Things I learned about TV while binge watching Once Upon a Time

I’ll be the first to admit that I am prone to binge watching shows. That being said, I am also prone to getting bored by binge watching a show. It has happened with multiple shows now from Scandal to Charmed to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I start to watch the show and then, a few seasons in, I just can’t stand it anymore and I stop. So I can confidently say, that there haven’t been many shows that have truly held my interest all through the binging process. However, Once Upon a Time is one of them.

Which is why I decided to do a reflections article on what I have learned about TV shows and TV watching in general from binging Once Upon a Time since it is among the rare shows that managed to keep me interested and engaged all though it’s 5 and a half seasons. And, since the season 6 spring premiere is this Sunday, March 5, I thought that this would be the perfect time for an article like this.

Engaging storytelling

I think, one of the reasons why I have kept with binging Once Upon a Time is because of the fantastic storytelling of the show. Granted, Once Upon a Time is based on fairy tale, book and movie characters, so there are plenty of stories to go around but what the show’s writers have done is they have dared to change these characters. They have not only adapted them so they would be more realistic and humane but they have also made them much more worldly beings.

Snow White is not the damsel in distress she was in the fairy tale rather she is a fighter, a bad-ass woman, and a heroine. The Evil Queen isn’t just pure evil, she has layers and has even morphed from the villain into one of the heroes. Prince Charming is actually a simple shepherd turned hero, who is man enough to let his wife lead their people because he knows she is better at it. The list goes on.

So instead of making Once Upon a Time a simple fairytale show of good fighting the evil, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz along with all other writers have managed to turn it into the realest possible portrayal of human nature, while still keeping the magic in it. And that is a skill that is not only useful in creating a TV show, but in any form of personal expression. Because, really, the world is made up of people, events, and stories, you just have to find an engaging way to tell about them, and you will succeed.

Stick to a structure but change it up once in a while, too

Another thing that has become quite clear to me while binging Once Upon a Time over the last month and a half is that structure is important, but you also have to change it up. Like many shows, OUAT has developed its own episode and season structure.

Episodically, it usually has a calmer start, then our heroes are faced with a problem (or three), then there are a few complications along the way and in the end, there is at least partial solution to the problem that was driving this single episode, not the overall story. But seasonally, each season is usually broken into two volumes with almost separate yet totally connected story lines. And, Once Upon a Time is also known for its nonlinear narrative, where often multiple stories at different time periods are playing out over the course of one episode.

All this together creates a very wide variety of ways how the writers can tell their stories. And on Once Upon a Time, they usually aren’t afraid to use this variety. There have been many instances over the course of watching 5 seasons of this show, where I expected the next episode to be similar to the previous one, but then the structure changes and I as a viewer have to adjust again. And that isn’t a bad thing! On the contrary, it probably is one of the main things that has kept me interested in this show and that keeps me from getting bored. So as important as tried and true structure is to storytelling, especially in a TV show format, you have to dare to switch it up. Otherwise, the audience will get bored.

Non-procedurals like Once Upon a Time are way easier to binge

Lastly, I have come to understand, that shows that aren’t procedurals are so much easier to binge-watch. I love my procedurals from crime shows like NCIS to first responder dramas like Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., and Chicago Med. But when it comes to picking a show to binge watch, I’d say go for one that is not strictly a procedural.

Of course, all TV shows including Once Upon a Time have their procedural elements. However, Once Upon a Time isn’t a show that bases its strengths on the procedural structure. Once Upon a Time’s strength is in the season or half-season long story-lines and character building. It is what this show is known for and it is also what has kept me watching OUAT episode after episode.

Procedurals are great weeknight entertainment because with them you don’t necessarily have to have seen each episode to understand what is happening. You can just turn on the TV, sit back and watch how people solve cases. But with Once Upon a Time, I doubt I would be half as into it or intrigued by it if I started to watch it say from the middle of season 6.

I just wouldn’t understand why there are two Reginas, why this blond girl is seeing visions and why there are characters like The Count of Monte Cristo or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on a show that is advertised as being one about fairytale characters. So if you are looking for a show to binge watch, especially if you will be spending days watching that one show, I’d say, don’t go for a procedural. Sooner or later the repeating structure and the fragmented storylines will get to you and you will start to enjoy your show less.

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