What can you divine about a television series from its pilot? Probably about as much as you can learn by looking at footprints in a muddy crime scene and determining the killer wore Timberlands. But by the end of the first episode of Portland-shot police show Grimm, Detective Nick Burckhardt (David Giuntoli) has tracked down a child abductor using only boot prints. It helps that he has a paranormal knack for recognizing fairy-tale fiends disguised as traveling businessmen and postal workers, just as it's useful to check on IMDb if the characters from the first 42 minutes will return. So here is what I can safely deduce about Grimm: It will appeal to viewers who worry about missing children as much as Nancy Grace.
The third TV series currently shooting in Portland and the first on a broadcast network, NBC's Grimm is what passes for an original idea on the struggling Peacock—which means it's an already popular idea, rotated slightly. The notion in this case is from Twilight: The creatures of occult legend still roam the Pacific Northwest, hiding their true, bestial identities. The twist is that the protagonists are cops and the gargoyles maul young girls. This is certainly a new conception of Grimm's Fairy Tales—it's Law & Order: Magic Victims Unit—and I'm sure the producers congratulated themselves on it. I hope they also figured out how to make it a lot less repellent, because this Friday's opening episode is pretty icky.
It is definitely possible that the show will ratchet down its emphasis on catching carnivorous predators. The pilot, after all, is about a Big Bad Wolf. There is something inextricably sexual and voracious in that story, and addressing that something either means advancing the age of the heroine (as Catherine Hardwicke did, removing "Little" from the title of her underrated, voluptuous Red Riding Hood) or taking Grimm's approach and embracing the pedophilic nature of the mailman/wolfman who kidnaps a 10-year-old and fattens her in his cellar ("Do you want a chicken pot pie?"), keeping her red hoodie with those of his other victims.
This villain does not make it out of the episode. (And thank goodness, because there are a lot of other tonal problems with the character, including the distasteful, winking way he is signaled as a sexual deviant by his pie cooking, needlepoint and sweater collection.) But Detective Nick gets an extemporaneous partner—a reformed, vegan wolf named Eddie, who is scheduled to appear in all eight additional episodes NBC has ordered. Played by Silas Weir Mitchell, a glowering actor who has long served as a poor man's Michael Shannon, Eddie is the best thing in the show. "You people started profiling us over 200 years ago!" he complains, as if frustrated by the way Big Bad Wolves are patted down by airport security. But again, the character is queasily conceived. He's the antihero controlling his impulses—just like those teenage vampires!—but his particular impulse is to look at small children like they're pieces of candy corn. Not a lot of tweens will join Team Eddie.
Maybe the Grimm showrunners have already written themselves out of this jam. (Future episodes are expected to involve Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Rapunzel, and WW boxes, all of which have the potential to feature child endangerment.) But I can only judge by what they'll display, and this pilot has the facial grotesqueries of Buffy the Vampire Slayer matched with the sickly themes of The Lovely Bones.
There are glimmers of promise, however. Unlike most procedurals, Grimm has a bright, sugary palette, as if it was shot in a gingerbread house. I liked an exchange between Nick and a nurse (Ayanna Berkshire) about the hazards of the librarian profession. And the cops conclude the pilot by shooting an unarmed man in the back, so at least Grimm understands the culture of the Portland Police Bureau.
55 SEE IT: Grimm premieres 9 pm Friday, Oct. 28, on NBC. Look for show recaps each weekend on wweek.com.