I’m not sure which came as a bigger surprise—that there were 500 people wrapped in a line around the Portland Art Museum when I arrived for the local premiere of Grimm, or that those people were friggin' psyched. Outside, a man near the front of the line said he’d been there since one-fucking-pm. Six and a half hours. For a show was going to air, for free, in like four days. Apparently, Portland is excited to see itself on the teevee.
You'd think Portlandia would've taught us better.
Monday night's screening of the first episode of the Portland-shot fantasy drama was open to the show’s Twitter followers as part of a cross-country promotional tour. Grimm, as you may have heard, follows a Portland cop who discovers that not only is he a descendant of the Brothers Grimm, but that he's also the last in a line of hunters who can see the fairy tale creatures others cannot. Creators David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf—an on-and-off-again writing duo of over 30 years, best known for Greenwalt's work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel—were in attendance, as were members of the cast. As was that dude who'd been in line for six and a half hours.
After a brief introduction and an ad for Whitney that was met with stony silence, suddenly there it was: Portland, looking lush as could be, so saturated with green that the writers later said L.A. audience members were convinced the trees were fake. The show was specifically written for Portland, Greenwalt said. “The original (Brothers Grimm) stories were set in the Black Forest, and this was one of the only places we could think of that had those streams and valleys," he explained.
Watching the pilot, I couldn't help but notice some dubious plot points—the series’ first screaming lady victim, for example, is jogging to the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” when she’s felled by some unseen beast, and the song is, notably, still playing on her iPod when detectives find (pieces of) her body however many hours later. Who the hell runs to the Eurythmics on repeat? (Ladies who get eaten, that's who. She could have at least had the foresight to loop “Hungry Like the Wolf." SPOILERS!)
But all in all, the pilot was… surprisingly good. It’s beautifully shot, moodily scored, and has just the right mix of darkness, drama, and wit. The cast seems decent, if occasionally forgettable—Silas Weir Mitchell, who plays a seemingly friendly wolf-man, is a standout, but I suspect he might also just get the best lines. (Mitchell was also the hammiest at the Q&A following the screening. When a woman inexplicably asked if his character would be taking off his shirt any time soon, he admonished her, “Young lady, I am no Taylor Lautner!”)
I was, and am, a big fan of Buffy and Angel, especially the early seasons (the same seasons, it so happens, that Greenwalt was heavily involved in), and although I wasn’t initially interested in Grimm based on NBC’s promos, I can see that same pith and clever writing at work here. That alone could draw me in for the long-run.
One troubling thing, though, not shared with the Buffyverse? The fact that women, at least in the pilot and based on the full cast that showed up for the Q&A, appear to exist only to die, scream, or act as romantic deadweight—although Kouf says viewers can at least expect to see a steady parade of female villains in the coming weeks. “A lot of the stories we’re telling have core female roles in them each week, so we’ll have a lot of female stars," Kouf explained. "A lot of times in the Grimm fairy tales, it’s the women who are the bad characters, so there’s a lot of that coming up.”
In addition to the obvious influences—the Brothers Grimm and Angel—the show definitely shares some DNA and stylistic similarities with Pan’s Labyrinth and The X-Files (and is in fact in the same time slot—Fridays at 9—that X-Files occupied so many years ago). And if you like the darker tone of the show (especially compared to, say, ABC’s Once Upon a Time), Greenwalt says, “NBC has been asking us to stay dark, so it’s going to get darker.”
At the Q&A, the creators and the entire main cast, who are still in town filming the show’s ninth episode, fielded questions from an audience clearly enamored with the idea of seeing their city on screen, with inquiries staying mostly in the vein of “How can I get a speaking role?” and “Can we expect to see werewolves at a Timbers match?” (Mitchell, apparently mishearing the question, responds, “Is that a bar?” and earns a solid 15 seconds of boos.)
There was also a lot of discussion of the city’s greenery. Bitsie Tulloch, who plays the show’s token girlfriend character, misstepped in describing Portlanders’ beloved trees as “creepy” and looking “like a character out of a Dr. Seuss novel” (you can practically hear the audience frown—Dr. Seuss wrote novels?!) but recovered the crowd's favor by describing the city as a “Whole Foods with a mayor,” which is just obviously true.
When asked if any of them had been to Portland prior to filming the series, most of the cast shrugged, with star David Giuntoli sheepishly offering that he’d had “a brief moment on a road trip, just kind of passing through,” which I am inclined to suspect is a reference to his past life as a Road Rules cast member.
And then the Q&A was over, and everyone filed out, chattering happily. NBC cancelled two of their 2011 season hourlong dramas right out of the gate. If Grimm can pick up enough viewers to survive the initial cull, I feel pretty good about its chances. It makes the city look good (but also full of bitey things, which will perhaps discourage Californians from moving up), and even beyond the local shout-outs, it’s a fun watch.
Still… I'd be lying if I didn't say I'm most looking forward to the inevitable episode where an old lady lures children into an oven at Voodoo Doughnuts.