Friday, March 24, 2017

It's Almost Time to Bid Farewell to NBC's 'Grimm'

We knew it had to happen eventually but feel it's worth mentioning and yes, celebrating, as it goes into its final couple of episodes this week and next.

This dark fantasy procedural was a landmark show in bringing fairy tales and folklore back to the mainstream public and has been doing so for six seasons* (though props should also go to Supernatural, who have been maintaining their following and are currently in their twelfth season, albeit it to a less mainstream audience).

Original poster for season 1
NBC's Grimm began the dark fairy tale-meets-procedural with a 'monster of the week' type approach, in October of 2011. There was effort right from the pilot to show fairy tales in a different light and use the tropes in different ways, with a lot of folklore mixed in. That eventually evolved into its own show, hastily evolving past the teething troubles where it had a tendency to have damsels in distress to being more empowering for everyone, surprising more than a few executives and critics, earning it the title of 'the little show that could'.

One of the most fun aspects for folklore and fairy tale folk has been the use of quotes from tales and classic texts which, when followed (and the source figured out), provide huge clues as to the themes and underlying details included in that week's episode. More than a few lesser known tales were mined for quotes as well as some quite obscure ones, which was wonderfully refreshing to see too.

Some episodes have been more successful than others but when the show began to truly build its own mythology, and 'Scooby gang', working in tales and folklore along the way, that the series built a strong and loyal following. (Click HERE for a list of characters, including Wesen types, that have been introduced throughout the series to date - scroll down for the creature list and their episodes.) The show is currently in it's sixth, and last, season and though it can be recognized as being the same show, the season arcs have changed the feel of the show quite substantially so episodic stories aren't used as often, so much as exploring how a piece of folklore (or creature) might be at home in this universe where people are often more than they seem.

Humans live and work alongside 'Wesen', or people who are part human and part creature (often from myth or tales). The lead character, Nick Burkhardt, is both a police detective and, as he discovers in the first few episodes, a 'Grimm', a human of supernatural abilities who are traditionally 'reapers of Wesen' (read, hunters and exterminators). Our Grimm, however, seeks to find common ground between Wesen and humans and the series follows his journey as he does this (and investigates weird, and largely Wesen crimes), with varying amounts of success. His 'Scooby gang' expands along the way with at least half of them being Wesen and the viewer, along with Nick, discovers the history, traditions and 'real' folklore along the way. The more the seasons went on, the bigger and more involved this world got, along with ambitions, conspiracies and much more, all having a lot of fun with history, urban legends, fairy tales and lore along the way. More creatures are discovered with cultural traditions and rituals (all with interesting names that drive etymologists crazy in their inaccurate use of German and Latin!) showing the viewers how similar to humans all of them are.

The show's themes and statements on inclusivity, as well as the need for cultural understanding and respect have been timely throughout the years, addressing equality (and the current remaining lack of it in surprising places), no matter the nationality or socio-economic status, as well asking the same for interracial marriages, their offspring, orientation and preferences. It's been one of the aspects that's endeared fans to the show, with the unwavering stance on acceptance and the need to build bridges when we have the power to do so, even if it's personally difficult.

Not at all coincidentally, many of these same things are what attract us to fairy tales: in reading a wide variety of tales from around the world you begin to see they show both the sameness of humans across the world, while at the same time celebrating their unique cultural identities. It's not difficult to see why fairy tales fit with these themes so well.

Though faithful fans have been running campaigns to get the show picked up on another network or by Netflix or Amazon to give it a new and longer life, the writers, knowing the show would be finishing, wrote this final season with a view to finish the stories. Interestingly, the episodes, rather than focusing on an apocalyptic scenario (though that potential is there), the emphasis seems to have been more on the 'intimate' aspects of the show for most of the season; the characters relationships to each other, to the town and to Wesen integration as part of normal society. The writing has been solid and satisfying, while not too flashy, making it look more stable than ever, as ratings would attest to. While you want a show to finish on solid ground and go out looking good, it's also bittersweet. Fairy tales aren't as obviously an inspiration in this last season (though they're in there if you know where to look), but specific folklore from around the world most definitely is. The stories, however, are told in a way that make them more about Portland and its citizens, as well as the personal journeys of the beloved Scoobies, and, in a move that's created a sophisticated departure from the original, and sometimes dismissible, 'monster-of-the-week' shows, it's only making viewers love Grimm more.
Some pretty neat fan art... 
... created in the style of Ivan Bilibin
by alex_jd_black
Many of this season's episodes can actually be seen to be a metaphor for the show itself as it finishes, which will make for interesting re-viewings once the whole story has been told, while the tag line for these last couple of weeks is that the show is "going back to the beginning". It was at the beginning that the use of fairy tales was the most obvious (some would say heavy handed), so we're interested to see how they bookend Grimm with its developed mythology and popular characters. We presume that 'end' aspect will become more evident in the second last episode (airing this evening), as all cast and crew have confirmed that the finale of this series is clearly an 'end', and one they're reportedly happy with.

Grimm certainly isn't for everyone. The horror/gore aspect is sometimes a challenge for sensitive folk and there is very little of the fairytale-typical fantasy and happily-ever-after vibe, that keeps viewers watching other shows, but there is humor, wonderful characters (especially in the Scooby circle - shout outs to #monrosalee, #drewwu, #hexenschade, #dianahoneybadger and #meisner), fun locations (the trailer, the spice shop, monroe's house, the cabin in the woods, the Portland forests) romance, tons of fairy tale 'Easter eggs', wonderful one-liners, mystery and overall a lot of fun playing with tropes, history and folklore, not to mention every now and then it hits you with something very important. We're going to miss checking in to see what's been developing in the Grimm universe and we'll make it a point to be watching as it says goodnight.

PS Here's some adorably-wonderful advice to baby Kelly, (Nick and Adalind's half-Grimm-half-Wesen son) on the need to step up as the show closes.

Recommended reading - we wrote a detailed review HERE

* For comparison, Buffy the Vampire Slayer ran seven season, with a break after the sixth when it finished, then was renewed on another network, giving it one unexpected last season to wrap the multiple story lines. ABC's Once Upon A Time, which began around the same time as Grimm, and is also in its sixth season, has rumors about this being the last one as well, though that is unconfirmed.

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