Well into its fifth year of filming around town, Grimm has pleasantly settled into the scenery. Its stars appeared together for a Portland Center Stage production this summer. Old Town Brewing was allowed to market a Wesen Weizen for charity. And, much as interminable location shoots disrupt routines, an implicit social contract rewards occasional difficulties parking around home or office with a glimpse of the familiar rendered breathtaking. All things considered, given a premise positing puddletown as dampened abattoir crawling with nightmare-fueling beasties of mythic lore, Grimm's a surprisingly effective advertisement for the old backyard.
Where Portlandia zooms-in on the roiling cabin fever of summer camp sprawl, Grimm pulls back to reveal an impeccably-forested subdivision. All condos are green, all offices built from reclaimed-timber, and the seediest underworld shanties lean into a technicolor wink. Accompanying a show technically borne upon hamfisted stabs at horror, you might rightly assume the arboreal splendor some sort of strategic counterpoint, but Grimm's supple visuals prove ends to themselves. After an episode or three, even the sudden bursts of manimal attacks midst tranquil climes take on a pleasant rhythm. The lushness soothes. The pace comforts. You can't see the furries for the trees.
For a show so thoroughly enmeshed within a decidedly upscale and middlebrow shade of local color, it's always a small surprise to remember that Grimm is watched by people outside of Portland – even, perhaps, people not planning an imminent move to Portland, should they still exist – but the program will soon pass its hundredth episode, which is a milestone for any series these days and nothing short of miraculous for its beleaguered network. Trailing just venerable warhorse Law & Order SVU, Grimm has become NBC's second longest-running primetime drama, and the pairing feels instructive.
After all, as a detective in the Portland Police Department, Nick Burhardt (David Giuntoli) spends most episodes solving crimes. And, as late-life beneficiary of ancestral powers that pierce the illusion of humanity cloaking the bestial half-lings known as wesen, the "Grimm" learns most victims (and near all assailants) are something beyond special. Captain Renard dismisses the extraordinary correlation of creature-on-creature violence within Nick's cases as happenstance – "most crime in most places is wesen related" – but the efforts to shoehorn a monster-of-the-week inside Nick's work also reflects an essential discomfort with the usual trappings of fantasy television.
Despite the dribs and drabs of an overarching mythology squeezed out with an aching reluctance, we're no closer to learning the true motives of a nefarious royal plot than midway through the first season. They've yet to name six of the seven ruling houses nor explain why mystical old world elites converge in the Austrian capital – our evil Grimm-verse sister-city, where tortes presumably arrive in chartreuse boxes and carriage stickers read Save Vienna Propriety. Each time another arch-duke's tortuously introduced, you imagine the show-runners staring dolefully at their counterparts in NBC longevity and wondering why L&O godhead Dick Wolf (a perfectly Grimm name, should be said) isn't forced to lay hints of some Buenos Aries cabal behind all Manhattan sex crimes.
While Grimm exploits the shapes and textures of a procedural – the repetitive pacing, uncomplicated morality, oddly-comforting frisson of savagery dependably punished – its inherent unreality won't readily allow the sort of forensic escapades or judicial minutiae otherwise padding space in traditional cop shows. On those rare occasions the nods to horror actually, y'know, frighten, a talented crew accomplishes a damnably credible job of mustering fear from a succession of wesen whose names all seem mispronunciations of Touareg or Barenjager. Still, fanciful scares don't come cheap. And, with a limited budget for creature features (or desire for intensely-plotted story arcs), the series had little choice but to deepen focus upon characters that were likely never intended to endure such narrative scrutiny.
However reliant upon the activities of our titular Grimm, the show itself couldn't possibly have survived without the sparkling presence of Monroe – as close as our titular hero comes to a friend and his fiercest booster among the animalistic set. Cheerful, diligent, easily excitable yet quickly cowed, Silas Weir Mitchell plays the declawed wolfman as a hyper-intelligent canine, which may well be the only effective reading of dialogue so heavily-dependent on pointless ("Somebody threw a brick!") exposition.
Last season, the series neatly rewarded Monroe's faithful service by marrying off the foxhound to adorable were-vixen Rosalee (Bree Turner) and even throwing the couple an independent storyline, but their fight against wesen-purity zealots failed for reasons beyond the thickly-laden, racially-troubling metaphor comparing human miscegenation with a literal love between species. Twas grand to watch Mitchell extend his range beyond nebbish, but the pair's brief empowerment (and continually-postponed honeymoon) only emphasized how desperately their lives revolve around blind fealty.
Likewise, police honcho and black sheep royal Sean Renard began the season dead and spent the last few episodes possessed by Jack The Ripper, but he'd little to do in between but daub real/imagined blood while hearing plot recaps. The only memorable moments left to Partner Hank concerned an ill-fated rumbling through the Native American spirit world seemingly stolen from the Simpsons' peyote trip.
Tasked with the thankless role of police stooge forever mystified by metaphysical abnormalities his partners fail to explain, poor Sgt. Wu—Sgt. Drew Wu, we'd newly discover—had wrung every possible variation from the one comic-relief note granted his character. Bringing him into the fold felt like a long overdue kindness, but, once told about witchcraft, what use Mrs. Kravitz? Moreover, this only further clogged the sudden glut of supporting players whose lives have been winnowed to devoted service of the Grimm. And the Grimm, truth be told, is kind of a dick.
To a certain extent, Nick's personality makes sense, given the series' ponderous tone and preposterous premise. His dogged pursuit of easy answers and absolute disinterest in larger questions probably would fuel a successful career in metropolitan law enforcement. (plus, y'know, anyone less defiantly shallow would've likely gone bonkers the first sight of walking badgers) We're not lately used to protagonists so utterly devoid of irony – Buried leads? Boiled detectives? Anti-anti-heroes? – but the first generation of crime procedurals revolved around similarly stiffened shirts defined by their lack of curiosity.
Of course, those qualities fit the manful gravitas of lumpen, aging post-war TV stars like Jack Webb or Broderick Crawford rather more comfortably than Giuntoli, who best resembles a virtual body model for downmarket athletic wear. More importantly, Dragnet and Highway Patrol minimized characters' emotional investment and barely acknowledged their' existence off duty. While an absence of empathy and ennobled singlemindedness may not be hindrances on the job, they must be hell from across the breakfast table.
Even by the standards of a fantasy genre long the bête noire of Women's Studies' courses, Nick's paramour Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch) has had a rough few years. Kept in the dark about her boyfriend's newfound status for far too long, Juliette suffered through kidnappings, an extended coma, the theft of her memories, and one act of transcendent ickiness after recurrent adversary Adalind borrowed her appearance for an intimate evening with her sweetheart. When a spell sapped Nick of his powers at season's start, she couldn't be blamed for a certain relief at the prospect of resuming some semblance of normalcy. Since the only apparent cure involved Juliette bedding Nick while disguised as Adalind, she had every reason in the world to refuse.
When Juliette did eventually agree to help along the ritual that returned her bf's Grimmness, an unexpected side effect forever cursed her with a hexenbiest's witchy abilities and putrefied features. Still pained by searing headaches from the transformation, half-mad from seeing her own reflection, Juliette sought help from a beloved life partner. And, Nick, ever the charmer, took one look at her decaying-corpse visage before fleeing in disgust, demanding time to think.
Need we describe the ensuing reign of terror of a woman scorned? You've seen this story arc, yes? A wallflower suddenly come into her own grows drunk with power and rampages until tragically learning the evils of willful agency? Nearing the climactic struggle, all seemed laid out according to the "Dark Willow" blueprint of the show-runners' Buffy tutelage, but, just when the strings of redemption should first flutter, Juliette arrived home bearing the freshly-decapitated head of Nick's mom.
After learning from the evil Viennese nobleman du jour that Nick and Adalind's coupling bore fruit, Juliette stole the love child and severed her relationship with a flourish no forthcoming twists could erase. Battles were engaged, the child reclaimed, and a beaten Juliette had little choice but to beg Nick for a swift death. And, Nick, the least lovable man who ever was, refused. The killing shot went to the crossbow of (heretofore purposeless) teen Grimm-in-waiting Trubel as Juliette began another attack, denied even that moment of grace seemingly guaranteed all genre heroines broken bad.
This is not, to be clear, good storytelling, and the subtext couldn't read more drearily misogynist. It felt, though, weirdly alive. It felt, in ways unimaginable just episodes before, real. Hokey and trashy and desperate, yes, but within hailing distance of the flesh and blood world on the other side of the screen. For a series blithely defiant of internal coherency, Grimm so often seems constrained by rules of its own making, and, much more than seems fair, loosing the shackles thrilled.
The show has always kept true horror at a remove. However disturbing the appearance of some monsters-of-the-week, most wesen end up background spectacle or limp giggles, and splitting the distance between Roger Rabbit and Roger Corman flatters neither. The season finale proved so effective precisely because the nightmarish vision needed nothing more than a touch of the mundane.
Like many TV programs – less so than Hannibal, more than Grey's Anatomy – Grimm was loosely based upon a influential series of books never actually read these days by anyone but creeps and grad students. Somehow, though, the source volumes always turn out to be far more macabre than their airbrushed adaptations would suggest, and the Brothers Grimm brand endures precisely because of the messy fatalism seeping through. Conflating fairy tales with modern television doesn't quite fit since the original yarns were built around threats no longer bothering modern audiences, but the intent remains the same. Folklore thrived by picking away at the all-too tangible dread now propelling prime time. While the big bad wolf may be tamed, the black forest paved over, we still don't want no fucking drama, and evil stepmothers are forever.
See it: Grimm season 4 is on Amazon Prime Instant Video.