he’s in, it’s just unfortunate that he’s way too underused.

What particularly stands out, though, is the visual appearance of the show. At a time when top-rated network series like The Mentalist and Bones seem to shoot virtually every scene these days on an evident studio set or against poorly applied green screen backdrops in order to cut costs, Grimm has to be one of the most visually sumptuous shows currently airing. In the pilot episode, Nick and his partner Hank (Russell Hornsby) track down the culprit to an isolated, ivy-covered cottage deep in the forest and it’s genuinely gorgeous, like a storybook picture come to life. Even in less promising scenes, such as the basement of an enchanted guesthouse, the location is lit with such deep and interesting colours that it preserves the fairytale feeling and leaves you rather spellbound, drinking it all in.

At the moment I’m watching it in the hope that the show as a whole picks up in some way. But if I’m really honest, what Grimm really makes me want to go and do is go and find my Buffy the Vampire Slayer boxset so that I can rewatch and remind myself how good this sort of thing can be, when done properly, intelligently and with more creative imagination applied – rather than one that thinks that a one-line high-concept description is sufficient for an entire series.

Currently airing on the Watch channel on Mondays at 9pm.

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