I don’t think I’d ever fantasized about appearing on a national TV show. If I had, I doubt I pictured myself as a tough, French-speaking enforcer who (apparently) cuts off people’s heads. I might have imagined me with a glass of cognac or a tall beer. But on Friday, I turned up on the hit NBC fantasy series Grimm playing a guy of that description, with each of those drinks in front of him.
For those who haven’t seen the show, Grimm starts from the premise that all the supernatural beings in the tales by the Brothers Grimm were real creatures. In the pilot, young Portland (Oregon) homicide detective, Nick Burkhardt, learned from his dying aunt that he is a direct descendant of the Grimm Brothers. His forebears were not just storytellers, they were hunters. The Grimm bloodline enables Nick to perceive the many “wesen” (the German word for “creatures,” pronounced “vayzen”) among us through their human disguises, and he has a responsibility to protect the human race from the dangerous ones. His aunt bequeaths him her journals and reference works, special weapons, potions, and other tools for wesen control.
Nick acquires a “consultant” who has swiftly become the most universally beloved character on the show: a “Wieder Blutbad” (“veeder blootbod,” more or less), or wolf-like creature with a powerful sense of smell and great strength, named Monroe. A former meat eater who has “gone straight” as a human and a vegetarian, Monroe advises Nick about the tangle of strange critters who keep appearing on the streets of Portland. Increasingly, the wolf guy has helped Nick by running interference, conducting surveillance, or digging up information or evidence for him in places where the standard police don’t go.
David Giuntoli, a six-year veteran of mostly one-time TV series appearances, often bears a startling resemblance to the young Tom Cruise and plays his first starring role as Nick in a fairly low-key and almost bland manner. Silas Weir Mitchell, an oddly featured actor with a substantial resume of playing insane or frightening characters in shows like CSI, Dexter, Six Feet Under, Burn Notice, 24, and Law & Order: SVU, beautifully delivers the perky, upbeat, and charming Monroe. Mitchell gets most of the laugh lines.
The supporting cast includes our hero’s veteran partner on the force, Hank Griffin (Russell Hornsby); Nick’s live-in girlfriend, a veterinarian named Juliette Silverton (Bitsie Tulloch); and his boss, the mysterious Captain Renard (Sasha Roiz). Throughout the 19 episodes that have aired thus far, neither Hank nor Juliette has become aware of Nick’s status as a Grimm, or fully noticed that fantastical creatures keep popping up in each episode. Renard not only seems to know what Nick is, however, but also appears to be in league with other, ambiguous powers.
Like The X-Files, Grimm has tried to maintain a balance between “critter of the week” and a longer, more mysterious narrative arc. With the The X-Files, the cigarette man, aliens, and “are Mulder and Sculley ever gonna end up in the sack?” kept viewers coming back. In this show, fans have hung on for the steady unveiling of Nick’s Grimm powers and responsibilities, the odd but growing partnership of Nick and Monroe, and the ambiguous status and aims of Captain Renard (which is French for “fox,” of course).
Slotted on the traditionally weak night of Fridays at 9 p.m., Grimm’s premiere on Oct. 28, 2011 snagged 6.56 million viewers, a solid turnout opposite the seventh game of the World Series on Fox. This was less than a week after the debut of ABC’s more female-centered fantasy show, “Once Upon a Time.” For the rest of the season, Grimm has usually scored first or second in its time slot, bouncing between 4.79 and 5.3 million viewers (although CBS has put up some rough competition by running CSI: NY opposite our heroes on some Fridays in April). On March 16, NBC announced it had renewed the steady if not spectacular ratings puller for a second season of 22 episodes. Given its time slot and strong numbers in the vital 18-to-49 demographic, Grimm qualifies as a hit.
As happened three years ago with Leverage, Dean Devlin and Tim Hutton’s show on TNT, the State of Oregon lured the makers of Grimm to Portland with tax incentives. But co-creators David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf, previously involved with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, have also said Oregon’s evergreen stands are a perfect stand-in for Germany’s Black Forest. They reported that LA viewers of the pilot asked if all the trees were real, and whether greens crew had had to paint the moss on them. In their press release confirming the series’ renewal, Greenwalt and Kouf stated: “Rain or shine, Portland has been the ideal setting for fairy tales with its enchanting layout. It is its own character in our show with the perfect mix of urban and rural settings.”
Naturally, Portland has taken Grimm to its heart. The show has brought jobs and a solid flow of money (estimated at $2 million per episode) to the city, as well as given a further boost to our already-trendy image. In addition Leverage, which shot its second through fourth seasons here while pretending to be set in Boston, will explicitly identify Portland as its home base starting with the fifth season. Along with the Fred Armisen-Carrie Brownstein sketch comedy series on IFC, Portlandia, that makes three different television series that have permanently put down roots in Stumptown.
And if you were watching Friday night, you saw a longtime California Literary Review writer on Grimm. In my next piece, I’ll tell you more about the process of auditioning, shooting my scenes, and working with the LA actors who shared the “German bar” with me, plus I’ll have a few photos to show you from my day on set.