Lana Parrilla, Jennifer Morrison Lana Parrilla, Jennifer Morrison

Once is not enough. Sometimes a second look, or a second episode, is necessary to convince a skeptic that a show is worth taking a risk on. So it is with ABC's dazzling but dauntingly precious Once Upon a Time (Sunday, 8/7c), which back when I was considering it for Fall Preview left me wondering: "Is this ambitiously whimsical fantasia the next Pushing Daisies cult fave or the next Eastwick insta-flop? (Either way, it will likely be an uphill climb to happily ever after.) It would be easier to love if it weren't so convoluted and campy."

But then ABC made another episode (the third, airing Nov. 6) available for review, and I started to find myself enchanted and beguiled, ready to curl up with more chapters of this fractured fairy tale. First, though, you have to digest the premise, and the overstuffed and often overripe pilot is a lot to swallow. We begin in a lavishly rendered fairy-tale land where Snow White (Big Love's Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming wrangle with an Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla), who interrupts their wedding with the promise of a curse. Said curse arrives just as Snow manages to send her newborn daughter Emma through a magical portal into our world. Years pass, and the grown Emma (House's arch Jennifer Morrison), now a loner of a bounty hunter, is enlisted by a little boy to hasten to the isolated burg of Storybrooke, Maine, where time is frozen and all our favorite characters of legend live in ignorance of their fabled origins. The boy believes Emma can reverse the curse, but first she has to face the town mayor (Parrilla again), who's given to saying things like, "I will destroy you if it is the last thing I do." (Has she been watching Revenge? Do they even have TVs in Storybrooke?)

"Seriously?" Emma remarks with some frequency, which is understandable. I was initially underwhelmed by all the heavy-handed whimsy, but I began to take Once a bit more seriously upon sampling the upcoming third episode. It cleverly weaves Lost-like flashbacks — the show's creators are Lost vets, and it shows — taking us back to Snow's colorful past as a frisky bandit, played off against her modern-day search for the John Doe she doesn't know is her Prince Charming (and their meet-cute back in the enchanted woods truly is charming). There's gorgeous fun to be had here, and I'm cautiously optimistic that ABC's patience in delaying the premiere until a month into the season, coupled with heavy and smart promotion, will pay off, at least initially. It would be a shame for this book to be closed too soon.

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