I want to apologize in advance for beating up on NBC’s Grimm a bit in the following review for being the straw that broke the camel’s back with this kind of thing. “This kind of thing” being these legacy hero shows and movies which have cropped up in the years since Buffy went off the air without really figuring out what to do when a modern, everyman (or woman) character is thrust into extraordinary circumstances.
But let me back up lay out the premise for Grimm and try to work out how it really only offers what we’ve seen before, only more awkwardly by way of supernatural procedural.
The Portland-based series follows homicide detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli, could be Brandon Routh’s twin), who discovers from his ailing aunt that he’s actually a Grimm, which is in turn a long line of monster hunters. They just happen to get their name from the German storytellers who were able to see and pass on knowledge about the everyday monsters living alongside us.
The procedural aspects of the show are a little rocky: essentially, instead of splitting Nick’s time hunting Wesen or dealing with Wesen issues, it folds all of that right into his job (this week’s case: a wolf-man serial killer, this week: murderous bee people), so it doesn’t feel like Nick’s life is changed as drastically as the premise would probably dictate. Disappointingly, there’s almost always a very straight line between Nick’s cases and something supernatural, without forcing his character to choose between his job/normal life with his girlfriend Julie (Bitsie Tulloch) and his supernatural side gig.
Now this comes down to my central issue with Grimm and something that crops up in this kind of fantasy fiction from time to time that just bugs me like crazy. First, though, I’d love if you checked out this piece on the superhero and motivation from Tim O’Neil. If you didn’t read it (and it’s really worth checking out), O’Neil’s premise as it relates to the cape set was that the best superhero motivations have typically been the simplest (i.e. “Batman hates crime,” or “Superman needs to help people.”).
That’s relevant here because I’m not really ever sure why Nick is motivated at all to bother with all of the supernatural business around him or, better yet, out the whole mess to his partner and any receptive party* and let things shake out. I mean, he’s a nice guy and a decent cop, but we don’t really have any strong stakes to pull him into it. We learn that his parents were killed by Wessen, but it’s a mystery that kind of fades into the background as well as a long-percolating conspiracy involving his boss, Captain Renard (Sasha Roiz).
So what is it about Nick that makes him the perfect Grimm (or at least the perfect person to watch trying to be a Grimm)? Outside of the low-stakes central mysteries at the heart of the series (seriously, what is the bad thing that will happen if Nick doesn’t find out what the Captain is up to), there’s not a lot motivating the overall story. I guess it’s a quest for answers, but Nick’s never really been established as a character who needs to answer big questions. He’s not a Sherlock Holmes, driven to solve mysteries because he’s the smartest guy in the room, and there’s no clear single-line explanation for why he’s needed in this role.
And I kind of feel like Nick’s not quite the main character or the one we should be following. That would be Monroe, who’s whole thing is that he’s trying to straddle the line between being a normal man and keeping his beastly side under wraps. Mitchell’s character has a clear conflict, living in two worlds while trying his best to not alienate other Wessen while also semi-reluctantly helping Nick each week.
I don’t know what pushes Nick and it’s hard to stick with the series which counts among its many issues some weak CG effects (please just go practical when you can VFX teams), and a fairly rote structure. By season’s end, we know that there’s an ominous conspiracy going on in the background and that characters we thought were dead might not be as dead as we thought. And for all of the well-executed moments** and Giuntoli’s earnest performance, this trajectory for the show and the vagueness of his character is kind of dispiriting.
The set includes a handful of deleted and extended scenes along with “The World of Grimm” feature which details some of the inspiration for the series. FX buffs might get a kick out of the “Grimm: Making Monsters” featurette, and there’s also audition videos with some of the series’ cast.
I will say the whole set is handsomely packaged in a nice gatefold case. Each of the discs is tucked snugly into their little compartments and as you fold it out, you can read the episode listings and descriptions. Plus, there’s a handy glossary on the “pages” opposite the episode guides detailing some of the German terminology used on the show and their roots.
*Nick does make an attempt to tell his girlfriend but it’s more of a crisis moment thing to save her life.
** One episode genuinely had one of the funniest lines I’ve heard in a while in “a barefoot man carrying a wolf.”
Grimm: Season One is available now on DVD and Blu-ray from Universal Home Entertainment. Season two begins Monday, August 13th on NBC.