A Mixed Bag Of Fairytale Thrills
When Tell Me A Story’s trailer dropped several months ago, its intriguing premise promised a gritty drama rife with excitement and thrills. The imaginative concept of reinventing beloved fairy tales as psychological thrillers in a modern day setting is something creator Kevin Williamson promises to deliver in this 10 episode serialised drama on CBS. So how does the pilot episode hold up? Okay, if we’re being honest. There’s nothing particularly outstanding but at the same time there’s nothing overly terrible with it either. Pitfalls with the overall narrative and character work aside, Tell Me A Story’s first episode does a good job establishing a frustrated world rife with civil unrest for these three stories to play out in.
With the potential for more seasons to follow, the first season begins with 3 separate storylines running parallel to one another. The first is an adaptation of The Three Little Pigs that sees three men preparing for a bank robbery complete with pig masks and a serious grudge against the system. There’s a powerful anti-Trump agenda here, one that commentates on mass shootings and the current political climate in America, playing into the protests and pig theme that runs heavily through this story. Ordinarily, this sort of politically charged agenda would be enough to completely overpower the narrative however a bit of leeway can be granted, especially considering this is the only plot it shows up in.
This civil unrest across New York acts as a dangerous playground for married couple Jordan (James Wolk) and Beth who can’t quite see eye to eye on where they both see their future going. Jordan wants to get married and have kids while Beth laments the pressure put on her, unwilling to bring a child into a world full of terrorism and mass shootings. Things inevitably go awry late on in the episode as the couple find themselves caught in the middle of a robbery during the climactic final scenes.
The second storyline is an adaptation of Jack and the Beanstalk, one that sees exotic dancer Gabe (Davi Santos) reunite with his sister Hannah (Dania Ramirez) through the worst possible circumstances. Falling behind on the rent, Gabe takes a random man back to a hotel room with the intention of stealing his money. Things don’t go to plan and the ensuing scuffle results in him turning to his sister for help. This story is left wide open, with the pair leaving the room together in the final moments of this plot.
The third and final story sees Little Red Riding Hood adapted, with not-so-sweet teenager Kayla (Danielle Campbell) moving to her grandmother’s house and becoming entangled in a lustful encounter with a mysterious stranger at a nightclub. This inevitably spills into her school life and leaves many questions unanswered for where this may go in the future with plenty of nods to the fairytale including the iconic red coat.
The 50 minute run-time for each episode seems like a smart move here too, one that helps all three story lines evolve on their own whilst playing into the overall thematic structure of the show. It’ll be interesting to see if these stories converge and spill into one another’s narratives in the episodes to come but for the time being, the three stories remain separate to one another, perhaps for the benefit of the show, used as crucial time to flesh out each of the key characters.
Already there’s a consistent motif with each storyline, playing on various emotional states including loss, revenge, lust and deceit that bodes a very interesting prospect going forward. While some of the characters are difficult to empathise with – especially the privileged Kayla – it’s still too early to see whether this is just early season rust or a consistent blemish on the season.
While there are a fair share of positive and negative moments in this pilot episode, for the most part Tell Me A Story does well to leave you hanging on for more. It helps too that the final few scenes show a preview of what’s to come in future episodes with the promise of all three storylines ramping up the action and thrills. Whether Tell Me A Story can live up to its high expectations remains to be seen but there’s enough here to leave that prospect a very interesting notion indeed.