Once Upon a Time, ABC
ABC; Amazon; A.V. Club; CTV; IMDb; TV.com; TV Tango; TV Tropes; TWoP; Wikia; Wikipedia
Note: most of the characters in this series are based on fairy tales that have been made into animated Disney movies, over the decades, and I'll be linking to my reviews of those movies. But the show itself is live-action, and there are definitely some differences from the animated versions of the characters and their stories. Also, there are some characters from stories that haven't (yet) been made into Disney movies, and not all of them are necessarily even fairy tale characters, though they're at least all from fantasy-type stories. More or less. Of course, there are lots of recurring characters I'll probably never even mention in my review, if they're not of great importance to the plot (though it's possible some of them may become more important later).
But it doesn't begin with fairy tale characters. You see, there's this bail bondsperson/bounty hunter or whatever, named Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison). On her 28th birthday, this kid named Henry shows up at her door (she lives in Boston), and tells her he's the son she gave up for adoption ten years ago. He lives in the small town of Storybrooke, Maine. He wants to bring her home with him, and of course she wants to return him to his home. But he doesn't want to continue living with his adoptive mother, Regina Mills, who is the mayor of Storybrooke, and who Henry believes is evil. What's more, he tells Emma that all the people in Storybrooke are actually fairy tale characters who have been cursed to live in our world for eternity, with no happy endings and no memory of who they really are. (Henry has a book full of stories about all of them, but it's not just a typical storybook.) Naturally, this is not something that's going to be easy for Emma to believe.
But the scenes in the present, in our world, are interspersed with flashback scenes set in the Enchanted Forest, starting with Prince Charming saving Snow White from the Evil Queen's curse. (The original sleeping curse from the story, not the current Storybrooke curse, mind you.) But then on their wedding day, the Evil Queen shows up and announces she's going to curse everyone so that she'll be the only one with a happy ending from now on. Though this doesn't happen immediately. The fairy tale characters all have time to try to prepare for the curse. Prince Charming and Snow White visit Rumplestiltskin in the dungeon where he's imprisoned, and he says her unborn child could escape to another realm, and return on her 28th birthday to rescue everyone. On advice from the Blue Fairy (Keegan Connor Tracy), Gepetto and Pinocchio build a wardrobe from a magical tree, which would allow one person to escape the Queen's curse. Initially the plan, I guess, was for Snow White to use the wardrobe to get away while she was still pregnant; but she didn't have time. She ends up giving birth to Emma (yes, that Emma) on the night that the curse is finally descending upon the castle. Charming manages to put the newborn baby into the wardrobe, and she disappears.
Anyway, in the present, Emma will meet some of Storybrooke's residents, including Henry's therapist, Archie Hopper (who is actually Jiminy Cricket); his teacher, Mary Margaret Blanchard (who is really Snow White); Mr. Gold (Rumplestiltskin, or "Rumple"), who owns a pawn shop and is the richest person in Storybrooke; and of course Regina Mills (the Evil Queen), who's clearly still evil, though at first I wasn't sure if she still knew the truth or not. At the end of the pilot, Emma decides to stay in town, just for a week, because... well, I guess she's concerned that Henry may at least be right that his mother doesn't truly love him, even if she doesn't yet believe his more far-fetched claim. But she ends up staying a lot longer than that. Of course there will be frequent clashes between Emma and Regina, concerning what's best for Henry. (In spite of first appearances, Regina really does love him.) Throughout the season there will be occasional references made by Henry and/or Emma to something they call "Operation Cobra," which I think means different things at different times. Like, I think part of it refers to Henry's attempts to get Emma to believe the truth about magic and everything, but it can also refer to anything they do together, be it thwarting Regina's plans (even if Emma doesn't initially believe she's really an evil queen), or just... anything. I dunno, I don't really remember every instance of the code name being invoked. It's not that important... except that it sets up another operation in season four. (And of course, it serves as some cute bonding between a mother and son who are just getting to know each other for the first time, after a decade apart.)
Also over the course of the first season, we meet various other fairy tale characters, both in Storybrooke and in flashbacks to the other world. (The flashbacks tend to parallel whatever's going on in our world at the time, but don't always happen in chronological order, from episode to episode.) There's a man named David Nolan, who in the other world was Prince Charming. In this world, David was in a coma for the first several episodes. He was often visited by Mary Margaret, who didn't know him, but felt drawn to him, without understanding why. (Kind of an interesting bit of role reversal, that coma, considering in the Enchanted Forest it was Snow who was under a sleeping curse.) But he eventually wakes up, and learns that he's married to a woman named Kathryn (who in the other world was a princess named Abigail). But David has amnesia, and doesn't remember Kathryn, and he and Mary Margaret quickly develop feelings for each other, which they try to fight. Another character is Sheriff Graham, who in the other world was the Huntsman. Eventually he dies, and Emma becomes Storybrooke's new sheriff. And eventually a stranger named August Booth comes to town, though it isn't until near the end of season one that we learn who he was in the other world. But like Henry, he wanted to get Emma to believe, so she could break the Evil Queen's curse. It isn't until the very last episode of season one that Emma finally comes to believe Henry was right, and manages to break the curse... though Mr. Gold clearly has plans of his own.
And I've neglected to mention lots of plot points, but there are a few things I must mention, even if I'm doing so out of chronological order. For one thing, Rumple is also known as the Dark One, an extremely powerful sorcerer who can be controlled by whoever possesses his dagger. (Most of the time, Rumple has it, and keeps it well-hidden.) And if anyone uses the Dagger to kill the Dark One, they become the new Dark One, which Rumple himself had done to the one before him. I should probably also mention that throughout the subsequent seasons, Emma slowly starts learning to use magic, because she's "the savior" and "the product of true love" and whatnot, but it always always always seems to me like she is exactly as proficient or um... unproficient... as the plot requires at any given time. So I don't really feel like it's worth bothering trying to keep track of her progress. I may change my mind about that later, though. And one of the ways the show uses flashbacks is to show us how the various villains became villains, so we can feel some sympathy for them. (It happens so much that it gets rather clichéd.) But while some villains may find redemption, others don't, I guess. Even if we can't entirely blame them for being evil. Anyway, I think the show is always fairly interesting. It's got good characters, good drama, it can be reasonably amusing, it has nice visual effects, decent stories. And of course, the women are all easy on the eyes. It can also get a bit convoluted and/or silly, but ultimately I think it has a fun sense of humor about itself.
Some characters I haven't mentioned in terms of plot include Granny, who runs a diner (called "Granny's") in Storybrooke. Her granddaughter, Ruby, is a waitress there; in the Enchanted Forest, she was Red Riding Hood. There are also seven dwarfs, but the only one of any real importance is Grumpy, known in Storybrooke as Leroy. (Incidentally, the dwarfs in this show are all a bit short, but not nearly as short as you would expect dwarfs to be. We will eventually learn about more significant differences they have from humans, though.) I did mention the Blue Fairy in passing, but in Storybrooke she's just a human, whose name I don't think we've heard. But she's called Mother Superior, the head of a group of nuns who were all fairies in the Enchanted Forest. And they do have magic in Storybrooke, so they're sometimes important. Geppetto's Storybrooke name is Marco, but he's not very important. There's a doctor in Storybrooke named Whale (I don't think his first name is ever revealed; he's played by David Anders). It's not until season two that we learn who Dr. Whale was before the curse; I'll wait til then to spoil it. And there's a guy named Jefferson, who was the Mad Hatter (from Wonderland, rather than the Enchanted Forest), but we don't see much of him. And there's a character in the Enchanted Forest named King George (Alan Dale), the adoptive father of Prince Charming, but I don't want to spoil anything about his role in the flashbacks. And we almost never see him in Storybrooke. There's a reporter in Storybrooke named Sidney Glass, who was the Evil Queen's magic mirror (or a genie trapped inside her mirror, or something). In season one, he's probably the most important character that I don't feel the need to specify any plot details about. (He's played by Giancarlo Esposito, with whom I'd later become more familiar for Revolution.) I also want to mention that in flashbacks, young Snow White is played by Bailee Madison, who is pretty much the perfect person to play Snow as a child. In one episode there's a fairy named Nova (Amy Acker), who is called Sister Astrid in Storybrooke. And... throughout the series, there will be lots of other minor characters whom I fail to mention at all.