I love fairy tales, as much as I love myths. They’re some of our oldest forms of storytelling. They’re full of lessons and warnings, a bit of wisdom retained after the entertainment. They are also almost universally terrifying, despite the best effort of sanitising them by filmmakers and entertainment companies. So, it was refreshing for me to see a TV series not only tap into these wonderful stories, but tap into the horror aspect, reimagining it for a new audience, giving us a vision of the world that was full of awe and terror. I can’t tell you enough, how much I love Grimm.
From a certain point of view, it’s yet another procedural on television (and streaming services since it ended its original run a couple of years ago), pacing its narrative on a case by case basis. It’s often episodic, picking up metaplot threads episodes down the line while giving you only breadcrumbs in the middle of the case of the week. But from another, it used the procedural aspect not only for a case of the week but for a monster of the week as well, with not just another threat but an entire new aspect of a society hidden from our eyes. The best thing that Grimm ever does is make sure you know that every monster is a person too, some good, some bad, but all with circumstances, culture, influences and responsibilities.
Grimm is the story of Detective Nicholas Burkhardt of the Portland Police Department. Once a normal guy, a hardworking detective with a loving girlfriend, his world changes for the weirder when he begins to see things that others can’t. Of course, he thinks he’s going insane, witnessing some people’s faces shift and become monstrous, but when his aunt arrives and they survive an attack by a man dubbed a Reaper, he learns he’s a Grimm, heir to a supernatural ability to see those who hide among us, the real subjects of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales, their stories meant as warnings. The brothers were Grimms themselves, some of the most famous, or infamous really, among the creatures they hunt.
Among these creatures, which we later learn call themselves collectively Wesen, Grimms are their boogiemen, used to frighten children into obedience and even adults are terrified of encountering a Grimm, as they have for centuries had a reputation for kill first, ask questions never.
But Nick is different. Because he didn’t live with it for most of his life, he doesn’t have the knowledge, or the prejudice towards these people. He learns as he goes, from inherited books detailing the adventures and kills of his ancestors, from a guy called Monroe, and from his own experiences. The result is that while the Wessen almost universally react violently or fearfully towards him, he judges and treats them based on their actions, and does the killing only when necessary. As he often states during the course of the series’ 6 seasons, he’s a cop first, Grimm second.
Every episode in Grimm brings a new Wessen or a new aspect of familiar ones, and that means new books, new alternate historical accounts—including some World War II that show Hitler as a Wessen—new conversations with Monroe with some heavy German words dropped in there, and an entirely new culture or subculture hidden from normal people’s views.
Wessens are creatures of habit and tradition, their stereotypes and prejudices deeply ingrained in their societies and their culture. Most of the time, the villains play these traits straight, so a Hundjager will be a tenacious, drive and often cruel hunter, while a Blutbad will have issues controlling their bloodlust and Eisbibers will be cowards. Yet, Grimm always finds the opportunity to remind you that despite these stereotypes and how true they are for the Wesen, these are still people, so they may behave differently depending on the circumstances.
The coolest aspect of Grimm’s creatures is their transformation. Wesen are most of the time just normal people, but they can transform into their more feral or monstrous appearance at will, which causes physiological changes, the simplest being fur and fangs. Sometimes, when agitated, they can show these second faces involuntarily, but it’s invisible to most. And when they do turn on purpose, they have the ability to hide their true face from normal people. So, a Wesen might just turn right in front of you, jaw full of jagged teeth but you’re completely unaware. Grimms can see them even when they don’t want them to. It’s the nature of their power and part of what makes them terrifying for the Wesen.
Of course, a transformation wouldn’t be complete without a bit of CGI to show the physical changes and some killer makeup to show the result. Years ago I saw a reality show focusing on movie makeup, a competition for the next big star of the business, you know what those are like. Well, one episode had them creating their own creatures for Grimm, and they highlighted just how complex and striking these monstrous visages were.
Grimm ran for 6 seasons of compelling cases, incredible characters you love and follow and feel for, and some frankly amazing bits of alternate history that don’t just do the typical urban fantasy thing of taking our world and making it weirder, but make our entire history a place of awe and wonder…and horror.
There are plots, machinations, manipulations and some spectacular confrontations throughout the series’ run. There are mysterious folding keys that hold a secret map, a Royal Family of sorts that governs and oppresses Wessen, the Reapers, hunters of the Grimm, a resistance to face the Royals, other Grimms, some nowhere near as nice as Nick, curses, spells, rituals, sacrifices and so much more. The world of Grimm is rich in storytelling and you’re doing yourself a disservice by not binge-watching it now.
I mean you can find it on amazon video, on Netflix and I’m sure on a few other streaming services and I’m probably getting my hands on bluray or DVDs of the entire run at some point. Every now and then, I return to it and watch it all over again, because it is that good. It’s a solid series that brings our older fairy tales and give them a phenomenal new spin!