October 25th, 2013 | by JAY HORTON Movies & Television | Posted In: Grimm

The Grimmoire: That Voodoo We Do So Well

The return Of Grimm and decline of Portland TV's Golden Age

grimm1Grime fighting - NBC

For all the grumblings about traffic upheavals and street closures caused by the sudden explosion of television projects filming 'round town, the local presumption of Portland as favored toy of the media elite has been rather oversold. 

We have Grimm, true. The NBC fabulist procedural starts its third season this evening at 9 PM (WW's weekly Grimmoire will offer explanations the Monday after each episode). But precious little else remains.

The Real World has left town. We've no more Leverage. TNT hospital soap Monday Mornings only pretended to have a Portland address. That Geena Davis bounty hunter show that shut down Milwaukie last April never survived pilot season. Portlandia's signed through at least 2015, but at 240 minutes a year, the program's cultural shadow outstrips the actual footage. 

We have Grimm, alone, and we should count ourselves blessed.

Whatever the genuine economic advantages to Portlanders beyond extra detail and craft services–Grimm jobs, really–only the hardest of hearts would deny that our fair city's never looked lovelier than through the prism of prime time fantasy. Muted viewings have become a guilty pleasure for anarchists, artisans, and anti-consumerist zealots helplessly drawn by a connoisseur's tour of location shoots intriguingly chosen and glowingly illustrated.

It's as if Richard Avedon unaccountably showed up to take prom pics. Maybe you believe the event means less than nothing, maybe you despise fashion shutterbugs on principle, but, at the end of the day, you're not throwing away the photos. You look too damn good. The showrunners adore our fair city, that much is clear, and, in their way, they might even understand us. However derivative the plotlines and shitheaded the dialogue, few network staples could so flatter our guiding urban mythology.

While Leverage was a vastly superior show by most any standard of conventional entertainment, asking Puddletown to play the part of Boston never made much sense, and the final season's official move to Portland (effecting no notable change in filming, save donuts arriving in pink boxes) beggared reason. For a gang of high-end thieves targeting international financiers, we offer little beyond an array of atmospheric riverfront used as backdrop for negotiations with minor league power brokers. Grimm, for all its faults, knows the most interesting creatures in these parts lurk underneath the bridges.

Technically, the series details the adventures of one Nick Burkhardt, PPD detective and heir to a genetic predisposition enabling Nick to spot the menagerie of animalistic beasts called "wesen" that live among us. His bloodline are all called Grimms, apparently. Were the brothers Grimm Grimms? Perhaps. Who knows?

But even considering the tried-and-true genre device of presenting the most wooden and two-dimensional character as central figure, the Grimm isn't really the point. Technically human, despite an expressly canine cast to his features (if plasticene, as a  Playmobil black lab), Nick is a vividly incurious suburban-style straightjohn. In defter treatments, the wesen would remind our hero of some essential quality of mankind's primal origins surrendered through the infernal bargains of civilization, but that would necessitate a hero who notices things.  

Grimm interprets the wesen as lumpen eccentrics typically embarrassed by instinctual flourishes of tooth and claw. Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), a lycanthropic blutbad thrown by circumstance into unofficial partnership with the Grimm--think of him as a cross between The Wire's snitch Bubbles and consulting detective Adrian Monk--effortlessly carries the series by delicately underplaying the role of Big Bad Wolf as that of a rock star who's retired to foodie indulgences, obsessive enthusiasms, and restless bonhomie. He is the Malkmus in winter. 

His playful, complicated take upon the limitations of twelve-step philosophy and a quite literal original sin speaks volumes more about the humanish condition than the plotlines of other creatures in the series, which are mostly four-color-retellings of Ellis-Island-era origin myths, thrice removed from the modern immigrant experience. None of it makes a lick of sense. We've no more idea of the biological underpinnings of the extended wesen family (nearly each one beholden to a different animal) than why they've all descended on Portland. 

But it's hard not to accept the idea that Portland serves as spiritual beacon for all the beasties of bygone lore. Isn't that the local consensus, anyways?

We already congratulate one another for recognizing it's different here and wax vaguely moony on the indefinable specialness of our citizenry. For Leverage, we may be just a small city. But with Grimm, just the slightest flight of fancy would make wesen out of all our native sons: Sam Adams as meercat, Tres Shannon as blue heron, Courtney Taylor as alpaca. 

The mushrooming success of unfun, hackneyed Grimm, slowly embraced by monied 18-to-49-year-olds in startling numbers--even on NBC, and even on Friday night--seems like the same dumb luck and unruffled momentum as the cultural ascension of damp, jobless Portland

We already speak of civic life as something of a fairy tale. Except here, there's no hint of narrative arc, and no clear moral lesson beyond the most important: Keep Portland only so weird as it lets the demographics stay sound. Grimm is a slow child's crayon sketchbook of Portland's peculiar bestiary. 

Each week on wweek.com, the Grimmoire will catalogue all that goes lumpen in the night.
 
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