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Nick, the Creature Slayer: A Review of Grimm

  • Alex Wainer Contributing Writer
  • 2011 18 Nov
Nick, the Creature Slayer: A Review of <i>Grimm</i>

Television has always run in cycles and followed trends. In the 1950s and early 60s, Westerns filled the airwaves, crowding out other genres.

By the mid-60s, the James Bond craze had inspired a raft of spy series like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, and even a spoof series, Get Smart. Doctor and cop shows are perennials as are legal dramas. With the 60s revival of classic horror characters like Frankenstein and Dracula, broadcast networks gave us The Munsters and The Adams Family.

It appears we may have a new trend, probably triggered by popular horror dramas like the Twilight films and series like The Vampire Diaries and True Blood. Two fall shows conflate the real and fairy tale worlds. ABC's Once Upon a Time, a new fall series about characters who live in both the real and fairy tale worlds, has been joined by Grimm, on NBC. 

David Guintoli plays Nick Burkhardt, a Portland Oregon police detective who, in the pilot episode, investigates the death of a jogger wearing a bright red hoodie—yup, she was attacked in the woods by a wolf-like creature. Nick is startled when the faces of several people around him briefly change into monstrous visages that apparently only he can see.

About this time his beloved aunt drives into town, pulling an aluminum trailer. Suffering from cancer and bald from chemotherapy, Aunt Marie tries to explain to Nick his special status but is interrupted by an attack from another wolf-like creature. The ailing Marie shocks Nick with her fighting skills as they fight the beast. Later she tells him that his parents weren't his actual mother and father, that he is a Grimm, not a 19th century collector of fairy tales, but an order of warriors able to perceive the fantastic beings living among us and whose mission it is to "kill the bad ones."

Marie's trailer is a rolling Batcave of exotic weaponry and books of mythical taxonomy to help Nick fulfill his Grimm calling.  He is shaken to find out that everything he knew about himself is wrong but he can't deny what his eyes keep telling him so he begins using his special insights to track down the perpetrator.

He sees one of the wolf creatures living as an ordinary man in a house near the scene of the crime but when he tries to get a closer look, the thing quickly subdues him and to Nick's surprise, asks him to lay off, that he's peaceful, a sort of vegan werewolf, who is has sworn off human flesh. In fact Eddie Monroe will become Nick's informative and amusingly acerbic consultant in the world of the weird. But Nick's actual detective partner, Hank Griffin (Russell Hornsby) must be kept in the dark about his new identity and mission.

How long Hank can be kept out of the loop is an open question—if it goes too long, he'll grow suspicious of Nick's insights and his partner's behavior. But Nick also has to hide his mission from Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch), his live-in fiance' who knows Nick is preoccupied with the silver trailer the now-deceased Marie left him. His aunt had told Nick he couldn't share his Grimmness with anyone and this puts an undercurrent of stress in their relationship.

But there's another plot complication: Nick's seemingly supportive precinct captain is actually part of the creature network and is keeping an eye on this new threat. Sasha Roiz plays the aptly named Captain Renard, whom I suspected from the beginning since any police superior who isn't a foil for a television cop must be up to no good.

The new show seems to be aiming for a mix of X-Files type thrills and tongue-in-cheek humor. Each episodes opens with a title featuring lines from a particular fairy tale that figures in that story. The second episode, "Bears Will Be Bears," is about a seemingly human family who are actually bear creatures and whose three teen sons are getting aggressive with the locals. The third episode, about bee people who can sick swarms of their tiny brethren on victims, was cutely titled "Beeware."

If the concept sounds a little familiar, perhaps it's because it's reminiscent of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, the Joss Whedon cult series about the eponymous teen girl who is told she is the Slayer, the female appointed and enabled to kill the undead in her small town.   That series resonated with viewers who perceived a tale of youthful female empowerment and the rare coming of age story not about a young man's destiny.

So far the new series is trying to build up the type of mythology that both the aforementioned X-Files and Buffy used to capture the audience's imagination. But whereas the first series was about knowing through faith or science and the second about maturing into an adult amidst the fearsome obstacles of adolescence, I'm not sure exactly what themes Grimm is about. Nick has no problem believing his monstrous perceptions, and, as a veteran police detective, is pretty well empowered already.

The conceit of fairy tale beings in the real world is itself not a concept to sustain a multi-season run as it could quickly become a monster-of-the-week show. Yes, we know there's a conspiracy of sorts with Captain Renard but this is concept without an apparent theme or subtext. Classic fairy tales, similar to the great mythologies, have survived because readers intuited a greater meaning to them than simply fantastic children's stories--there were deep structures that could be both instructional and reassuring. G. K. Chesterton famously said, ""Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." Grimm so far seems like just a cop show with a gimmick.

Guintoli has a kind of smooth Prince Charming appearance but his good looks are the type that limit rather than suggest the possibility a deeper, more complex, character. In fact, it's Silas Weir Mitchell's edgy Eddie Monroe character that offers the only real bright spot so far. He's funny, but dangerous, and the series needs more of that sort of witty weirdness.  So far, Grimm hasn't found the magic formula to live happily ever after. 

*This review first published 11/21/2011

**Watch Grimm Fridays on NBC