On March 11, Netflix premieres Once Upon a Time… Happily Never After and one of the platform’s biggest Spanish series to date, not to mention one of their riskiest and most experimental bets in this anti-fairy tale that breaks with all the clichés we’ve come to expect, while shattering the mold from the perspective of today’s society.

One of the characters is constantly on the lookout for inclusive language, while another never lets a textbook micro (much less macro) machismo go unchecked, capitalism overtakes romanticism in the characters’ minds even allowing them a laugh at the fantastic elements adorning the tale.

Yes, Once Upon a Time… Happily Never After, is a great idea, to modernize fairy tales by decapitating them of the false ideas about happiness and eternal love we’ve been taught, so unhelpful to us in dealing with relationships. However, as it put these into practice, we become aware of the many ups and downs that make this bet a closely fought, but satisfactory one.

Although billed as a musical comedy, the comedy part doesn’t quite manage to integrate organically, or complement the story, but instead comes across as forced, causing more annoyance than joy. Then, the casting, heavier on the singer side than on that of the  actors, turns the production into more of a parody than a series.

But then, that’s hardly surprising as Netflix generally tends to option big-draw names over those known for the quality of their performances and this fact leaves you with the feeling that they’ve preferred big names to ensure a peak in subscribers, rather than to rely on word of mouth which the story itself recommends, and which we all know is far more effective in the long run.

Nearly the modern fairy tale we wanted, but not quite

Once Upon a Time… Happily Never After makes a statement of intent from the first scene, in which our two protagonists are about to make love, as the princess asks our beau for the condom, they crack a few jokes about the extra-large size, and then princess even dispels the rumors that she’s sleeping with a local fisherman, by confirming with a nonchalant, “They’re not rumors, I am indeed fucking him.”

Listening to those first few minutes in episode one, and we’re applauding even with our ears, dying to find out more about that story we were never told but would love if had really happened. They wear whatever the hell they like, sleep with whoever takes their fancy, and the dialogue is devised for audiences of all the pronouns.

‘Once Upon a Time… Happily Never After’. Netflix.

The only thing that obstructing their destiny is magic, and careful here too, because up until now we’ve been trained to believe that everything magical was good, but, for the first time, here we’re presented with the possibility that just maybe our own choices would be better than leaving them in the hands of some magical destiny. So, although the good ship sets off with all engines burning, like the Titanic, it soon comes a cropper and hits an iceberg.

A musical cast that only sings to half the story’s objective

The big obstacle in this series is the main cast and the musical genre shoehorned in. Or vice versa: the musical aspect that “forced” them to choose some “fragile” performers to shoulder the burden of our protagonists.

Some of the tunes adapt perfectly to the part of the story they are narrating, while others just don’t make sense, only serving to draw out a particular scene until it feels like it’s never going to end. The musical numbers also fail to wring the potential juice capacity we’ve seen in some of the singers, who appear capable of devouring the screen.

As such, the tale ends up only making a half-hearted impact throughout, as showrunners have failed to cash in on the television megastar potential offered by Sebastián Yatra and Nia Correia, as well as the musical comedies that make you forget they were even  singing in the first place because the story advances through the tunes.

However, Monica Maranillo is more successful, perhaps also due to a more cleverly-constructed and fulfilling character. Not to mention the luxury supporting cast including  Rossy de Palma, Itziar Castro and Asier Etxeandia, among others – who really do ensure that the show goes on.

‘Once Upon a Time… Happily Never After’. Netflix.

Now that you’ve had your fun…who was this tale for, if anyone?

Another highlight and point earner for the production is the staging, with constant nods throughout to reality and fiction alike, as the mix of princess’ castles, and medieval ruins share pride of place with cleaning staff in a hotel using brooms to tidy up after the colorful dragon guests, and magic dusts enveloping decadent concerts.

A mix of fantasy and reality, of stories for children with winks to adults, and some bait in there for teenagers that confuses the intended target. Because, perhaps, it may just be a little too “hot” for the little ones to handle, too childish for the older kids, and too soft-gloved for the more rebellious among us.

So, who exactly is the target audience of this modern fairy tale we’ve always wanted but that only delivers half-heartedly?

Paula Hergar
Paula Hergar is a 360 journalist as Paquita Salas would say, writes about TV in Vertele and presents, writes, and directs Zapping on LOS40. In addition to collaborating in cultural programs in La 2 and being the author of the book ‘Around the world in 80 series’.