Monday, May 8, 2017

'Once Upon A Time's Swan Song Looming As Emma Exits? (+ a Musical tip of the hat)

After the fan-happy musical-wedding episode this weekend, ABC's Once Upon A Time is only one episode away from the end of the season, and still no series renewal in sight. On Monday morning, fans got a bit of a blow as Jennifer Morrison, who plays the lead, Emma Swan, announced she had decided not to renew her contract with Once Upon A Time. While previous rumors indicated the cast would be whittled down by about half, if the show were to continue (including without Snow, Charming or Henry) there's a good chance Morrison's decision will have a detrimental impact on the series continuing at all.

From Jennifer Morrison's Instagram:

jenmorrisonlive As I reached the end of my 6 year contract on ONCE UPON A TIME, I was faced with a significant decision. ABC, Eddy Kitsis, and Adam Horowitz very generously invited me to continue as a series regular. After very careful consideration, I have decided that creatively and personally, it is time for me to move on. Emma Swan is one my favorite characters that I have ever played. My 6 years on ONCE UPON A TIME has changed my life in the most beautiful ways. I am absolutely blown away by the passion and commitment of the Oncer fans. I am so honored to have been a central part of such a special show.
I will be forever grateful to Adam, Eddy, and ABC for giving me the gift of playing Emma Swan.
As I move on to other creative endeavors, I will continue to attend the fan conventions whenever my professional schedule allows. I always look forward meeting the fans.
If ABC Network does in fact order a season 7, I have agreed to appear in one episode, and I will most certainly continue to watch ONCE UPON A TIME. The creativity of the show runners has always inspired me, and I cannot wait to see the ways that they continue to develop and reinvent the show.
#Onceuponatime #EmmaSwan#UglyDucklings
The show's 'ugly duckling' ('beautiful duckling'?) Emma Swan has more than played out her story line of homeless waif looking for her home, finding her family, her destiny, losing her faith and going to the dark side (being a 'Black Swan') then becoming the Savior all over again. However, it was bringing Emma Swan to Storybrooke that got the story rolling, and while we've been introduced to many interesting folk with their own intriguing stories along the way, it's safe to say the show has revolved around Emma staying and cementing her home in Storybrooke through the entire six season to date. How to keep the interest of fans overall without her character would be quite a challenge at this point.

We like the way Slashfilm's Hoai-Tran Bui put it:
Fanmade art
Once Upon a Time was once a great show that married the lighter, sweet elements of fairy tales with their darker implications — that of the boogeyman under your bed or the pervasive mommy issues that pop up throughout folklore. 
But what was once an intriguing revisionist fairy tale show became glorified Disney fan fiction, where you could see Elsa from Frozen team up with Prince Charming against warlord Bo Peep, or witness Mulan falling in love with a battle-scarred Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. (Sadly, these all sound wackier and more fun on paper than they were on screen.) Anchoring this growing cast of Disney and public domain characters was Jennifer Morrison‘s Emma Swan, whose bounty-hunter-turned-Savior — and daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming — provided the catalyst for the story. Now after six seasons, Morrison announced that she won’t be returning to the show as a series regular, calling the show’s fate into question. Does this mean the (happy) end for Once Upon a Time?
While Emma isn't always the reason, or even the most common reason people return to the show  (#TeamRegina), she has remained central to all the main storylines, so even a(nother) reset would have issues. The other reasons fans return and have such a passion for the show, however, aren't insignificant, so the potential for continuing remains, but it's going to take some tricky negotiations of stories, along with finding that sweet spot of Disney-nostalgia-with-a-twist, to keep viewers tuning in.

But... Wasn't the Musical a Good Thing for OUAT?

Short answer: "YES".

And how did fans like the musical episode? (And what did our Fairy Tale Newsroom think?) We know ratings were down, but that seems likely due to the Princess Diana special airing the same evening, which, we're guessing would have a decent overlap in audiences, so there's that. Fans, however, have been overall very positive through to rapturously downloading the soundtrack to play on a loop, so, after the dust settles and this show joins the nostalgia show shelf, this episode will be returned to as a highlight. (You can hear/relive some of the songs HERE.)
"But was it any good?" - we hear you asking. The thing is, musicals are hard. We get that. Musical episodes, in non-musical shows, are really hard. Unlike what most fans (and cast) expected, the show chose to create entirely new songs for the special episode which has about as many advantages and disadvantages as the cast singing favorite Disney songs would have. Tough choices! Our take was that the songs (almost all sung in flashbacks, which was a little odd to get used to) were better written than expected, but the staging and choreography suffered from not having as much fun as the lyricists did, and they really could have done with many more good callbacks to the Disney movies - or at the very least key early episodes from the series - to cement that 'like' factor. It helped that the cast were (largely) up to the task, and that it's expected to have a good dose of cheese (please!). In fact, for this show, a cheese-free musical effort would have flopped badly.
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We saw some great sparks between this couple - reminding us - again, where it all began
While we're not quite ready to see OUAT on Broadway (what a thought!), Snow and Charming's opener 'Happy Beginnings' was a really good way to set the tone, in fact we have to wonder why we didn't hear more of Snow, in particular, singing throughout the series, and Charming could apparently match her quite easily as needed. It would have fit Snow's character extremely well (although we would have suggested more bluebirds, though perhaps not attacking them as she did in an earlier season like the pics below... although that would have been a perfect moment for a musical, if Snow wasn't her Mrs. Charming -self!).
                       Image result for once upon a time snow white bluebirdRelated image
In fact, the opener worked so well, it was sort of odd to see people go back to speaking after that (and we never quite understood why speaking was allowed - minor quibble). While the back and forth between flashback song-wish/curse happening in The Enchanted Forest and the present day dramatically spoken lines of Black Fairy threatening Emma and all she loved, (emphasis on the drama) was a little clunky, the concept of 'The Song In Your Heart' was a good frame for the episode, and neatly book-ended the show's main story arcs - from the very beginning - in a satisfying way too.

Always difficult to pull off a 'song battle', it's doubly difficult in a show that has had full on dragons and demons and universes cut in two. Clearly it was a tough sequence to stage (and very much worked for some fans and not at all for others) but Emma's Theme near the end was quite a (nice) surprise in the way it was handled, especially as we already knew it was Emma's actual musical theme, present since the beginning of the series, done as a proper song, and effectively pulled it all back together in time for a wedding.

And yes, we could not help but be reminded of the Buffy musical episode... (which we heartily applaud and adore by the way). Not quite as well thought through and balanced, but admirable nonetheless.

As odd and 'expectedly inconsistent' as the episode was, with different music styles and voice strength throughout, (although, we loved Rumple's fake-out!) it was still a very worthy effort, though we do feel there were a ton of missed opportunities, especially in the wedding. If there were ever a time to revisit the beginning, or to have fun with all the Disney fairy tale wedding tropes, this would have been it, but the oddly sterile and fake location put a damper on what should have been the episode's jewel. (Considering the very-possible looming 'FIN' factor it's a little arrgh!-inducing.)
Different fans around the web have had different song favorites, as expected, but overall, the show was a bold - and smart - move that worked. Its success is well-deserved, especially considering the consistent struggle with ratings this season and last, and should be held up as a 'high note' to end on.

So Now What?

Now what indeed. Next week - the final two hour, two part episode of season six - the show runners promised a wrap up of all the loose ends of the whole series and to leave no cliff hangers in case the show is not renewed. From the very quick preview, it looked like exactly that, something that might bring home that high note that this week's musical episode was a little loose on at times. Now that Emma is leaving, and things are looking more solid than they have for a while, although we will always lament the end of fairy tales being told weekly on TV, perhaps it would be a good place to accept, and sign, ~The End~.
Here is the press release for the final double episode of the season, The final Battle Parts I & II:
“The Final Battle Part 1 & 2” – Henry awakens to a cursed Storybrooke and discovers Emma has been in the mental hospital, and the Black Fairy is the new mayor. Henry attempts to help Emma regain her memory while Gold tries to find out what has really happened to Belle. Meanwhile, Snow, Charming, Regina, Zelena and Hook are trapped in a crumbling Fairy Tale Land and desperately try to figure out a way to be reunited with Emma and Henry, on season finale of “Once Upon a Time,” SUNDAY, MAY 14 (8:00–10:00 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network. 
“Once Upon a Time” stars Ginnifer Goodwin as Snow White/Mary Margaret, Jennifer Morrison as Emma Swan, Lana Parrilla as the Evil Queen/Regina, Josh Dallas as Prince Charming/David, Emilie de Ravin as Belle, Colin O’Donoghue as Hook, Jared S. Gilmore as Henry Mills, Rebecca Mader as the Wicked Witch/Zelena and Robert Carlyle as Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold.
Guest starring are Lee Arenberg as Leroy/Grumpy, Raphael Sbarge as Archie/Jiminy Cricket, Beverly Elliott as Granny, Deniz Akdeniz as Aladdin, Peter Marcin as Chief, Giles Matthew as Gideon, Andrew J. West as Young Man, Alison Fernandez as Little Girl, Ingrid Torrance as Severe Nurse and Jaime Murray as Black Fairy, Karen David as Jasmine, Gabe Khouth as Mr. Clark/Sneezy, Faustino Di Bauda as Walter/Sleepy, Sara Tomko as Tiger Lily and Olivia Steel Falconer as Violet.
“The Final Battle Part 1 &2” was written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. Part 1 was directed by Steve Pearlman, and Part 2 was directed by Ralph Hemecker.

And there's also a handy (and fun) "Once Upon a Time: 12 Things to Know After the Musical Episode" article HERE from ENews if you're wanting to know a little more of both the behind-the-scenes for the musical episode, but particularly how it sets up the two part finale.

And yes, it talks about the possibilities of both the series ending and what might happen (the contingency plans the creators have) should it be renewed, along with some potential new characters (name actors) included/teased in the final episode.
Preview for The Final Battle:
There are SO many callbacks to the first episode in that promo! Let's hope this is everything they've promised.
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