Over the past couple weeks, much has been made of the sorry state of NBC’s comedy brand. Its low-rated critical darlings are either laid to rest or fled to Yahoo!, its freshman and sophomore comedies receive such miniscule ratings it’s a legitimate question week to week if they’re still on the air, and its newest offering debuted to such scathing reviews no one can honestly expect it to be the first step in a resurrection. On the drama side though, NBC has been doing surprisingly well for itself in recent years, consolidating its position thanks to the success of The Blacklist and the Chicago franchise. (It also happens to air TV’s best drama in Hannibal, but that’s less a sign of success than a happy coincidence.)
When you take a look at NBC’s drama roster though, an interesting bit of trivia comes up. Law And Order: SVU is far and away their longest running drama with 16 seasons and counting, but its second longest running drama is more than a little surprising: Grimm. Against all odds Grimm has thrived in its Friday evening home, managing to hold the night and deliver acceptable ratings even as other genre efforts—Dracula, Crossbones, Constantine—failed to gain traction and died on the same night. It’s outlasted shows touted as NBC’s next big thing like Smash and Revolution and it shows no signs of flagging, with a fifth season renewal meaning it’ll reach the milestone of 100 episodes. Not bad for a show whose pilot episode earned criticisms like “The scares don’t really work,” “execution is pedestrian at best,” and “there’s not much life to the show itself.”
So how has Grimm managed to last as long as it has, low standards for Friday ratings aside? The simple answer is that the show is good at what it does. While it’s a mess when it comes to overarching mythology—royals, resistance, and Wesen Council all so tangled keeping the show’s wiki open is a necessity—Grimm delivers competent, atmospheric genre fare that knows how to reward long-time viewers. It’s a show that figured out its strengths in the early going and is able to play to those strengths, and the fact that the core cast has been with for its entire run means it’s retained a striking amount of consistency. True, it’s probably never going to reach the heights of creator David Greenwalt’s last show Angel, but there’s nothing wrong with a show finding a comfortable life as a network utility player.
“Bad Luck,” the show’s return after a month-long hiatus, is an episode that is representative of the groove that Grimm has found itself in. The episode is largely a monster-of-the-week affair, in this case establishing the barbaric tradition that the left feet of a rabbit-like Wesen called Villeharra are considered potent symbols of luck and fertility. A hunter is doing good business marketing to desperate couples looking to conceive, farming a Villeharra family whenever he gets a new client. For an episode that’s got an innately silly idea behind it, there’s some genuinely good horror beats it gets—particularly early on, when the combination of axe-wielding murderer and teenager in letter jacket recreates the slasher movie beats and does so without being campy.
Speaking of Grimm’s pilot, it’s easy to see a few parallels between the two here, as both revolve around a uniquely fixated hunter and his cabin in the woods. The clear difference here, however, is that most everything in “Bad Luck” is executed far better than anything in the early episodes of Grimm. Horror and action aside, the plot has some interesting elements of darkness to it, going to a vein the show’s explored in such episodes as “Once We Were Gods” and “Endangered.” The way that some Wesen are exploited for their unique abilities—even by their own Wesen—is one of the better aspects that the show has developed over the years, and the ideas of infertility touched on here make the buyers a lot more sympathetic than if they were simply collecting trophies or relics. Yes, the couple are essentially trading one life for another, but the episode doesn’t demonize them and they even get a moment of sympathy when they’re faced with the loss of the foot and a report to the Wesen Council.
And while the case itself is largely unconnected to anything else that’s going on in Grimm’s big picture, it does manage to get good use out of the majority of the main cast. The best part of the whole sequence is when Monroe and Rosalee go undercover to smoke out the hunter’s middleman, which is more proof that Silas Weir Mitchell and Bree Turner continue to be the best pairing on the show. (Turner in particular is terrific this episode, between her passion for putting a stop to this practice and the punch she throws to take out the woged clinic nurse.) And the decision to bring Wu into the know about the Wesen universe remains the right choice, as he brings a new level of energy to Nick and Hank’s investigation and helps them along much better when he’s not being given only half the story.
On the mythology front, “Bad Luck” wastes no time by getting into the dramatic reveal from the last episode, where Juliette revealed her new nature as a Hexenbiest. Grimm has often struggled with finding something for Juliette to do—the less said about the disastrous amnesia plot of season two the better—and this new direction over the last few episodes is most promising story in years. It’s been fun watching her finally be capable of kicking some ass, be it stabbing a manticore with his own tail or fighting rival Hexenbiest Adalind to a draw in a magical brawl. Not that anyone needs to have special abilities to matter in this universe—Hank and Wu have acquitted themselves well over the years—but giving Juliette these abilities gives her a sorely needed sense of direction.
More to the point, it injects some legitimate drama into her relationship with Nick. Between the fact that this whole transformation came as a result of Nick trying to get his powers back, and Nick’s history with Hexenbiests, this is the most serious wedge to come between the two. And “Bad Luck” smartly doesn’t support any conjecture it may be a temporary one, dismissing the idea that his blood might solve the problem immediately. (An important distinction to make, given how much his ability to take away a Hexenbiest’s powers took over one character’s entire arc.) This isn’t a rough patch for them, this is one of those insurmountable differences that can kill relationships, and both David Giuntoli and Bitsie Tulloch are as raw in these moments as they’ve ever been. Best illustration of that: Juliette woges our right in his face and challenges every one of his assurances that they’ll figure something out. “If I’m the girl of your dreams, the least you can do is kiss me.” This is a serious status quo shift, and credit to the writers for treating it with as much seriousness as they are.
It’s certainly worlds better than whatever’s going on with Adalind at the moment. Way back in season two it seemed like Adalind was being positioned as a central antagonist for Team Grimm, and since then she’s ricocheted across the entire scope of the show. She’s always involved in some quest to get something back, be it her powers or her baby, and the nonstop pursuit of these goals strips away any of her motivations beyond said pursuit. (It also doesn’t help that it frequently sends her to Europe, scenes that may as well place her on a different show from everyone else.) Her latest efforts to get close to Renard make sense from a tactical standpoint, but the character’s motivations have changed so many times her feelings for Renard or lack thereof are inscrutable.
More worrisome is that despite it not working out so well the first time, the writers have gone right back to the pregnancy well with Adalind and placed Nick’s bun in her oven. While the reveal has many ramifications to the Grimm story as a whole—furthering the twisted connection between Nick and Adalind, creating future friction between Nick and Renard as fellow baby-daddies, adding a nice ironic twist to the idea of fertility at the episode’s center—the fact that this is the only thing they have to do with the character is distressing. Claire Coffee’s real-life pregnancy may have forced their hand, but Bree Turner went through the same thing in season two and they were able to deflect it by shipping Rosalee out of town for a few weeks. This show doesn’t need another baby plot on top of everything else, and Adalind’s scream of frustration in the closing scene neatly echoes my own.
But to expect Grimm not to go down a problematic rabbit hole (pun intended) is to expect something different of it at this point in its life. For better or worse Grimm is what it is, and it’s survived this long through a multitude of stories—amnesia plots, problematic apprentices, those damned magic Greek coins—that it’s proven an ability to work with what it has. “Bad Luck” has its problems but they’re problems the show has always had, and once again it proves that Grimm’s best point of consistency is that the things it does well outweigh those problems.
- We’re back! Enough of you missed our regular coverage after season three ended that Grimm’s returning to the weekly rotation. I’m excited to take over the beat after filling in a few times, and hope I can continue the quality Kevin McFarland established with his reviews.
- This Week In Portland: Renard evidently enjoys breakfast at the Stepping Stone on NW Quimby. It doesn’t seem like the well-off and cultured Renard’s kind of place, but they do make some amazing banana nut bread french toast.
- Grimm has largely abandoned the need to connect its epigram quotes to specific myths, illustrated by the fact that this week’s comes from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
- Wu’s raw enthusiasm for studying Wesen culture is turning into a bit of a fanboy-style obsession, which could push too far if it’s left unchecked. At least he still maintains his penchant for great lines: “I’ll hop right on it. … I tried to stop myself from saying it, sorry.”
- The lingering shot on the mom’s foot getting out of the car and seeming to stumble makes me think there was originally an element that she’d survived one of these bloody hunts herself, and it had to be cut (no pun intended) for time.
- So, the rabbit Wesen is named Peter. That’s so on the nose it should deviate the septum.
- “…and, I quote, ‘a really big-ass axe.’”