Happily Ever After: How Modern Television is Embracing Fantasy

The other night I was watching a show that I’ve been watching for a few years. This was happening: Snow White and Prince Charming are working with the Evil Queen and Rumpelstiltskin on the island of Neverland to fight off Peter Pan, Rumple’s father, who was holding Henry, the son of Emma (Snow White and Prince Charming’s daughter) and Bae (Rumple’s son), captive while discussing a love triangle between Emma, Bae, and Captain Hook, while Belle, Rumple’s girlfriend, sits back at home saving their town of Storybrooke with Ariel.

This was all happening in an episode of Once Upon a Time. It was like fairytales on crack. They were taking every ounce of what you thought you knew and turned it upside down and while adding a hint of modern day sexuality. And it’s working.

Fairytales are just the small part of this fantasy craze right now. These ideas of what we could be if we were more than human used to be something you found on a television sci-fi movie. Now, they are everywhere. From Game of Thrones to Once Upon a Time, these shows fill the small screen. This fall, NBC released Dracula, ABC released Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, a spin-off of Once Upon a Time, and Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. based off the Marvel universe. Fox premiered their first season of Sleepy Hollow and their new series, Almost Human, just aired in November. The list keeps going. With the exception of Once Upon a Time, most of these series are just starting out and are proving that this trend is not going anywhere.

Why do we like these stories? It’s the same reason why people tell stories and flock to Disney World. We like to see what it’s like for our dreams to come true and what it might feel like to be more than human. We’ve seen enough detective shows and medical dramas that devoted audience members can probably write their own script for them at their kitchen table. We’ve seen the drama and, to a certain extent, it’s the same on every channel. What lead procedural drama character hasn’t been shot? It’s a common story line. And it falls into almost every show. It’s the characters that keep us coming back.

Now, what would it be like if those characters could fly, could travel time, could use magic, or even come back from the dead? What happens when we’re watching a show and a solution includes using a spell to defeat a curse that was put over your entire town? It opens up the realm of possibilities if it’s done right.

Audiences are proving that they want different and they want it now. Not necessarily beginning with Game of Thrones, but when the HBO series aired in 2011, it became a sensation. Suddenly people were gathering to watch kingdoms fight and a woman use dragons as her weapon. And, with the Red Wedding this past season, it proved that it could bring these audiences back down to their basic emotions by destroying them from the inside, but still keep you coming back for more (sorry to bring up that event, go back to permanent denial). Yes, these were based off of books, but television screens were taken by surprise when Lost was suddenly not the only some-what successful sci-fi/fantasy series that made it on network television in the past decade.

In the future we will probably see much more of these fantasy and science fiction dramas. We will see a lot of them, just like we’re still seeing the new pilots for medical and procedural dramas that can’t even make it a full first season. They will try to push all limits and in about a decade we will all be sick of them. Game of Thrones will have, or soon be, wrapping up what will most likely be one of the biggest television events we’ll remember. Once Upon a Time will have fizzled out and we will all be looking for the next big thing to occupy our time. But, for now fantasy will be the next, if not already, big thing.

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