The beauty of fairy tales is their simplicity. No matter how fantastic, there is an urgency to their contrived reality. Alter that too much, and they become ponderous and, at times, ridiculous. This is the problem and the promise of “Once Upon a Time” (8 p.m., ABC), an elaborate new fantasy series.
Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison, “House”) is one tough cookie. She’s a bail bondsman, first seen trapping and pummeling a thief and deadbeat dad — the polar opposite of a Prince Charming. Her world unravels when Henry (Jared Gilmore), the boy she gave up for adoption, tracks her down and relates an incredible story. His town of Storybrooke is actually the mystical dwelling place of dozens of fairy-tale characters, trapped there by Snow White’s Evil Queen. They’re stuck in the suburbs, stuck in time and, to make matters worse, don’t even know who they are.
Only Henry knows. And we know, too, because half of “Time” takes place in flashbacks to fairy land, where a battle between Good and Evil has just begun. Henry is convinced that Emma, his mother, is really the deliverer, or savior, if you will. She finds this hard to believe, but we who are in on the backstory know it to be true.
Much like the “Lord of the Rings” movies, “Time” depends heavily on special effects and leans toward the allegorical.
‘‘Time” seems especially designed to counteract the powerful spell of sports programming. Football and World Series baseball games don’t exist in its magical forest. In short, “Once Upon a Time” will probably hold little appeal for adult males. Whether enough other viewers turn out for this elaborate fable remains to be seen.
In many ways, it reminds me of an older ABC experiment, “Pushing Daisies,” a high-concept romance that did not exactly flourish. For what it’s worth, “Once Upon a Time” is much better than “Grimm,” a fairy tale-themed police procedural that makes its debut Friday on NBC. Stay tuned.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Game Four of the World Series (8 p.m., Fox).
• The Saints host the Colts on “Sunday Night Football” (8:15 p.m., NBC).
• Stylists attempt magical makeovers on the new series “Glam Fairy” (8 p.m., Style).
• A suicide eliminates a witness on “The Good Wife” (9 p.m., CBS).
• “Case Histories” continues on “Masterpiece Mystery!” (9 p.m., PBS).
• A dangerous search for medical supplies on “The Walking Dead” (9 p.m., AMC).
• Nucky surprises his rivals with an invitation on “Boardwalk Empire” (9 p.m., HBO), just renewed for a third season.
• A horse of a different color on “Dexter” (9 p.m., Showtime).
• A tough-as-nails former beauty queen opens a women-only gym in the new series “Wicked Fit” (9 p.m., Style).
• Brody’s peculiar tics are exposed on “Homeland” (10 p.m., Showtime).
• One client too many on “Hung” (10 p.m., HBO).