Imagine classic fairy tales updated to fit better with reality. The falsified worlds of these stories are transformed into modern-day New York City and the characters are contemporary people with contemporary problems. I know what you’re thinking — isn’t this just ABC’s seven-season series “Once Upon a Time”? Didn’t we go through this enough already? Apparently not, as CBS All Access’s new, convoluted show “Tell Me a Story” tries to do what absolutely no one has tried before: modernize fairytales.
The premiere focuses on warped versions of “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Hansel and Gretel” and “The Three Little Pigs.” Warped, in this case, means that the versions are so twisted and changed that the only links to their originals are through not-so-subtle Easter eggs peppered throughout. The only retelling that comes remotely close to the tone and moral of the original story is “Little Red Riding Hood,” as rebellious and beautiful Kayla (Danielle Campbell, “The Originals”) has just moved in with her hard-headed grandma Colleen (Kim Cattrall “Modus”) after the death of her mother. Her undistinguished father (Sam Jaeger, “Law & Order True Crime”) thinks that the fast life of California has been a bad influence on her, so, sensibly, New York City is the better option. Kayla goes into the world alone, and her beauty attracts the aggressive attention of men everywhere (also she has a wolf tattoo so, duh).
“Hansel and Gretel” is a bit more subdued, as two estranged siblings — Hannah (Dania Ramirez, “Once Upon a Time”), a cop, and Gabe (Davi Santos, “Law & Order True Crime), a drug-addicted dancer — find themselves in a bad situation inside of a home they don’t belong in. Also their names have the same first letter as Hansel and Gretel, so there’s that.
The “Three Little Pigs” storyline isn’t even worth trying to justify. Three men dressed in pig masks rob a jewelry store and kill aspiring wife and mother Shelley (Tonya Glanza, “Timeless”) as she’s looking at wedding bands with her boyfriend Blake (Dan Amboyer, “The Wrong Son”). That’s it for them in this episode really, but there’s three of them and they wear pig masks, so see if you can follow along.
For a show with an interesting idea and the unifying topic of fairytales as its base, “Tell Me a Story” does a horrible job doing the very thing its name demands. There is little development of the characters, and their stories are so ridiculously unrealistic and coincidental it makes the original fairy tales read like nonfiction. The entire first episode is a desperate attempt to show how edgy and clever this season will be, when it really only succeeds in exposing the show’s contrived nature. With a surplus of violent, depressing scenes and a dialogue that focuses an unnecessary amount on Donald Trump, “Tell Me a Story” is too grim for its own good.
The muted magic of fairy tales is that children are taught a lesson under the guise of princesses, candy and cute farm animals. There are various messages these ancient stories are meant to tell. “Little Red Riding Hood” warns children to not go to dangerous places alone. “Three Little Pigs” shows them hard work always pays off. “Tell Me a Story” only has one thing it wants to say: Life sucks. A lot. But we all knew this already, and we don’t need a bad show to ruin childhood favorites in order to show us.