Tell Me A Story Is Once Upon A Time For Grown-Ups

Photo: Courtesy of CBS.
Wednesday night, CBS All Access, a web-only to offshoot of the broadcast network, debuted a new series that fits perfectly with all of your Halloween vibes. The premise of Tell Me A Story is simple: a few classic fairy tales have been remixed and updated for the current, real world. In the premiere, Kayla (Danielle Campbell) stands in for the Little Red Riding Hood. She’s surrounded by predatory wolves men, and moves from Oakland to New York to live with her grandmother (Kim Cattrall). The Three Little Pigs (played by Michael Raymond-Jones, Dorian Missick, and Paul Wesley) are criminals who don spooky pig masks to pull off a jewelry store robbery that leaves a woman dead. The big bad wolf hunting them down is her fiancé, Jordan (James Wolk). Estranged siblings Gabe (Davi Santos) and Hannah (Dania Ramirez) embody Hansel and Gretel when they end up on the run after covering up a death.
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Fans of the recently concluded ABC series Once Upon A Time are very familiar with this concept. Enjoying a run that lasted for seven years and for just as many seasons, Once Upon A Time was a fantasy drama that centered on a fictional town called Storybrooke, ME, where all of the residents are characters from fairy tales who have learned to co-exist with one another. Even characters who don’t live there seem to be attracted to the magical site from lands across time and space. And while there is quite a lot of drama and scandal in both shows, Tell Me A Story is notably different — and more grown up — than its ABC counterpart.
For starters, it’s sexy. There are hookup scenes in the first hour of Tell Me A Story that would never fly on the family-friendly Once Upon A Time. The maturity of the CBS version is also evident in how scary it is — which is probably why the network debuted it on Halloween Wednesday despite future episodes being set to air on Thursdays. Tell Me A Story is definitely a thriller. Many of the scenes look better suited for The Purge than they are for any live-action Disney remake. Seriously, those pig masks freaked me out. More ominously, the threats that characters face on this show are not fluff. Vengeful lovers, the local homicide unit, and a haunted past all threaten to take down our characters in the premiere.
These are high stakes because another key difference between Tell Me A Story and Once Upon A Time is that the former is rooted in reality. There is no magic. Death does not mean that you’re simply slipped into another dimension that a tenacious hero can retrieve you from. There are no spells that can heal mortal wounds in New York City. Once Upon A Time became a fairy tale itself with all of its fantasy elements.
Tell Me A Story captures its viewers to put themselves in the shoes of some of their favorite fables with its realism. So far it’s better for it. This new CBS All Access program has enough to stand on without it thanks to an array of characters who are interesting if not a little cliche.
At the very least, I hope that this authenticity saves watchers from experiencing the same fatigue I eventually succumbed to after about four seasons of Once Upon A Time.
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