Recap/Review: Grimm, “Bears Will Be Bears”

So, despite a great deal of things working against it – the final game of the World Series, a critical reaction ranging from indifference to distaste, an incredibly wooden leading man and overly dark atmosphere – NBC’s Grimm managed to come out of the gate with a rather respectable showing for both its network and timeslot, garnering 6.49 million viewers and a 2.1 key demo rating. And given the state of NBC it looks like the show will certainly be sticking around for a few weeks, and maybe even moving to an earlier time slot if they decide to stop showing Prime Suspect repeats.

More promising however, is that in last Friday’s installment “Bears Will Be Bears,” the show’s creative team took advantage of the gap between the first and second episode to improve on some of the pilot’s weaker aspects. In the first regular episode that lays out what the show might look like on a weekly basis, there were several promising indications that it has have higher aspirations and also might have the creativity to pull some of those off. The problems haven’t disappeared entirely, but there’s enough meat on the bones here to show it might be able to move past them.

The first, and most positive sign to me, is that Grimm is proving it has something interesting to say when it applies a modern-day context to the old fairy tales. This week’s episode borrows from the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears – as the quote opening the episode makes immediately apparent – but it manages to find an interesting modern tilt on its depiction of the monsters identified as Jägerbärs.* It turns out that the Jägerbär culture has an olden ritual of hunting humans down as a passage to manhood, and one family has decided to use a pair of home intruders as candidates to bring it back. However, one of them managed to get away, and has attracted the attention of Nick and his partner when she reports apparent acts of violence against her boyfriend.

*Please tell me that somebody else had flashbacks to college parties when the name was revealed. So many blurry State Street memories.

The reason this works so well is that rather than finding reasons to force the fairy tale connections – like the red riding hoods in the pilot – there’s some deeper motifs they’re able to touch on here. The Jägerbärs aren’t just mindless serial killers here, they’re portrayed as a people who are dealing with the loss of their culture and trying to hold onto their traditions, even if those traditions come at the expense of a few human lives. We saw a warring of old and new between the husband and wife, and young men trying to find a new identity in these rituals with Native American tattoos and ritual scarring. The connection wasn’t deep, but it also wasn’t played for stereotype, and in casting the family this way I actually found myself interested and at times legitimately unnerved.

It also helps that in moving into their weekly groove, Grimm‘s producers have been able to fine-tune some of the pilot’s rockier aspects. The overly dark visuals were certainly helped by a multitude of outdoor scenes on and around the Jägerbär family estate, which took full advantage of Portland’s natural resources. And while episode didn’t completely abandon its somewhat tongue-in-cheek references to its fairy tale backdrop – we had a female character with long gold hair and a straight-faced delivery of “Somebody’s been sleeping in our bed,” they felt more like thematic asides than hammered connections, and I actually found myself slightly amused. Special effects though? Still not very good. Bear CGI could have used some more money.

And there’s still one thing the show still hasn’t been able to fix, that being the performance of leading man David Giuntoli. I read several reviews of the pilot that compared him to Brandon Routh in Superman Returns, an unflattering comparison that so far has yet to be proven wrong. Once again, Nick remains the most uncharismatic part of the show, and his investigation of both the case and his heritage were scenes that lacked any real import. I like the fact that he’s willing to try working with the Jägerbärs as opposed to simply putting them down, and he had some better interactions with his partner Hank, but I remain concerned that he’s not going to keep up with the show’s necessary growth.

If there is a way to make him interesting, it’s certainly going to be his interactions with blutbäd Eddie, who continues to find Nick’s investigations interfering with his comfortable existence. Silas Weir Mitchell remains the most dynamic part of the cast, and he had some good material to play here, particularly as he found himself roped into protecting Aunt Marie and letting his bestial side out in that defense.* With Marie now finally succumbing to her cancer, Nick will certainly be leaning on Eddie more and more for context of Grimm‘s monstrosities, and if Eddie finally starts to push back and call in the favors he’s owed (at least four by episode’s end) it would be a good direction for the show to go.

*The funniest moment of the episode was certainly his reaction after ripping off an assailant’s arm and admitting that things had probably gone to far. Poor Eddie – all he wants to do is be left alone with his Pilates and clock assembly.

And I’m surprisingly confident that the show could go in that direction, because this installment of Grimm helped convince me that I wasn’t crazy to find the first episode better than advertised. There remains potential for the material and setting they’ve chosen to cover, and “Bears Will Be Bears” was proof that they’re at least interested in taking it in the direction I think it should go. I’m still not sure I’d call it a good show, but it’s definitely earned an upgrade from “show I watch out of sense of obligation” to “show where I legitimately want to see what happens next.”

Other Thoughts:

  • Some faint stirring on the long-term plot of the show this week, as it’s made clear that Nick’s commanding officer is in league with the “Reapers” who are trained as the Grimm hunters. Next week looks like it’ll have a stronger connection as the mysterious ghoul-faced blondewho’s been hunting him has an actual conversation with him in previews.
  • This Week in Who’s That Guy?: The patriarch of the bear family was played by Currie Graham, who has been on many shows over the years but who I’ll always remember as Stacy’s husband Mark on season two of House.
  • This Week in Portland: The aforementioned forest shots were very distinctive, plus a recognizable shot of the city hall as Hank leaves the station and an obvious product placement for legendary Portland bakery Voodoo Doughnuts. (If you ever manage to make it there, get the Maple Bacon Bar – it’s a doughnut that earns a place on the Swanson Pyramid of Greatness.)
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About Les Chappell

The Mad Hatter of media criticism. Co-founder of This Was Television, contributor to The A.V. Club, founder of A Helpless Compiler and The Lesser of Two Equals.
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