After six seasons, ABC’s Disney-sponsored nightmare fuel Once Upon A Time is about to have a hefty reboot, ditching several regular characters like so many appendices and essentially resetting its original storyline in the hope its fans won’t notice.
As you can tell, I have a mixed relationship with the show – in awe of its storytelling potential but frequently frustrated by lacklustre plotting and static, lethargic story arcs (and acting). So where else can I go looking for a fix of fantasy-fuelled action adventure with a dash of romance?
A cop drama with a fantasy twist is hardly a new concept – even before Angel and Moonlight there was Beauty and the Beast, Brimstone and Forever Knight, but the USP of Grimm was a much deeper dive into traditional European folklore and mythology. Portland Homicide detective Nick Burkhardt learns he is a ‘Grimm’, a guardian destined to maintain the balance between the human world and the Wesen, creatures from myth and legend scratching out a living in the contemporary world.
After a slow start (even fans of the show have to admit the first season takes a *long* time to get going), the show gradually built up a complex, layered mythology of its own, expanding on backstories and tying story arcs into well-established fairytales. The show blended magic and fantasy with accessible procedural elements to increasingly great effect; and while the shorter final season has a lot to wrap up, the show’s journey is a satisfying one with plenty of strong arcs and memorable episodes.
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Sleepy Hollow (2013-2017)
A similar show to Grimm in many ways, but with a more focused approach to folklore, Sleepy Hollow is loosely based around the 1820 short story but adds plenty of its own elements to create something more unique.
Ichabod Crane is a spy for George Washington, who is transported from 1870 to present-day America after an encounter with an undead warrior. Partnering with detective Abigail Mills, the two soon discover they are destined to battle the Horsemen and other heralds of the coming apocalypse.
With frequent flashbacks to the American Revolution and healthy doses of dark, Biblical antagonists for our duo to battle, the heart of Sleepy Hollow comes from the bond between Ichabod and Abbie – never romantic, but dedicated to their mission and each other. Its fourth and final season instigated many changes that spelled the end for the show, but there is much to love about this quirky show and its playful approach to secret history.
Emerald City (2017)
A short-lived, single season retelling of The Wizard of Oz, the show follows Kansas nurse Dorothy Gale, who is transported to Oz after investigating her mother’s murder. Directed by visionary Tarsem Singh, the season has all his visual trademarks – sun-bleached landscapes, riots of clashing colour and stoic, troubled personalities. His 2012 Lily Collins-starring Mirror Mirror is a good example of what to expect here – a dark vision of a beloved fairytale, drenched in moral ambiguity and shifting loyalties.
Adapting from the full scope of L. Frank Baum’s Oz novels, Emerald City manages to tell a complete story in its ten episodes and is striking enough to be worth your time to watch, but anybody expecting ‘Wicked: The Series’ should go in knowing this is a fairytale for adults. Bonus point for the still-bulky Vincent D’Onofrio, channelling Wilson Fisk in his enigmatic, bolshy Wizard.
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An older series but one with five full seasons of Candian-influenced small town melodrama, Haven is (very) loosely based on Stephen King’s ‘The Colorado Kid’, and follows FBI Agent Audrey Parker as she becomes embroiled in ‘the Troubles,’ a series of supernatural events confined to the fishing town of Haven, Maine.
The bright, coastal aesthetic of Haven will be immediately familiar to fans of Storybrooke, and Emily Rose makes for a fine lead with two great supports in Lucas Bryant (Nathan, a local detective who can’t feel pain) and Eric Balfour (Duke, a roguish restauranteur and occasional criminal). Its early seasons are a typical SyFy Channel fantasy procedural, but a few years in a profound shift in the show’s tone takes it to new places.
A huge backstory and mythology opens up that would take many more thousands of words to cover, but keeps Audrey, Nathan and Duke at the centre of events spanning millennia and with consequences affecting the entire world. One to stick with over time and wait for the expanded world of the show to take you in.
Lost Girl (2010-2015)
Another Canadian special, this time with an urban fantasy approach to mixing folklore and Buffy-influenced action. Lost Girl follows Bo, a bisexual succubus who partners with runaway thief Kenzi, as she tries to understand the mystery of her origins and help others in need.
With a dry sense of humour, a refreshingly open-minded approach to sexuality and a deep mythology built around the world of the Fae (the present-day incarnations of legendary beings), Lost Girl makes for an ideal next step for audiences who grew up on OUAT and are looking for something with more edge. Anna Silk is an inspiring, bold lead actress, and the brilliant Ksenia Solo steals every scene she’s in as quirky, energetic sidekick Kenzi.
Again, the show tells a complete, rounded story within its five seasons, balancing a central love triangle (Bo alternately romances werewolf detective Dyson and human doctor Lauren) far better than many of its peers. The graduating class of Storybrooke 2016/17 will find plenty to like here.
Are you a fan of Once Upon a Time or any of the fantasy shows above? Let us know!