Monday, August 12, 2013

TV on DVD Review: Once Upon a Time - Season 2

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great storytelling and amazing acting
Cons: Special effects still occasionally don't work
The Bottom Line:
Magic continues
And I can't miss a second
Spellbinding series

"Ogres?  As in Fee Fi Fo Fum?"  "Those Would be Giants."

I was beginning to think the high concept serial drama was dying on TV.  I know if I found a show that interested me, it would be lucky to last one season.  All that changed with Once Upon a Time.  While some people got frustrated with season 2, I found it just as addicting as season 1.

If you missed the show, here’s the premise.  All the fairytale characters we know and love (and a few other miscellaneous characters) are trapped in the town of Storybrooke, Maine.  The curse is the result of Regina, aka Snow White’s evil step mother (Lana Parrilla).  As season 1 opened, Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) arrived in town.  Some believed she could break the curse even though she's never been to the town before.  But first, she’d have to believe that the residents of the town are even under a curse and she has a connection to them.  Along the way, we get flashbacks to the character’s lives before the curse that tell us parts of their back story we never knew before while still fitting in with the fairytales we already know and love.

Now, before we go any further, let’s issue a massive season 1 spoiler alert.  There is no way we can discuss what happens here without spoiling season 1, especially how it ends.  If you don’t know and want to find out as you watch, I’ll give you the cliff notes version.  The show’s still great.  Now go watch season 1 already.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way….

This season picks up moments after season 1 ended.  Everyone’s thrill at remembering who they are now that the curse is broken is short lived with the arrival of magic thanks to Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) and the fact that they haven’t returned to Enchanted Forest, their old home.

But all that changes quickly as Mary Margaret/Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Emma get sucked through a portal to another world.  There, they have to team up with Aurora and Mulan (guest stars Sarah Bolger and Jamie Chung) in a quest to get home.  Unfortunately, Regina’s evil mother Cora and Captain Hook (guest stars Barbara Hershey and Colin O'Donoghue) are looking to get to Storybrooke for their own reasons.  Can Emma and Mary Margaret return home without these unwelcome passengers?

Meanwhile, the residents of Storybrooke are trying to figure out how to go home.  Mr. Gold, however, doesn’t want to return.  In fact, he has his own mission that requires him to leave the town limits – if he can.  And his feelings for Belle (Emilie de Ravin) are just going to complicate everything.

Quite obviously, there is a lot going on here.  The characters and stories set in motion by season 1 are followed up here as we get the next chapter in their lives.  You can tell that part way through, the writer’s changed the direction they intended to go for the season, but they actually still make it work.  In fact, I’m amazed at how they continue to set up and pay off plot points - sometimes weeks apart from each other.  I’m sure at some point they will slip up and contradict themselves, but so far I haven’t caught it.

The creators of this show were two of the writers on Lost, and you can certainly tell in how the stories are told each week, including the flashbacks.  However, they do something that Lost never did – pay us for our loyalty with answers.  We get some pretty amazing questions at times, and most of them are resolved again by the end of the season.  Oh, we’ve still got a few lingering ones from season 1, and they set us up with a big cliffhanger going into season 3, but for the most part we get a self-contained story in this season.  Since I felt we never got payoff to the big questions on Lost, I appreciate this approach to things much more.

And the acting?  Can this cast deliver!  These are complex characters, and the actors are put through their paces on a regular basis.  But they never miss a beat.  This is especially true of Lana Parrilla as Regina and Robert Carlyle as Gold who are given a much bigger change to shine as actors this season.  They were already the best characters, and it’s still true here.

Sadly, the special effects sometimes fall apart.  On the whole, they seem better than last season, but every one in a while, I’ll spot something that looks very fake.  But I have to remind myself that they are creating stunning visuals on a TV budget every week.  It happens.  Besides, the characters and story are always more than enough to make up for any weaknesses here.

The season is available on both Blu-ray and DVD.  For your money, you get 22 hour long episodes in wide screen and full surround.  If you've got the money, go for the Blu-ray.  This looks great in high definition.  Extras include the standard bloopers and deleted scenes.  There are also audio commentaries and three featurettes.  One is a genealogy for some of the characters.  There is also a look at Hook and a look at the female characters on the show.

So if you haven’t taken the plunge to season 2 yet, now’s the perfect time.  Season 3 doesn’t debut for several weeks yet, so buy this set and immerse yourself once again in Once Upon A Time.

Season 2 Episodes:
1. Broken
2. We Are Both
3. Lady of the Lake
4. The Crocodile
5. The Doctor
6. Tallahassee
7. Child of the Moon
8. Into the Deep
9. Queen of Hearts
10. The Cricket Game
11. The Outsider
12. In the Name of the Brother
13. Tiny
14. Manhattan
15. The Queen is Dead
16. The Miller's Daughter
17. Welcome to Storybrooke
18. Selfless, Brave, and True
19. Lacey
20. The Evil Queen
21. Second Star to the Right
22. And Straight on 'Til Morning

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