The opening credits sequence of Tell Me a Story (premiering Oct. 31 on CBS All Access) is a lush, painterly animated depiction of fairy tale characters in dark, dangerous settings, promising a show that reinterprets timeless stories with a modern edge. Aside from that intro, though, there’s virtually nothing in the show itself to indicate that it’s inspired by fairy tales, or really by anything at all. Kevin Williamson’s dark drama is an inexplicable morass of loosely intersecting storylines about irritating people making poor decisions, delivered with completely unearned self-seriousness.
Unlike Bill Willingham’s Vertigo series Fables (which has yet to get a TV adaptation, even while this nonsense makes it to screens) or ABC’s long-running Once Upon a Time, Story doesn’t feature actual fairy tale characters interacting with the modern world. Instead, some of its characters are very, very loosely modeled on well-known figures from fairy tales, in the sense that, say, teen bad girl Kayla (Danielle Campbell) almost wears a red hooded jacket one time and also has a grandmother. Kayla is the Red Riding Hood figure here, then, and the Three Little Pigs show up in the form of three criminals who wear pig masks while committing armed robbery (the masks are then discarded and become irrelevant). And there are a pair of siblings whose names almost sound like Hansel and Gretel (or at least start with the same letters).
Those flimsy connections aside, Story doesn’t have anything to say about modern myths or even about telling stories. There are no meta narrative touches to the various threads, which follow the tired “everything is connected” structure of far too many somber, self-righteous movies and TV series. Kayla lives with her chef dad Tim (Sam Jaeger) and her cool grandmother Colleen (Kim Cattrall) after moving cross country from Oakland to New York City, and she’s having an affair with her hot English teacher Nick (Billy Magnussen) in a gender-reversed retread of a storyline from the first season of Williamson’s breakthrough series Dawson’s Creek.
The three pig-masked robbers include brothers Mitch (Michael Raymond-James, who got to play an actual fairy tale character on Once Upon a Time), the responsible one, and Eddie (Paul Wesley), the screw-up, but nobody shows up to blow their houses down. Maybe Nick, with his connection to the hoodie-clad Kayla, is the Big Bad Wolf? Or maybe it’s Jordan (James Wolk), whose fiancée is killed in the robbers’ jewelry store heist gone wrong and who sets out for revenge? Or maybe it’s Williamson, for inflicting this turgid nonsense on the audience.