Grimm: a paint-by-numbers cop drama – with a magic detective and mythical beasts

The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland, but so is the fantasy of the 1800s. Specifically, Grimms’ Fairy Tales from 1812, from which the modern-day police procedural Grimm draws heavily. Created by Stephen Carpenter, Jim Kouf and David Greenwalt, Grimm ran for six seasons in the 2010s, starting to mixed reviews and ending with the critical consensus that it was solid viewing.

For a diehard Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, the involvement of Greenwalt – co-executive producer on Buffy and co-creator of spin-off Angel – guaranteed I’d be watching. Fans of Angel will clock several similarities: Grimm’s homicide detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) solves grisly cases, as does private detective Angel. Both of them have secret supernatural identities: Angel is a vampire with a soul and Nick is a Grimm, a guardian who must maintain the balance between humans and mythical creatures known as Wesen. (German for “being” or “creature”: there’s quite a bit of German etymology sprinkled throughout the show.)

Both Nick and Angel have selected confidants: for Nick it is his partner, Det Hank Griffin (Russell Hornsby), and Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), who is a Blutbad, or wolf-like Wesen. Both men’s love lives are – well, to oversimplify this, complicated; to say much about Nick’s girlfriend, Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch), would be a major plot spoiler. And both shows feature beasties that most viewers will recognise from fairytales and mythology. Each episode of Grimm opens with a quote – written in Papyrus, but let’s reserve our judgment – from the fairytale that inspired it, hinting at the creatures to come.

That said, Grimm is its own beast. It’s a satisfyingly paint-by-numbers cop drama: you know there’ll be a murder, you know it’ll get solved. But as seasons progress, the world of Grimm expands ambitiously; the procedural format becoming just part of a larger, darker, twistier narrative drama.

In the pilot, Nick discovers he is descended from a long line of Grimms when his aunt Marie falls into a coma and his Grimm “gene” is activated. He begins to see Wesen everywhere, their monstrous faces momentarily overlaying their human facade. As seasons progress, Nick’s identity is revealed, loyalties change, secret organisations come out of the woodwork and stakes get bigger. Claire Coffee is compelling as Adalind Schade, a butter-couldn’t-melt, witch-like Hexenbiest, and Sasha Roiz keeps viewers guessing as to the allegiances of Capt Sean Renard, Nick’s superior.

The Portland setting is fertile ground for Grimm. Just like Forks in Twilight – which was actually filmed in Portland and Vernonia in Oregan – the lush forests provide plenty of places to hide a body. The inclement weather is the pathetic fallacy for the clouds hanging over Nick’s often tormented head.

And much like Buffy and Angel, the creatures in Grimm are literal monsters and devices used to explore humanity. Sometimes, these are a bit on the nose, such as the Bauerschwein, a pig-like Wesen that is revealed to be a cop, or when Monroe literally marks his territory by urinating on his own back fence. While this over-literalism can induce the odd eye roll, it also adds to the show’s easy charm. And while the prosthetics used on the Wesen still look pretty cool, the show’s CGI effects suffer from the smooth, video game look that hasn’t aged well.

Truthfully, Grimm isn’t perfect. It’s sometimes cheesy, by nature formulaic and occasionally derivative. But as soon as you hear Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) by Eurythmics playing on a murdered woman’s iPod in the pilot, you know you’re in for a tongue-in-cheek ride, a homage to the monsters that have been lurking under the beds of our collective consciousness ever since Hansel and Gretel dropped their very first breadcrumb.

Grimm is available to stream on Binge in Australia, Now TV in the UK and Prime Video in the US. For more recommendations of what to stream in Australia, click here

The Guardian