NBC’s “Grimm” is a show defined by two dichotomies: duality of genre and a fusion of story styles.
It functions as both a police procedural and fantasy/sci-fi thriller, while the installments unfold as both self-contained case-of-the-week dramas mixed with series-long character and plot arcs that grant subsequent episodes a momentum not common to detective shows.
The first season of “Grimm,” a 22-episode set available now on both Blu-ray and DVD, straddles these lines well, proving to be an adequately entertaining, occasionally compelling dose of Friday night TV.
Drawing inspiration (and literal quotations at the beginning of each episode) from “Grimm’s Fairy Tales,” each episode follows the grisly investigations of Portland homicide detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli), the latest in a long line of Grimms, a class of human that identify and slay the world’s extensive population of monsters.
And I do mean extensive, as the “Grimm” universe is filled with creatures ranging from werewolves to giant rats, all of whom appear human (except to Grimms and one another), keeping their identities safe from the general populace, a sort of fantasy “Men in Black.”
The crimes investigated usually see Burkhardt having to deduce motive and find clues through knowledge of the cultural and physical attributes of the suspects, such as determining the hunting habits of a werewolf or the aggressiveness of an ogre.
Burkhardt’s job puts him in an ideal (albeit dangerous) position to learn a lot about these creatures, as apparently every murder committed in Portland can be blamed on or connected to its non-human populace. Burkhardt keeps his abilities a secret from partner Hank (Russell Hornsby), a capable detective unaware that he’s usually investigating a giant dog or insect that just looks human, and Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch), his girlfriend who finds herself increasingly in the middle of the creature feature theatrics.
Meanwhile, Burkhardt remains unaware that his superior (Sasha Roiz) is also some sort of member of the supernatural community, one with some degree of rank and plans that may or may not be utterly insidious.
The budget for “Grimm” clearly doesn’t match the ambition of the material, as most episodes showcase shaky aesthetics and effects. As episodes usually resemble something out of an intentionally bad Syfy movie, it falls on the actors and writers to elevate the experience above the level of pure schlock.
While most of the cast is fine but hardly indispensible, the standout is Silas Weir Mitchell as Monroe, a werewolf-like creature who befriends and aids Burkhardt. Despite tradition’s insistence that the two should be sworn enemies, Monroe becomes Burkhardt’s go-to guy for aid and information regarding the strange new set of rules he now has to play by.
Mitchell’s performance, equal parts altruistic, nervous and irreverent, often supplies series high points.
The season-long plot thread involves Burkhardt’s newfound immersion into a politically complex world of monsters where everyone knows more than he does. The universe is unveiled in snippets and glimpses, perhaps necessary for dramatic purposes but occasionally frustrating when one considers the otherwise enthusiastic and intelligent Burkhardt’s inquisitive nature.
The mysteries themselves, once one gets used to the fantasy elements, are of the garden variety found in countless cop shows, though the characters do prove more memorable than the usually bland inhabitants of your average primetime whodunit.
Though knockout episodes are sparse and the first few installments are unimpressive as they struggle to hit the right notes, the series quickly finds its voice, building to a level of charm and interest that belies the cheapness of the effects and silliness of the premise.
While hardly must-see for those not enthralled by fantasy shows, it does supply enough macabre thrills and people (and monsters) of interest to makeit more than a simple “Law & Order: Special Creatures Unit.”
The Blu-ray extras include deleted and extended scenes, audition tapes, “The World of Grimm” and a featurette on the monsters behind the show’s scares and sleuthing.