Editor's note: Season 1 of Tell Me A Story was originally released on the streaming service CBS All-Access in 2018, but the premiere will air for the first time on the CW at 9 PM eastern on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. The following is a review of the first episode as the article originally ran on October 31, 2018:
CBS All-Access decided to celebrate Halloween its own way with the release of its fairy-tale-based series Tell Me A Story. Described as “a dark and twisted psychological thriller” set in modern-day New York, the show aims to subvert expectations regarding the characters from three classic children's stories. By this, I mean there's lots of cursing, some casual sex, and, of course, references to Trump’s America. I doubt the Grimm brothers could have foreseen that outlook.
The October 31 premiere “Hope” introduces us to our ensemble all in the midst of doing contemptible things. The Three Pigs stand-ins are planning a heist, the underage Little Red Riding Hood is having sex with her teacher, and Hansel and Gretel are covering up a dead body. And all of them manage to say the word “fuck” at least once. I can tell why CBS didn’t put this on their primetime lineup.
Tell Me A Story just seems to be dark and edgy for the sake of being dark and edgy, as if we don’t see this level of depravity on other networks all the time. If the show removed all of the out-of-place fairy tale references, it would be indistinguishable from anything that airs on HBO. Sadly, mining and perverting stories people tell their children seems to be the prevailing feature rather than a bug with hardly a scene spared.
Aren’t fairy tales supposed to be about universal morals? Even the dark ones always had some kind of message. But the only semblance of a lesson from this show seems to come from interactions between Jordan (James Wolk) and his self-proclaimed liberal girlfriend Beth (Spencer Grammar).
Jordan is eager to marry and start a family, but Beth has recently become less certain about the prospect. Her reason has nothing to do with their relationship, she says, but everything to do with the country. More specifically, she believes that the state of the country is unsafe for a family and bringing a child into the world is just “not responsible” with everything happening now, including a recent shooting she’s protesting. I suppose the lesson here is remember how awful America is these days.
Beth: Why are you making fun of me?
Jordan: I am not making fun of you. I’m just trying to bring some levity to the conversation.
Beth: The world is falling apart around us. Terrorism is not going away. There are going to be more guns and more mass shootings and I am not bringing a child into this world so it can be shot dead in a classroom.
Beth: Don’t look at me like I’m crazy. I am very sane.
Jordan: I don’t think your crazy.
Beth: This is our reality, Jordan. This is our reality.
Jordan: But I do think there is something else going on here. Okay? And if you’re having second thoughts about us, you have to let me know.
Beth: You think I’m having cold feet?
Jordan: That’s exactly what I think.
Beth: You don’t get it.
Jordan: You’re right. I don’t.
Beth: It’s not responsible to bring a child into this world.
Jordan: Then let’s adopt. I’m happy to have that conversation, but we’re not. We’re having this one, so yes I think there’s something else going on.
Beth: I’m going to bed.
Jordan: No don’t do that. Don’t do-You can’t keep walking away from this conversation.
Someone please inform Beth that deaths from school shootings are still extremely rare, and statistics that prove otherwise have been highly conflated and skewed. Then again, maybe I should be thankful for her epiphany as it discourages this paranoid liberal from passing on her ideas to the next generation. Contrary to popular belief, the world is not worse in 2018 just because Trump is president and guns still exist.
Unfortunately, this all very intentional. Series creator Kevin Williamson commented on the real-world undertones saying, “[W]e don’t live in a world of what’s right and wrong anymore because if you turn on the news, the truth is fake and lies are the truth, and right and wrong are upside down... We live in such a world of unrest, such a divided time, such an angry time. We’re stuck in this moment in time where we’re just waiting for things to change so we can get on with it, not realizing this is it — the new reality.” I guess his form of adding to the conversation is adding more falsehoods and hyperbole to make the divide worse. And people call Trump divisive.
Tell Me A Story is a show that sucks out all the morality of the fairy tales and replaces it with crude behavior and politics. While it’s not the worst show I’ve seen (at least there are no nude scenes - yet), it’s clearly aiming to close out the year in awfulness. And this time no one lives happily ever after.