Portland police detective Nick Burkhardt is seeing some very strange -- and frightening -- sights these days, and not just because he and his partner Hank Griffin have just returned from the scene of a young woman's gruesome murder inside a wooded city park. Faces of certain strangers who cross his line of sight are warping into monstrosities, then back to normal. A visit from a long-lost loved one fills him in as to why: he's part of a long line of Grimms -- people who have the ability to see the very real beasts that most think are merely figments of overactive imaginations.
That's the scenario which opens NBC's new fantasy-thriller "Grimm," airing Fridays at 8 p.m. The show, from writers David Greenwalt ("Angel," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") and Jim Kouf ("National Treasure"), aims to put a fairy-tale spin on the crime procedural, and for the most part works as a dark, atmospheric thriller. Unlike ABC's much lighter "Once Upon a Time," which splits its time between real and storybook universes, "Grimm" keeps both feet firmly in the modern world.
Those feet, however, are kind of heavy -- and so are the show's hands. Clearly, the people behind "Grimm" don't want their cross-pollinated drama to be seen as a campy, tossed-off lark. Unfortunately, at least in the pilot, that work translates into a program that far too frequently forgets to be fun. There's a surprising amount of queasy, quickly-cut violence in this first show, as well as a general sense of dread that hangs over the proceedings.
It doesn't help that the Burkhardt, played by David Giuntoli, is a rather bland creation to put at the center of the show. From his Clark Kent haircut to his flat, colorless dialogue, you don't get the sense that he's anything special; maybe that's the intent of the show (average guy has remarkable but untapped abilities), but he's not being helped by having much more interesting characters surrounding him.
Case in point: Silas Weir Mitchell's Eddie, who is introduced as a suspect in the disappearance of a young girl in the same park where the murder occurred. His face morphs while Burkhardt is watching him, too, so the detective puts him under surveillance.
While Burkhardt is sneaking around outside Eddie's house, the suspect turns the tables on the cop, but only to invite him in for a beer and confirm his own suspicions that the lawman is indeed one of the fabled Grimms. Eddie is able to clear his own name, admitting that he's a blutbad -- also known as a Big Bad Wolf -- but he's working hard not to be one. With Eddie's help, Burkhardt is able to track down the real killer, a fellow blutbad, who also happens to be the young girl's kidnapper as well.
Mitchell's entrance into the show gives the show a welcome lift, with an energy and sense of humor the show's earlier scenes lack. Hopefully, the writers will find a way to spread that around to the rest of the cast and allow that to spill into the storylines. I get that the show's called "Grimm," but it doesn't need to actually be grim, too.
Overall, though, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it. "Grimm" might not be the breezy romp through the fantastic some might prefer, but as a spin on a well-worn TV crime show formula, it mostly succeeds. Three stars (out of four).