By Ken Tucker
Updated October 21, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT
DON'T FEAR THE REAPERS David Giuntoli and Currie Graham in Grimm
Credit: Scott Green/NBC
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Luckily for Grimm and Once Upon a Time, the fall season’s most ridiculous fairy-tale failure has already occurred: The Playboy Club, canceled after millions declined to buy into its rosy view of Bunnies as proto-feminists. Now these two otherworldly shows simply have to demonstrate that they’re not as ridiculous as Playboy, and that they can attract viewers.

Which is going to be difficult. Grimm is a downbeat look at what happens when supernatural creatures invade our world, and the only thing stopping them is a homicide cop named Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli), descendant of a clan of hunters, ”the Grimms.” In this dark-hued adventure from exec producers/writers David Greenwalt (Angel) and Jim Kouf (National Treasure), Nick can see the bad creatures before other humans, and tries to solve cases such as the death of a red-hooded girl.

In Once Upon a Time, the setup is exhaustive and exhausting. Storybrooke, Maine, is a town in which fairy-tale characters including Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, and Jiminy Cricket exist as ordinary citizens, without any memory of their literary heritage. The series, from Lost writers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, jumps back regularly to a sylvan make-believe world where we see Snow White (Big Love‘s Ginnifer Goodwin) threatened by the Evil Queen (Swingtown‘s Lana Parrilla). The show seems to be about House‘s Jennifer Morrison, as a ”bail bonds person” tracking down the connections between the two worlds, figuring out her own place in fairy-tale history, and bringing these worlds together in harmony. Got that?

Once Upon a Time has some of the candy-colored palette of another ABC series that choked on its own whimsy, Pushing Daisies. But that show had a lively cast. Once is a succession of close-ups of gaunt glares from Morrison and pitiful pouts from Goodwin. Everyone seems so miserable.

Grimm is livelier, especially when Nick joins up with Monroe (Prison Break‘s Silas Weir Mitchell), a reformed Big Bad Wolf, and they engage in some funny male bonding. Of the two shows, Grimm‘s homicide-cop-investigating-fairy-tale-inspired-crimes concept holds together more firmly than Once‘s tall-tale/real-world flip-flopping. Both will need to wish upon a star to survive. Grimm: B-, Once Upon a Time: C

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