Monday, July 27, 2020

Tell Me a Story: Pilot

Fairy tales express primal fears and anxieties, so it rather makes sense that we can find contemporary parallels. Creator Kevin Williamson takes Jungian archetypes a step further by reconceiving three fairy tales as a braided modern-day psychological thriller. Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, and Hansel & Gretel get a just-before-Covid New York makeover in Tell Me a Story, which makes its broadcast network debut tomorrow on the CW (following its run on CBS All-Access that really entailed limited viewer access).

Two hard-core armed robbers and one of their reluctant, hung-over brothers are planning to hit an exclusive jewelry store. Their stylish disguise will be pig masks. Chances are, it will not go down smoothly, but that will have to wait for the end of the pilot episode. Meanwhile, Kayla Powell has moved to New York with her widower father Tim, after her mother’s untimely death. For now, they will be staying in her grandmother’s townhouse. Why yes, she happens to have a red slicker.

The recently discharged Hannah Perez and her screw-up half-brother Gabe will be our Hansel & Gretel analogs, but it is not exactly clear how from the first episode. Thanks to his poor judgement, he involves her in a decidedly sticky situation. When they leave, they most certainly will not want to leave a trail of breadcrumbs behind them.

Tell Me a Story
had respectable reviews and viewer feedback when it launched on CBS’s premium platform, but streamer-app fatigue was already an issue by that time. CW is not hiding its origins, but it not unreasonable for them to launch it like an essentially new show. Based on the pilot, it is not dazzling enough to justify yet another subscription fee, but it is sufficiently interesting to try again next week.

So far, the cleverer and strongest fairy tale parallels are those of the
Red Riding Hood arc. Daniella Campbell has enough charisma to carry the segments as Powell/Red Riding Hood, while Pauline Singer adds some energy as her new, hard-partying friend Laney Reed. Plus, it is a little mind-blowing to see Kim Cattrall playing the grandmother (maybe she should reconsider another Sex in the City movie, before she is typecast as a grandma).

Three Little Pigs storyline will also come into focus during the late stages of the pilot, in quite a dramatic and jarring way. It really is a cold slap in the face, but it makes you want to see how it develops further. Of the three constituent fairy tales, Hansel & Gretel is still rather shapeless (should we say under-cooked?) at this point, but it is still only the first episode.

Based on the pilot,
Tell Me a Story has the potential to tap into some seriously mythic themes in inventive ways. It was renewed for a second season on CBS’s premium service, so presumably their subscriber base stuck with it. At this point, free seems to be the right price, so happily it will be available over the broadcast airwaves, when it premieres tomorrow (7/28) on the CW (and the following day on the CW app).