Once Upon a Time (ABC, 2011)
Once Upon a Time is a show that doesn’t know what to do with itself. It is trying to be several shows at once – a strange combination of Lost and TruBloodby way of Stephen King. The problem is, you can’t do sexy, goofy, over the top camp and a dark fantasy mystery at the same time. A house divided against itself cannot stand.
The pilot is a campy, too serious mess. The “real-world” sequences were fine and, over enthusiastic 10-year old aside, often created a good sense of mystery and tension. That feeling wouldn’t stay with you, however, for you could count on it being dissipated by a campy, terrible fantasy sequence with in a few minutes. Those sequences are inexcusably awful – typical, television fantasy trash. For a show with this budget, cast, and creative pedigree such low quality television is unacceptable. Often watching the pilot of Once Upon a Time was like watching an episode of Lost interspersed with sequences from an fairy tale infected episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. The episode could have jettisoned most of those scenes and lost little.
Despite the awfulness of the pilot, this show has some potential. The cast is strong – especially the Wicked Step-Mother and the dude playing Rumpelstiltskin as a serial killer. The Wicket Step-Mother has the right mix of the sinister and the sensitive and “Mr. Gold” was appropriately disturbing. I still like Jennifer Morrison a lot, despite the efforts of the last season of How I Met Your Mother to make me feel otherwise. The 10-year old boy needs to rein it in it, but he is far from the worst child actor on television. The executive producers of this show are, obviously, survivors of the Lost writers room. Which means they know how to write a good science fiction/fantasy tinged mystery and create compelling and interesting characters – even if they don’t know how to make an ending really work.
To make this show work going forward, what’s needed is to make a choice. Do they want to go the love-it-or-leave it campy or love-it-or-leave it fantasy mystery route. These are mutually incompatible creative directions, as the pilot clearly shows. The raw materials of Once Upon a Time are solid. It is in the hands of the writers as to whether this show will succeed or end up on the growing pile of failed shows from the 2011-2012 season.
Dragon Age II by Bioware (EA, 2011)
Dragon Age II: Legacy by Bioware (EA, 2011)
Dragon Age II: Mark of the Assassin by Bioware (EA, 2011)
Dragon Age: Origins by Bioware (EA, 2008)
Today This week marks the release of Dragon Age 2: Mark of the Assassin (likely the final major DLC release for that misbegotten sequel) and the first episode of Dragon Age: Redemption (a Felicia Day vehicle cos-playing as a video game ad). A couple of things stand out on this momentous day of Edmonton based virtual entertainment. First, I am glad to see that internet films have graduated to the production values of early episodes of Hercules the Legendary Journeys. Who says progress is linear? Second, Bioware really is making a play to take over the fantasy imagination of a generation of gamers.
Now, then, is a time as good as any to consider the state of Bioware’s fantasy franchise. Few sequels have driven the internet gaming blogosphere as insane DA2.
Internet opinion on this game varies along a spectrum that goes from “DA2 is the worst Bioware game” to prophecies of the eminent collapse Western RPGs. I am on the record noting that Bioware has been failing to provide quality entertainment for the last 11+ years, yet, at the same time I feel that this seven month old game is not nearly as awful as the average Kotaku commentator would have you believe.
In order to understand the strengths and weaknesses of DA2, we’ve got to dispel a few of the myths that haunt this franchise.
WARNING: The text below drops a lot of TRUTH BOMBS. Also: SPOILERS.