Before Grimm premiered on NBC in the fall of 2011, it seemed like a long shot. Science-fiction and genre shows on the networks simply don't do well very often. But Grimm has surprised TV pundits, and has not only grown a loyal audience on Friday nights (of about 7.4 million viewers in Live+7 ratings, meaning people who watch it within a week), but has deepened in quality. The premise — David Giuntoli (formerly of MTV's Road Rules) plays a Portland, Oregon, detective who has discovered he is a Grimm, which is a sort of slayer/watcher of creatures called Wesen — could have easily veered into the ridiculous. Instead, Nick's world, inhabited by his girlfriend, Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch); his partner, Hank (Russell Hornsby); his mysterious boss, Captain Sean Renard (Sasha Roiz), who is a member of a supernatural royal family; and his Wesen friend Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), is plotted with good storytelling in both its weekly crime stories and its bigger, more complicated arcs. The cast is likable, and Grimm keeps it light. It's somehow a relief to watch it.
The show returns Friday night after a hiatus of more than three months that ended on quite a cliff-hanger: There's a key involved, a dark love triangle, and a lot of Wesen-y action. I spoke with executive producers David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf about balancing serialized stories with making sure viewers don't feel burdened and what the damn key is. (Note: The helpful Grimm PR people at NBC provided me with the spellings of "Volcanis" and "Glühenvolk." For obvious reasons.)
Kate Aurthur: I'm not going to lie, I was one of the people who thought Grimm would be canceled quickly in Season 1. I'm glad to have been wrong. There are just so few sci-fi/genre shows on the networks right now — you've defied the odds.
David Greenwalt: We think it's pretty wonderful. I just want to augment sci-fi/genre to hybrid show, because it's half a procedural show and half a sci-fi/genre show. If you're into procedure, you get here's a crime, here's a mystery, here's a solution. If you're into the mythology and the genre of it all, you get here's the overarching arcs of all the characters. I think it's a satisfying show. Maybe we surprised some people.
Jim Kouf: We've been writing together for a long, long time, 30-something years. We always try to do the same thing: ground everything in reality and have fun. We don't write down to people.
KA: Grimm did begin as much more of a case-of-the-week show than a mythology show. But that's changed this season. Was that a nerve-racking decision? Mythology is hard in this current TV environment; if you look at a show like Zero Hour, which was also very terrible, it just faced audience rejection from the beginning.
JK: We try to deliver a closed-ended show each week, but like reality, the characters have to grow, and the relationships have to grow. If not, you're just repeating yourself.
DG: If you remember the X-Files, about four to six times a year they'd do a so-called mythology show with aliens. We find that after a certain amount of servicing the arcs and the mythology of the characters, we come to these bigger episodes — I'd say we do about four of them a year — which are more mythology. We're not worried about people being able to tune in, because we do still have these closed-ended stories most weeks.
KA: Friday's episode and the pre-hiatus one were packed with so much stuff. Is it hard to recalibrate and say, OK, Nick is a detective, and here's a crime he needs to solve?
DG: Nick is, in fact, still a detective, and there's lots of crimes and things going on. We've got some great critters coming up. We've got something called the Sandman, which is basically a big fly that sucks certain things out of you. We've got Volcanis, which is a different creature for us — it's not a Wesen as we have understood Wesen on the show: It's sort of a demon, lava man from a volcano. And then we have another guy called a Glühenvolk, which is a glowing guy mistaken as an alien by everybody. With a little tip of the hat to X-Files in that show. We've got a lot of great quote-unquote individual episodes, but we're still arcing our characters out to write to what will be the finale this year, which will have both a crime and a lot of mythology in it.
KA: The creation of these names: Are you just going to German and doing crazy stuff to German words?
JK: We sit here with our dictionaries, and it's not always a literal translation of what it is, it's more of an emotional translation of what it is.
KA: Does NBC care which sort of show Grimm is? I imagine something less serialized is more appealing to a network these days.
DG: They're right here with us in the trenches. When we started the show, they wanted really closed-end episodes, and I think they were right. As the characters developed, they, along with us, started to want more arcs. So by the time last year when Nick's mom came back, we were all absolutely on board with that. They happen to have our rhythms. Maybe we all get our periods at the same time, I'm not sure.
KA: Oh boy! Will we be seeing Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, who played Nick's mom, again?
DG: You never know! It could happen.
KA: So the key. Obviously it's a big thing here. Do you worry about bumming fans out in about the key and what it is in that post-Lost way?
DG: The key is going to take some great amount of time to finally pay off, but there's a lot of steps along the way. And when it finally pays off, I think it will be very satisfying. The fans will be the judge of that, of course.
KA: "Finally," meaning not this season?
DG: Not this season or next. It's a long arc, the key. A very long arc. You learn more and more about it as we go along.
KA: Feel free to tell me what it is.
DG: It's part of a bunch of other keys! And eventually there's some pretty good conjecture about what it's all about, and about what they, combined, lead to.
JK: It's all grounded in real history, going back to the Crusades. If you know your real history, you'll know what it is.
KA: So I can Google "key" and "Crusades" and figure it out.
JK: It's not that easy.
KA: You've created a world that could just keep going and going. We actually know so little about the whole world of the Wesen and the Royals and the Grimms, because we basically know what Nick knows. Which is nothing. How deep do you want to go?
DG: We started with a micro version of the world through Nick's eyes. He would see the Big Bad Wolf in the body of the child molester. As we've gone into this year, we've gone to more of a macro view: There are these royal families, they want their power back in the world, they lost their power around World War I.
KA: Are we going to meet other royal families?
DG: That's very possible.
KA: What have been some surprises to you along the way? Actors that turned out to be people you wanted to keep around, or characters that didn't work.
JK: We've discovered some great talent up in Portland. We love all our actors, and every one of them turned out to be great; we have a great family. But there's been actors like Bud (Danny Bruno), the Eisbiber refrigerator repairman. We cast him in a small role, and he was so good in it, we built a whole role around him.
DG: In the very beginning, when we were writing the pilot, when we came to the Monroe scenes, we discovered, oh, this guy is really funny and kind of brilliant, and non-sequitur guy. He's also a guy from a very different point of view from Nick: an opposing point of view. To Monroe, the Grimms are the boogeymen of the world. That became kind of amusing and really thrilling for us. Same way Reggie Lee, who plays Sgt. Wu, came in to read for another part that we didn't cast him in, but we liked him so much, we created the character of Sgt. Wu. We've had a lot of happy surprises along the way.
KA: So Monroe was obviously going to be a character, he's in the pilot. But did you envision a different path for him?
DG: We discovered as we wrote it that it was a little less serious than we thought it might be. The pilot was fairly dark and pretty serious, and suddenly it got to this thing where the show is saying, it's OK to laugh and enjoy this show too.
JK: We always knew Silas was the right guy.
DG: He and his character is one of the great mixings of actor and part that I've ever seen. They're a little similar!
KA: I really like the character of Juliette, and I really like Bitsie Tulloch. I feel like as with all women on television and possibly all women everywhere, she gets a lot of hate on the
internet. What the hell with that? It must suck.
DG: We don't think about that at all, and I barely know what you're talking about. We did want a monogamous, loving relationship at the core of our show, which is different than most shows. We didn't want him to be dating all kinds of women and stuff, and have a tragic past — other than the tragic past that he has. I think you're going to see in these last 10 episodes real growth and real fun and real challenges for Juliette.
JK: She's going to go through hell here.
KA: Literal hell?
DG: Pretty literal.
KA: What should we expect for the rest of the season, plot-wise?
DG: You're going to see all these great critters: new critters, fun critters. You're going to see some real resolve between the Captain, Nick, and Juliette. You'll learn a lot more about the key and the history of the royals. And it's going to lead to —
JK: — some bad things.
DG: Some very bad things. And a very exciting, dare I say, cliff-hanger-y climax.
This conversation has been edited and condensed.