NBC, Fridays, 9 PM ET/PT
Teleplay by David Greenwalt & Jim Kouf
Story by David Greenwalt & Jim Kouf and Stephen Carpenter
Directed by Marc Buckland
“Oh, you’re a happily-ever-after guy.” – Hank Griffin
Grimm is a winner. I’m saying it right now. I’m getting the same good vibe off this show I got from the first season of X-Files, and for about the same reason: a good mix of danger, mystery, humor and menace. Its creators carry that DNA with them; producer/writer Greenwalt is a veteran of The X-Files, Buffy, Angel and Eureka, while Jim Kouf honed his macabre chops onAngel and Ghost Whisperer, as well as the movie National Treasure: Book of Secrets. With backgrounds like these, my expectations were high. I am delighted to say they were all fulfilled.
“We see them for what they really are.” – Marie Kessler
A pretty co-ed in a red hoodie goes for a run in the gorgeous woods of the Pacific Northwest, and is ambushed by a monster we catch only in glimpses. The Portland police are called in when a hiker discovers her dismembered body. David Giuntoli (Love Bites, The Deep End) plays Nick Burkhardt, a Portland detective with a sarcastic partner, a pretty girlfriend, and an engagement ring burning a hole in his pocket. He also has a dying Aunt Marie (Kate Burton, The Closer) who hints that there are family secrets she hasn’t yet told him. Worst of all, Nick has started seeing things he can’t believe or explain – a blonde woman in a power suit whose face blurs into a twisted monstrosity when she walks by, a junkie who briefly appears to be a demon when Nick walks by. Auntie M, who has just arrived in her trailer, goes for a walk with Nick to explain things, but doesn’t get very far before a monster jumps them both. Nick shoots him dead, and then watches as amazement as the corpse changes back into what looks like a normal man. Thus ends the first ten minutes. This is a fabulous, fast lead-in to a tightly written show.
“The misfortune of our family is already passing to you.” – Marie Kessler
As Auntie M explains it during bouts of consciousness, Nick’s family are Grimms, traditional slayers of monsters the rest of the world dismisses as fairy tales. I’m still not sure if “Grimm” is a surname or a title or both, but apparently the idea is that Grimm’s fairy tales were not fiction. Marie tells Nick that the stories we read about really happened. And she does not have to tell him that the monsters are out to get her, and her kin, who are locked in a centuries-old feud. We see now that Nick is himself part of the traditional structure of a fairy story – the orphan raised in ignorance of his true heritage, confronted by a Wise Elder who tells him an incomplete story of his past and passes on a symbol of his birthright – in this case, a folding key. It’s Arthur and Merlin, Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan all over again.
“You people started profiling us over 200 years ago.” – Eddie Monroe
Even as Nick tries to handle his aunt’s hospitalization, another abduction takes place: a little girl in a red hoodie disappears on the way to her grandfather’s house. Retracing her path, Nick and Hank surmise that she may have cut through the woods, as will surprise no one who ever read “Little Red Riding Hood”. Nick spots a man living across from the wooded park, who turns half-wolf even as Nick watches. Nick persuades the squad to search Eddie Monroe’s (Silas Weir Mitchell, The Mentalist) house, but they turn up nothing. Unconvinced by Eddie’s apparent innocence, Nick returns at night to spy on him, and gets ambushed by Eddie in wolf guise. Who then returns to normal and offers him a beer. Eddie may be the best invention on this show – a villain you love to laugh with. Since he’s an outsider, he can mock the hero, the hero’s culture (which would kill him if it knew about him) and our expectations. Eddie tells Nick that he’s a reformed blutbod, German for “bloodbath”, a member of a race Nick’s forefathers called “the Big Bad Wolf”. That he can say such a thing with a straight face and not have the audience laughing at him is testament to how well-written and persuasive this story is.
“What do you see in this guy we don’t?” — Hank
In short order, Nick and Eddie track down the real big bad wolf, a mailman who has a thing for girls in red hoods. The scenes where Eddie fights his own nature while at the same time using his wolf senses to track her down are a satisfying mix of funny and macabre. At the same time, the real big bad wolf (Tim Bagley, Love Bites) is so neat and tidy he’s creepy. He has the unblinking stare, the mild aspect and the rigid self-control that just scream “serial killer”. He also has a basement dungeon where he hides his victims, eerily reminiscent of the abduction of Jaycee Dugard. And worst of all, he has a wardrobe filled with red hooded sweaters, trophies from his victims. Nor is he stupid; realizing that his work boots may be leading the police to him, he burns them in his fireplace and then tidies his living room. That sets up a truly ironic scene, where Nick and Hank search the house for him in darkness, illuminated only by the flickering of a fire which, unbeknownst to them, is consuming the only evidence that can link theblutbod to the murders.
“How long have you been at this? You seem kinda new.” — Eddie
What I really love about this show is the combination of humor and subtle menace. When Nick stands at his window, looking out on the deceptively peaceful night, we hear a dog, far away, barking furiously. Then its voice is cut short with a yelp – and Nick does not react to this harbinger. Later, he senses some menace lurking beyond his porch light, then dismisses it – and only we see the shadow that passes behind him. Throughout the episode, names of people and places echo elements of stories and fairy tales. Nick’s own name is a German surname meaning “strong castle”; his captain at the police station is named Renard (Sasha Roiz, Warehouse 13), French for “fox”. Nick’s partner Hank Griffin (Russell Hornsby, Suits) bears a name out of Welsh mythology. Oddly, but believably, the Big Bad Wolf doesn’t actually have a name. The little girl Nick is searching for was walking down Hunter Street to her grandfather’s house – a close approximation of the Little Red Riding Hood story. These elements could have been hammered home with a heavy hand, but instead are sprinkled with a light and deft touch, to spice up the story and constantly remind us of the Grimm origins of this series. It’s the kind of subtlety The X-Files used to have, and thatFringe often has.
“I already cried wolf once, you think they’re going to believe me?” — Nick
Pundits predicted dire things for Grimm, airing as it did against the final game of a hard-fought World Series. A particularly grim outlook (heh) was expected no one knew ahead of time that a game would be rained out, forcing the series to conclude on Friday instead of Thursday. I would not have been surprised to see Grimm tank against competition that droveFringe off the air that night. Instead. Grimm’s debut put up a respectable 2.1 rating in the 18-to-49 demographic, the best rating on any Friday lineup except for sports in nine months. It’s also a surprise becauseFriday has become the burnoff night for networks, where they park dying series (Fringe, Chuck) to let them spin out their death spirals. Debuting a new show on Friday nights would seem to indicate low expectations on the network’s part, but I’m remembering that The X-Files prospered on Friday nights once. My expectations for Grimm at least that high.