The major networks are getting their butts kicked by cable stations when it comes to quality dramas. While the broadcast channels have been cutting costs by airing a large slate of reality shows, some of their non-broadcast competitors (led by HBO) have been investing time and money into solid hour-long dramas that have production values that come close to those in feature films (True Blood, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Supernatural, and Dexter leap to mind). NBC wasn't going to be left in the dust though, and last year they aired Grimm, a show that was part supernatural horror, part police procedural. Created by two writers who worked on the Buffy spin-off Angel, David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf the show has a great premise and an excellent pedigree. That's why it's equally surprising and disappointing that the show doesn't work better than it does.
Homicide Detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) gets quite a surprise when his cancer stricken aunt Marie (Kate Burton) arrives at his home unexpectedly. Though she only has weeks to live, she's made the cross-country journey with her camper to tell Nick something important: He's a Grimm. One of the few descendants of the Brother's Grimm, he has the ability (which only manifested itself once his aunt started to die) to see creatures and monsters that look human to everyone else. It turns out that all the fairy tales that are told to children are true. The original Grimms were just chronically events that really happened.
Marie also informs him that his hereditary job is to hunt down and kill these evil creatures. They're not all just sitting around waiting to be killed however, and one such creature has followed Marie and attacks her. She lives, but just barely, and Nick gets his first good look at what he's up against, collectively known as Wesen (pronounced "Vessin").
He decides not to confide in anyone, not his girlfriend that he's living with, Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch), nor his partner on the Portland Police Force Hank (Russell Hornsby). The only one who really knows he's a Grimm is Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell from Prison Break and My Name is Earl), a reformed Wider Blutbad (or Big Bad Wolf as the original German has been corrupted).
This is an episodic show, though there is a little continuity involving the larger world of Wesen, in particular those that hunt Grimms, and largely plays out as a monster-of-the-week program. That's not bad; there are some great shows that fall into that category such as Buffy and Supernatural. The problem with Grimm is that it's trying to be too many things and excels and none of them.
The weakest aspect of the show is the detective-drama part. Each episode starts out with a crime involving a Wesen that Nick needs to solve and the steps he takes are sometimes absolutely ludicrous. In the pilot episode Nick and Hank kick down the door of a man's house without a warrant and then shoot him in the back four times (killing him) as he tries to run away. Their reason? The man was humming a top 40's hit by the duo Eurythmics that was on the iPod of a murder victim. In another episode Hank finds a sliver of glass outside a house, and since a rape victim had put her hand through a glass window he decides that's 'probably cause' and breaks into the building. Haven't the writers ever watched CSI or Law and Order?
While most of the premise is laid out in the pilot episode, it doesn't explain everything, which makes it hard to get a handle on just what Nick is supposed to do as a Grimm. Most of the Wesen he encounters are totally harmless and blend in with society.
It's not all bad however. The production values are pretty high for a network TV show, and that's where the show shines. The sets are very convincing and atmospheric and the CGI, though it won't win any awards, is decent enough. The program does manage to create a spooky atmosphere in several episodes and it works best when Nick and Monroe are walking through some fog filled forest looking for a creature that's also looking for them.
Some of the stories are quite good too, with a new and interesting twist on old folk stories. One of the problems with adapting fables is that everyone knows how they end, but the writers change things around just enough so that everyone know what the inspiration for the tale is (well, most of them) they're different enough that the finale isn't a foregone conclusion. What's more, the series does get better as it progresses. The pilot, surprisingly, was one of the weakest episodes in the series. If you hate the show after the first couple of installments, don't give up, it gets better.
The acting is pretty hit-or-miss too. The two leads have very little chemistry on screen, with David Giuntoli being particularly bland. On the other hand, the supporting characters are fantastic, and much more interesting than the leads. Silas Weir Mitchell steals just about every scene he's in, playing the reformed Big Bad Wolf with just the right mixture of humor so that his character is fun and gets laughs without being silly or a buffoon. Likewise Reggie Lee's Sgt. Wu is light and entertaining and the show's most enjoyable when he's on the screen. It's just a shame that the main characters couldn't be as charming.
The 22-episodes that make up season one arrive on five Blu-ray discs housed in a rather awkward fold-out case. I thought TV shows had realized that consumers don't like having to unfold 2 ½ feet worth of container to access a 5 inch DVD. Unlike some of the better fold-out cases, this on holds the DVDs in thin pressboard pockets to that ensures the data side of the disc will be rubbed every time someone removes or replaces a disc. I really dislike that. On the plus side, they did put the inside of the case to good use, printing both a list of episodes for each disc with a short synopsis, but also a "Wesen Dictionary" that translates the creature names from German and gives a definition. That was pretty cool.
The show arrives with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that sounds quite nice. Being a recent show this doesn't come as a surprise. There's good use made of the entire soundstage and the sub kicks in effectively during the actions scenes. The overdone music has a nice range and fills the room, even if you wish it didn't do it so forcefully.
Filmed in HD, 1.78:1 1080p, VC-1 image looks very good too. The level of detail is quite high and fine lines are easily discernable even in the low light scenes, which are common. The colors are stable and strong and there are no compression artifacts. A solid looking show.
The disc comes with a fair amount of extras, though it feels like they cut corners in that department. There aren't any commentary tracks and the video bonuses are short and feel like they were going for 'cheap' rather than 'definitive.'
There are a good number of deleted scenes sprinkled over the five discs, none of which add much to the various episodes though it was nice that they were included. Grimm Guide is an interactive 'book' that gives some information on the creatures featured in the show and there are five audition tapes (in SD) made by the actors who were selected for the main characters. The main video extra is The World of Grimm a ten-minute behind-the-scenes docu which is shorter than it should be, and Grimm: Making the Monsters which gives viewers a six-minute peak at how the creature makeup was created. The bonus features are rounded out with three short highlight reels.
This is a show that's okay, but should be a lot better. Half supernatural horror show, half police procedural, it falls sort of the mark in either genre. The horror elements are not as scary and suspenseful as it should be and the mysteries are pretty lame and the police work is laughable in parts. That's not to say it's a bad show. The program is somewhat entertaining and get better as the series progresses. Here's hoping it improves with season two that's scheduled to start on August 13, 2012. This one gets a mild recommendation.