The of-this-earth-but-not-quite look of ABC's "Once Upon a Time" doesn't go quite as extreme as "Pushing Daisies," but it still calls back the Alphabet net's modern-day fairy tale that ran for 1 1/2 ratings-challenged seasons. Both feature seemingly handcrafted worlds that look like they came out of storybooks.
However, by virtually matching in week two its strong debut performance, ABC's "Once Upon a Time" looks like it will write many more chapters for ABC than "Daisies" did, and though I'm among those who was sorry to see "Daisies" go, "Once" is starting to feel less and less like than a consolation prize.
The special effects in "Once" weren't exactly seamless — more often than not, I was all too aware of them — but that didn't really take away from what was an entertaining second episode Sunday that actually better illustrated the show's character and story potential than the pilot did.
It's interesting that "Once" is performing so much better in the Nielsens than "Daisies" did, even though the programs have not a little in common, but the difference might be that "Once" is able to wear its dark side much more explicitly, while at the same time staying in the wheelhouse of a broader age range of viewers. Audience from the 12-17 demo for "Once" actually grew in its second week.
"Once" also is kind of stealth crossover programming for ABC. The subject matter isn't uniquely female — among its core subjects is a boy's desire for happiness, while the revenge that the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) seeks could easily be adapted into an episode of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire." And yet, the three primary thesps in "Once" are all women: Parilla (who dominated the first half of Sunday's episode), Jennifer Morrison (a force in the second half) and Gennifer Goodwin, who we know will have a huge role but has barely gotten to stretch her wings yet.
(The appearance of Giancarlo Esposito, fresh off his "Breaking Bad" tour de force, also has to be noted. In his initial outing, Esposito looked like he might be in line to suffer from a limited role the way Margo Martindale of "Justified" was at risk of doing in CBS' "A Gifted Man," but "Once" does offer more room for Esposito to strut his stuff.)
With all the characters and timelines it is juggling, it's fine to have concerns about how "Once" will play out long-term, but it won't hurt that showrunners Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis trained under Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse at "Lost." Perhaps, despite however much ABC is seduced by the long-term ratings potential of "Once," the network and the producers will find a specific end date to be useful with that series as well.
But that's getting ahead of ourselves. Right now, the "Once" fairy tale is just beginning.