Angel Alums David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf Get Grimm in New Drama
If the world seems filled with inexplicable crimes and dirty deeds, perhaps the problem is we’re not looking in the right places for the answers. Grimm, debuting Oct. 28 on NBC, suggests that fairy tales aren’t merely bedtime stories — they’re actually warnings about the supernatural creatures that live, and sometimes kill, among us.
Set in present-day Portland, Oregon, the new series stars David Giuntoli as Nick Burkhardt, a police detective whose eyes have been opened to this secret truth, Bitsie Tulloch as Nick’s fiancé Juliette Silverton, Russell Hornsby as Nick’s detective partner Hank Griffin, and Silas Weir Mitchell as Monroe, a Big Bad Wolf. Grimm looks to bring not only a bit of fantasy to the police procedural genre, but also a bit of humor. Executive producers David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf, wrote for Joss Whedon’s Angel, and Greenwalt was a producer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, granting them no small amount of credit in the genre community.
NBC held a conference call with Greenwalt and Kouf to discuss the new series, and Spinoff was on hand for the details.
The two creators said the premise of their show is simple: The Brothers Grimm were essentially police profilers, recording crimes that contain a mystical element. “And the stories they were telling were in fact true on some basic, deep level,” Greenwalt said. “We came up with the notion that in our world of Grimm, there would only be one world. There wouldn’t be a fairy-tale world and a real world — there would just be our world. And in our world lived these creatures who can be seen by our hero. And for example, he can see the Big Bad Wolf in the child molester.” Thus, the word “Grimm” as it is used in the show refers to an order of profilers who can see these creatures.
The man at the center of the story is Detective Nick Burkhardt, a profiler more accustomed to the normal, human world until his awakening in the pilot episode to the creatures’ existence. His rare talent will isolate him from his family and colleagues, but “there’s certainly other Grimms out there — he’s just not in contact with any of them,” Greenwalt said.
“Because there’s an organization that is out to kill Grimms,” Kouf added. “So it’s kind of underground.”
Just as its hero occupies two worlds, so too does Grimm, balancing between police procedural drama the fantasy elements. “If you’re someone who really likes a police procedural, you know there will be familiar elements in the show that will appeal to that viewer,” Greenwalt said. “Here is a crime: What’s the source? Who really committed the crime? What’s the source? What’s the cause? And what’s the solution? How do our heroes solve it?
“At the same time, there a whole other level, sort of cooking at the same time on the stove. That it usually has its own explanation in the Grimm world of who these creatures really are and what they’re really up to. Our hero is astride the two worlds,” he continued. “And it’s very difficult for him to balance, you know, what is he going to tell his girlfriend? What is he going to tell his detective partner? How is he going to use these abilities to solve crimes and yet still have it look like they could have been solved in the normal world. So I think it’s appealing to you know, hopefully, a broad audience that maybe normally wouldn’t’ be that much interested in one or the other. Or that are interested in one or the other, but want more meat in the sandwich, so to speak.”
Greenwalt said it won’t be easy for Nick to convince others of what he can see. “This is the crux of the series. He is in a world almost no one else knows about. But there are characters and there’s a character in the pilot who’s from that other world,” he said. “And that character is trying to, you know, control his own impulses and to become a better human. He has a confidant that he can talk to.
“But that is [Nick's] problem, because he would appear to be crazy and would be locked up. And may indeed be locked up at some point, you know, as we continue on in this series,” Greenwalt continued.
Talking about their reasons for beginning Grimm with a spin on “Little Red Riding Hood,” Greenwalt and Kouf noted the tale’s iconic, instantly recognizable status. “It’s just a great natural beginning, Little Red Riding Hood is skipping through the woods,” Greenwalt said. “And in our case, a college student obviously wearing a red hoodie is jogging through the woods and is just taken by this creature really suddenly, and we liked working backwards from that.”
Episodes two and three will involve “a retelling of ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’” and “bees,” Greenwalt revealed. “Like thousands of bees. Lots of bees.”
Following up on Greenwalt’s comment, Kouf said Grimm will use pieces from many different fairy tales, not all of them well known. “There’s one called the ‘Queen Bee,’ and it’s not one that everybody can recall immediately.”
Kouf said that, in addition to building episodes from existing fairy tales, sometimes Grimm will adapt a story from the headlines and create a fairy tale around it. “Our show is based in our world, so we’re just explaining a lot of bad behavior with fairy-tale reasons,” he said.
“The fun of Grimm is what happens to this young man who’s a robbery-homicide detective who suddenly starts ‘seeing things.’ At first [he] thinks he’s losing his mind, and he’s seeing these critters or creatures within ‘normal human beings,’” Greenwalt said. “That idea really grabbed us, like, what a great way to tell a stories and what a great way to explain some pretty heinous things that go in in the world that seem inexplicable.”
“So every crime has two reasons,” Kouf added, “It has a ‘Grimm’ reason and what appears to be the real reason.”
Kouf said that, despite the show’s title, not all of the source fairy tales will be from the Brothers Grimm canon. “We’re saying that the Brothers Grimm were the profilers in their particular area in Germany, at their time. But we’re also saying anybody that told fairy tales had that ability,” he said. “So we’re going to expand our world here by drawing from whatever fairy tales we can find from all over the place.”
As to why now is the right time for a dark fairy-tale series, Greenwalt said, “Now is a good time because it’s always a good time for fairy tales. It’s a good time to be scared on a Friday night a little bit and have a bedtime story that kind of, you know, gets under your skin a little bit.”
Greenwalt said that, as with his and Kouf’s previous series, there will be an element of humor to Grimm. Kouf added that, “Ours is an odd combination of horror, suspense, classic fairy-tale story structure, iconic characters and humor. So we’re trying to hit it all. We’re just want to be entertaining.”
“You know, people love to be scared,” Greenwalt said. “And they love to have a little bit of a laughter while they’re being scared.”
While there will be season-long story arcs in addition to the weekly episodic mystery, Greenwalt said it’s difficult to say whether there will be a “Big Bad” enemy as was usually the case in Buffy and Angel. “The Big Bad comes in a little different form in Grimm because we’re presenting some characters that appear to be bad but may actually have some good agendas — you know, a little more mix of good and bad in the characters that Nick, our main character, will go up against,” he said.
Many fairy tales make use of kings and queens, princes and princesses, and Greenwalt said “there certainly is royalty in our story today.” “There are still royals around, but they’re like the creatures living among us and have their own disguises and their own agendas.”
Kouff credited Grimm‘s Oregon shooting location for the series’ lush aesthetic. “The look of Portland and the surrounding area is that lush, beautiful landscape, and I think we always wanted to give it a film-like quality,” he said. “David and I both come from the film world as well, so we wanted that — we want it to look like a movie.”
“And a bit like a story-book movie,” Greenwalt added. “We wanted to push when we’re with the so-called Grimm characters or Grimm creatures, we wanted to push the look and have, you know, brighter colors and less subdued hues. And then when we’re with the regular ‘normal people,’ we wanted it to look a little more like real life. But we love the look of that, the forest with mist in them and the waterfalls and the streams and the rivers and all that great look you get in Portland.”
Another aspect of the aesthetic is the makeup and special effects that go into creating the Grimm personas. “We have worked long and hard to try to get a look to the show for the makeup and the special effects that is expressing something that’s inside the character you’re seeing,” Greenwalt said. “You know, there’s not just somebody in a mask but that you’re seeing the sorrow, the rage …”
“The emotions manifest themselves in kind of physical characteristics,” Kouf added. “So you see the child molester, what we think is a child molester [but] is actually a big bad wolf, and we see that morph out as they become emotionally aroused. So that’s how our main character, the Grimm, can see these characters beneath the humans.”
Greenwalt added that this device highlights the idea “that these creatures live among us, but also that these feelings live inside all of us. The best way to express that is when the ‘creatures’ look like the actors playing them. Not just like some fierce person in a mask.”
The interplay between real human motivations and fairy-tale dynamics will be multi-layered and travel both ways, the writers suggested. The second episode will revolve around a family of mystical creatures living normal human lives, until the children “want to go back to the old-fashioned ways and, in fact, to an old-fashioned hunt,” Greenwalt said. This mirrors the process some immigrant families experience, with the parents doing everything they can to assimilate while the children or grandchildren express an interest in their heritage; it also speaks to decisions about how to raise kids in such a situation, and the process of coming of age. “There all kinds of interesting themes,which are exaggerated, because, of course, these kids want to hunt something to the death,” Greenwalt said.
Kouf suggested that a difference between Grimm and other fairy-tale reinventions is that, in this series, a character like the Big Bad Wolf isn’t simply one immortal being — “there’s many of them.” “They’re actually real people with real problems,” he said, noting that, from the characters’ point of view, “what they’re doing doesn’t seem that bad.” However, some struggle against their natures to reform. “Our one Big Bad Wolf running character regular in the show is a vegetarian,” Greenwalt said. “And he does Pilates and he goes to church. And he’s trying to fight his grimmer impulses.”
Monroe, the recurring Big Bad Wolf character, is, “in a way, the most human of any of the characters because he’s the one that’s most battling his instincts,” Greenwalt said. “And he might have an instinct to go after a little girl in a read hoodie. But he’s learned to not do that. He takes certain antidepressant drugs that help keep him in shape. … But he is helping a Grimm, which is going to create a lot of trouble for him.
“They run the whole gamut, the whole spectrum, so that they’re not always evil or bad. Sometimes they’re good. Sometimes they’re innocent but they’ve gotten themselves into a situation which our hero has to help them,” Greenwalt continued. “They run the gamut that humans do. And each one is different. They’re not all the same. They can’t just be categorized as generically the same.”
Greenwalt, following on the idea that the creatures’ behavior is all a matter of perspective, noted that even bad guys are the heroes of their own stories. “These creatures, when they were little, their parents told them stories about the Brothers Grimm and to be afraid of the Brothers Grimm. So these creatures, when they recognize our character as a Grimm profiler/hunter of these creatures, some of them get very freighted,” he said.
“Our villains usually have a good reason for what they’re doing,” he added. “It may be very sick and crazy in our world but in their world it may be as simple as just getting a meal.”
With the current trend toward comic book series based on popular television series, Greenwalt said, “The chances we see a comic book series based on the show I think are very good. And I think there’s terrific room for that in the comic book world.
“The big question is will it come before or after the musical,” he joked, alluding to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode, “Once More With Feeling.”
Grimm debuts Oct. 28 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.