Sunday, 28 February 2016

Grimm: how a bad show becomes better

My latest TV obsession, beyond the CW's Arrow and Flash, and my rewatch of Batman: the Animated Series, has been NBC's supernatural cop show, Grimm. Not too long ago I'd have put it down as a guilty pleasure, something schlocky but fun, but over the course of four full seasons, and a fifth season in progress, it's turned into a pretty decent show.

The premise is of a Portland cop who discovers that he can see monsters from out of legend, and that he has the power to hunt them. I kind of need to talk about what happens at various points, so consider this your spoiler warning:

It's always fun to dust this picture off, btw.

When it started, Grimm was, as I said, just a bit schlocky - Nick Burckhardt, the hero, is essentially a super-hero who fights enemies with bizarre (and mispronounced) German names - for instance, werewolves are known as "Blutbaden", which translates to bloodbath. Over time he draws more and more characters into his secret world, from his partner Hank, to his Blutbad friend Monroe and finally his girlfriend, Juliette.

Juliette, unfortunately, was a character that they didn't know what to do with, almost from the very start, and so she would get saddled with some pretty dumb storylines. One example is the beginning of the second season, where she's placed under a spell in which she doesn't remember Nick, and is madly in love with his boss, Sean Renard, into the bargain.

And yet, when they decided to turn her into a Hexenbiest in Season 4, that quickly became the show's high point, as everybody's shocked reactions to her new powers quickly pushed her toward the dark side. I was left totally holy-shitted at the end of the season, where she goes so evil that she causes the death of Nick's mom and then gets killed herself.

She now seems to be back, because in superhero stories death is never the end, but what I love is that all of it, from her evil-ness to her death and her re-emergence working for a secret organization, feels organic. Not only was she given an incredible level of power, but the fact that the people around her, including her fiance, quickly became afraid of her, felt like the most logical choices to take her story.

I mean, ignoring the facts of how she got her powers, which is a little bit ridiculously complicated, but let's move on...

I suppose what I find fascinating about the show is that it started out, as I said, little more than a guilty pleasure. A bunch of storylines failed to go anywhere over the course of the first few seasons, characters have changed sides more times than I can count, but somehow, the creators still managed to pull it all together into something that I don't feel I have to hide anymore.

For a show to start out bad and then turn good isn't so atypical, but what's remarkable is that Grimm has managed to do it at the end of its fourth season. Star Trek: the Next Generation, for example, didn't get good until its third season, while the Big Bang Theory only hit its stride in Season 2 (and now is pretty bad again).

The other interesting thing about Grimm is, as of Season 4 it was NBC's second-longest running drama, after Law & Order: SVU. Clearly it was doing just well enough in its time slot for NBC to keep it going, and that consistency has allowed its writers to figure out its strengths.

Which is, I suppose, yet another example of why consistency is so important, whether in physical pursuits or creative ones. I just hope that Grimm can maintain this streak of quality long enough to take the show in for a dignified landing, unlike (for example) the X-Files, which dropped off pretty sharply in quality around its sixth season.

But I think that even if Grimm does drop off again, I'll still be able to come back for the bad German pronunciations and the laughable CGI. Not everything can be Mr. Robot, can it?