Keep reminding yourself that Once Upon a Time is a show the whole family—from little Pinocchio to ol' Granny—can sit down together to watch, and the whole crazy-silly thing will seem quite a bit more...charming. Y'know, like the Prince? Never mind.
But seriously, folks, Disney's latest grand experiment in televised synergy has old-fashioned, corny charm—just newfangled with girl power and CGI. The show's colorful, unabashed genre stylings and sometimes winking tone bring to mind those fantastical '60s TV series that bordered on pop art: Batman, Star Trek, Wild Wild West, and so on.
A show about the intersection of magical Fairyland and our world, Once Upon a Time significantly advanced its narrative in its Season One finale, which allowed the legendary residents of Storybrooke, Maine to shake off their amnesia. Season Two hits the ground running with that new world order, and soon brings new or neglected faces to the fore (most notably Colin O'Donoghue's Captain Hook, Michael Raymond-James' mysterious "Neal Cassady," and Barbara Hershey's Cora). Despite such changes, the show feels pretty much the same, which is to say always on the verge of losing all cohesion but somehow holding itself together—not unlike its forefather Lost. Creators Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz are, of course, Lost veterans, and here have not only the Herculean task of juggling mysteries and thrills (albeit with a genre-experienced writing staff that includes the likes of Jane Espenson, David H. Goodman, and Andrew Chambliss, all former Joss Whedon employees) but also keeping a sprawling cast happily busy.
Regular players include Snow White/Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin), Prince Charming/David (Josh Dallas), Evil Queen/Regina (Lana Parrilla), Regina's adoptive son Henry (Jared S. Gilmore), Henry's biological mother Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle), Belle/Lacey (Emilie de Ravin), Captain Killian "Captain Hook" Jones (O'Donoghue), and Red Riding Hood/Ruby (Meghan Ory). In addition to Hook, Season Two introduces Robin Hood (briefly, in the form of soon-to-be-recast Tom Ellis) and Mulan (Jamie Chung)—a character who has yet to be sufficiently explained within the show's multiverse: is there a mythical China somewhere from whence she came? One of the big developments of the second season is to explore the various worlds and portals between them: one world gets a black-and-white cinematographic treatment and expands the show from fairy tales and legends to a broader realm of science-fiction.
Family matters, however, constitute the overriding theme of Season Two, as matters get hugely complicated in the triangle of Regina, Henry, and Emma—who is working out how to deal with her parents being Snow White and Prince Charming. Mr. Gold remains determined to reunite with his long-lost son Baelfire (played, in adolescence, by Dylan Schmid) and to win back the heart of Belle, to whom he played Beast. Hershey's beefed-up role as Regina's even more wicked mother is good news for the show, and Raymond-James causes shockwaves when the true identity of his character comes into focus. The second season deals with a couple of other major intrigues: how has magic affected our world, what happens now that magic has come to Storybrooke, and will others from our world breach Storybrooke looking for answers about the highly unusual town? The answer to the last question is a definite yes, when new characters Greg (Ethan Embry) and Tamara (Sonequa Martin-Green) not-so-innocently show up.
Though often clunky (especially in its dialogue), Once Upon a Time can usually be relied upon to change things up on a weekly basis as its cycles through its cast of characters. Those cycles can become repetitive, and the dialogue often lands with a thud, but the overarching mythology does make for some solid high-stakes adventure. More than ever, Once Upon a Time is a show friendly to girls and women, with a diverse group of female characters who see more action than the men. Still, Robert Carlyle remains the best in show, with his high-wire performance as Rumplestilskin, and O'Donoghue's roguish, sexy Hook became the instant breakout character of the season, for good reason: not only is O'Donoghue a good actor, but he brings with him old-school pirate theatrics, including a sailing ship that knows the way to and from Neverland. That, by the way, is a place we're likely to spend some more quality time next season.
Disney's Blu-ray release of Once Upon a Time: The Complete Second Season proves satisfying, beginning with its stellar A/V specs. As with the previous season, and the Lost releases before it, this season of 22 episodes looks sharp in detail and rich in color. The CGI isn't done any favors by such a razor-sharp treatment, but these transfers give the source material everything they've got, with deep blacks and palpable textures. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixes are also top-notch, especially by TV standards, with excitement and ambience immersing the viewer from all corners.
The set comes with six entertaining and informative audio commentaries: "Broken" with actors Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas (a Blu-ray exclusive), "Queen of Hearts" with actor Lana Parrilla and co-creators/executive producers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz; "Manhattan" with Kirsis, Horowitz and actor Robert Carlyle; "The Miller's Daughter" with writer Jane Espenson; "Welcome to Storybrooke" with writers Ian Goldberg and Andrew Chambliss; and "And Straight on 'til Morning" with co-executive producer David H. Goodman and actor Colin O'Donoghue.
The last disc also includes some fun, newly produced video content. "Welcome to Storybrooke" (12:10, HD) is a surprisingly witty morning-show parody (Storybrooke style, of course), including appearances by Amy Acker, Paul Scheer, Lee Arenberg, Meghan Ory, David Anders, Carlyle, and Emilie de Ravin.
"A Fractured Family Tree" (7:08, HD), narrated by Sarah Hyland, allows creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, writers, producers, and cast to discuss the characters and their crazy-quilt connections.
"Sincerely, Hook" (5:24, HD) is an interview with Colin O'Donoghue about his character and his newfound fame.
"Girl Power" (13:05, HD) focuses on the female characters, and how they represent a new empowerment for fairy-tale heroines and, perhaps, TV.
Rounding out the set are "The Fairest Bloopers of Them All" (3:13, HD) and eight "Deleted Scenes" (10:33, HD), which come with a "Play All" option.
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