Chief Justice Michael Stailey was disappointed to learn this is not a live-action take on the hi-larious comic strip character.
Our review of Grimm: Season Three (Blu-ray), published September 29th, 2014, is also available.
Not your usual suspects.
As a fledgling writer, I hold no shame in worshipping at the altar of writer/producer David Greenwalt. The man has been a major contributor to the success of The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Angel. He knows the genre, has a deft hand at delivering true character development, and is a master at carefully planting story seeds throughout a season that bear incredible fruit later on. Not everything he's touched has turned to gold—Moonlight was painful, and neither Miracles nor Jake 2.0 made it past one season—but television is far from an exact science. It takes an unbelievable congruence of casting, production, artisans, network non-interference, and audience connectedness to make a series fly. Lucky for us Grimm has cleared that first major hurdle.
Facts of the Case
Detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli, Finish Line) has a pretty good life; an up and coming officer in the Portland PD, nice house, and a beautiful girlfriend he's about to make his wife (Bitsie Tulloch, The Artist). That is until Aunt Marie (Kate Burton, Big Trouble in Little China) shows up, dying of cancer…and hunted by Reapers. Literally. Turns out this sweet woman who raised little Nicky after his parents died in a tragic car accident is actually a Grimm, an honor/cursed passed down through centuries old bloodlines, charging the bearer with protecting the seven Royal Families from all manner of monsters, magic, and things that go bump in the night. Remember all those fairy tales we read as children? Well, they weren't exactly escapist fantasy. In truth, they were cautionary tales written by old world defenders profiling the creatures they confronted and subsequently killed. Long story short, when dear old Aunt Marie finally shuffles off this mortal coil, Nick gets activated, his genetic Grimm programming kicking in with no users manual or mentor in sight. Now he must figure out how to process the sights and sounds of an entirely new world undetected by human senses, still perform a day job alongside his unenlightened partner Hank Griffin (Russell Hornsby, Stuck), and figure out how to survive innumerable attacks from a multitude of vessen (the aforementioned beasties) who want to see him dead. Good luck with that, Nick.
Paranormal/Fantasy series and crime procedurals have existed in great numbers over the past twenty years. Some good, some great, most terrible. Combining the two genres has been a tricky proposition. Most attempts begin with the classic monster of the week formula, self-contained stories focused on a compelling element that makes for a good 40 minutes of television. But that's merely the hook. Many showrunners set their sights on developing complex mythologies for their worlds, the likes of which would give George Lucas a hard-on. Very few actually succeed, because they either choke on their own creative ambitions or network execs and audiences don't have the time or patience to figure out where all this is going.
Enter Grimm. Developed at NBC while rival ABC was simultaneously developing Once Upon a Time, it was almost guaranteed the two would cancel each other out with audiences turned off by new shows with big sweeping story arcs. Where ABC drew upon parent company Disney's rich history with fairy tales, bringing classic and easily identifiable characters into the modern world, Grimm takes the ambience of these legendary tales and proposes the creatures who inhabit them have existed throughout the millennia, right under our very noses, as our neighbors, colleagues, local business owners, teachers, doctors, and little league coaches. Not a wholly original idea, but one at least worth exploring.
Nick is our window to this unseen world. His eyes are opened at the same time as ours, only we can often see the threads of bigger problems before he can. The premise provides just enough information to keep us on the edge of our seat without revealing too much to ruin the surprises that await around each corner. But Nick can't handle this newfound responsibility on his own, and he certainly can't reveal these insights to those he loves and trusts without being committed to a psychiatric ward. Lucky for him (and us) he stumbles upon an ally in Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell, My Name is Earl), a reformed Blutbad whom history has come to know as the big bad wolf. Monroe is a vegan who controls his base impulses through a strict diet, his artistic pursuits, meditation, and pilates. Clearing his name as a suspect in Nick's first case after becoming a Grimm, Monroe reluctantly helps track down the real killer, a fellow Blutbad with no interest in being anything other than what he is. Thus begins a relationship based on necessity that blossoms into true friendship.
Still, nothing overtly special we haven't see before, right? The believer and non-believer (The X-Files). The gifted and non-gifted (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her Scooby gang). The hero and his comic relief (Angel and his friend Loren). But whereas these shows had clean demarkations of good and evil, there's far more going on within the world of Grimm. Here we have a historical figure whose legend amongst the vessen is one of chaos and death. It only makes sense that they had just as many stories about us as we had about them. And yet this vengeful figure that executed their kind for ages is now serving and protecting them as he does any other resident of Portland. What's more he's now calling on them for help, in the spirit of truth and kindness, to bring down creatures who would do them harm, thus creating an unintentional folk hero and savior to all vessen-kind. We didn't see that happening on Buffy or Supernatural.
In twenty two episodes, Grimm: Season One takes us on an impressive journey. There are some inevitable clunkers along the way, but the writing team does an admirable job of teasing out just enough information to keep us coming back each week. For example, we quickly discover Nick's boss Captain Renard (played magnificently by the imposing presence of Sasha Roiz, Caprica) is up to no good, but it isn't until well into the season that we get a clearer picture of how sinister those machinations really are. With each case, Nick learns more about the vessen world, the well-established hierarchy of power, their influence on world events, and just how unstable the situation has truly become.
The conceit for defeating Nick's adversaries lies in Aunt Marie's abundantly stocked trailer, which he keeps locked away in an unassuming storage yard outside of town. The inherent problems here are numerous. Everything he could possibly need is at his disposal, though he and Monroe must do the research to determine the proper solution. What if they can't find a solution in the time allotted to tell the tale? What if they find the solution but don't have the weapon they need? What happens if the location of the trailer is discovered and its contents stolen? Perhaps they'll grow beyond this crutch in Season Two.
Another stumbling block is that Nick's partner Hank has devolved into a second string bench player. While Nick is off battling vessen with Monroe and friends, what is Hank doing? Why isn't he concerned that his partner has seemingly gone rogue? What are the writers keeping him on for if he's only serving as window dressing? Some of those answers are revealed as the season draws to a close and Russell Hornsby gets more interesting angles to play, but for much of the season you're going to feel bad for the guy.
One person we never seem to feel bad for Bitsie Tulloch. Whereas most significant others in these shows play blissfully ignorant of what's going on, Juliette gets dragged into the fray early and often. As a veterinarian with an inquisitive mind, there's little that escapes her purview, but the decision to make her incapable of processing the unexplained proves quite compelling and drives her to places which are both fascinating and somewhat hard to swallow by season's end. An actress with unbelievably expressive eyes, Tulloch's face runs the gamut of emotions and the authenticity she brings makes this character fully realized. And life is only going to get more complicated for Juliette as the story progresses.
The two breakout stars of the series are Silas Weir Mitchell as Monroe and Reggie Lee as Sergeant Wu. Both possess a mastery of comedic timing and delivering dialogue in uniquely authentic ways. Reggie is often relegated to crime scene processing and station house banter, but he does get a storyline to himself later in the season that proves both touching and hilarious. I can only hope we see more of those opportunities in Season Two. Now, if ever there was an actor/character match made in heaven, Monroe is it. Silas gives Grimm its emotional core and more humanity than most humans could ever hope to possess. Not that the series is built on a house of cards, but I firmly believe it would not be getting a second season without him. Where most genre shows rely on a dynamic hero to drive the action and draw the audience, David Giuntoli is an unusually understated everyman. There's nothing award-worthy about his performance, save for the chemistry he shares with Silas. They are the Abbott and Costello of modern TV, as clearly evidenced in Monroe's first visit to Nick and Juliette's home for dinner. Classic.
Grimm is not without its critics and I can fully appreciate why. Mythology shows are a hard sell and those predisposed to enjoying them are more apt to forgive the growing pains. However, if you're willing to make the investment, this particular series will pay off in spades. Dark, evocative, and populated with dynamic monsters crafted by a team of incredibly talented visual effects artists—led by Academy Award-winner Barney Burman (JJ Abrams' Star Trek)—Grimm benefits from that intangible quality possessed by a group of people who know they're working on something special.
Presented in 1.78:1/1080p high definition widescreen, the digital video presentation is above reproach. Since much of the action here takes place at night, there is the inevitable noise evident in the darkest of scenes, but it isn't enough to frustrate anyone. The world Grimm opens to us is dripping with more atmosphere than we've seen since Chris Carter's Millennium, so let your eyes wander to the edges of frame and soak it all in. You're bound to notice even more on repeat viewings. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks comes to life in the high frame rate action sequences and settles into a nice groove otherwise. There are long expository sequences where it won't mean much, but composer Richard Marvin's (Six Feet Under) menacing score certainly gets a chance to shine.
Sadly, the bonus features are a bit of a letdown. For a new series, and one as highly touted as this, one might think Universal would go above and beyond to serve up some juicy behind-the-scenes info to its inevitable cult followers. Nope. Not even a commentary on the pilot episode or what may be the best cast and scripted season finale of the 2011-2012 TV season. Major missed opportunity. In any case, what we do get is very EPK-related and delivered in Universal's uninspired menu structure employed on all their Blu-ray releases.
* Extended / Deleted Scenes—The smallest sampling of trims from a handful of episodes that add nothing to the narrative, proving only that editors Chris Willingham, George Pilkinton, and Jacque Elaine Toberen do their job extremely well.
* Gag Reel (3 min)—Lame.
* Grimm Guide—An interactive recreation of Aunt Marie's vessen-hunting bible.
* The World of Grimm (11 min)—Brief behind-the-scenes look at the series by cast and crew.
* Grimm: Making Monsters (7 min)—A quick discussion of the series practical and visual effects.
* Audition Tapes (11 min)—See David (Nick), Silas (Monroe), Russell (Hank), Bitsie (Juliette), and Reggie (Wu) give performances that landed them their respective roles.
* VFX Progressions (2 min)—A more detailed look at the animated artistry employed in creating the character transformations.
* Highlight Reels (6 min)—Rapid fire montages (set to music) created for Season One's jump scares, vessen morphs, and the old world language used to explain this world.
* Trading Cards—Really? And they don't even come with a stick of rancid chewing gum.
* UltraViolet Download—What burns me about the studio's new anti-piracy digital streaming option is that even though you paid for the product you don't truly own it and there's a limited shelf life (expires April 2015).
A modern police procedural, steeped in paranormal history dating back to medieval Europe, populated by great characters brought to life by an fine ensemble of actors, Grimm is the real deal and worth your attention.
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