First of all, if you haven't seen Once Upon a Time and want to go into the show blind, then please minimise this, go watch it all and come back. While there are no ground-breaking spoilers here, I do touch on parts of the plot, and characters that may be considered of a spoiler-y nature.
Back in 2010, I was babysitting for an old neighbour when what to my wandering eyes could appear but an advert. The advert was to become the beginning of an adventure in my life, spanning right up until this very day. It has indeed taken me since that dreary, dark night in 2010 until this very day to get up to date with Once Upon a Time (IMDB here), and my what a journey it has been.
What drew me to the show initially was the basic theme of fairytales (I’m a sucker for a good story), and the added twist of modern day America meets the fairytales was just my cup of tea. Over the years we have seen a group of characters, once (upon a time *sniggers*) defined by their stock stereotypes of ‘hero’ and ‘villain’ be uprooted, thrown about, taken apart and put back together again in a very charming way.
The roller-coaster ride that was season one established Emma Swan in my heart as a defiant, sassy and fiercely loyal young woman. I loved her stand-offish nature and as the series has continued, I have thoroughly enjoyed learning her back story. I relate so much to Emma Swan in as much as she gives as good as she gets, but she has flaws; she gets scared and runs away and is overly defensive and won't open up. Over the four years the show has been on, Swan has grown and blossomed and fallen in ways in which no follower of the show could have imagined. Her relationships with other characters, particularly her close family: Henry, Regina and her parents. The fact that Emma is given the stereotype of 'the saviour', yet isn't always good and hasn't had the most perfect past is really refreshing.
Regina, whom I adored from the beginning, manages to grow into a complex character. According to the show's IMDB page, this is largely due to the character's actress, Lara Parrilla asking them to make her more multi-dimensional. Her relationship with her adopted son and her motivations for her actions lead us to grow to love Regina (there isn't a single person who watches OUAT that I've spoken to that dislikes her). I think part of the draw to Regina is that she is an outcast - she's stereotyped as a 'villain'; much in the same way many viewers may have felt cast out by being labeled by society as 'woman' or 'black' or 'gay' or 'bisexual' or 'trans'.
One of the things Once Upon a Time does so compellingly, use the tropes of fairytales to look at our society and our lives. While there are these sociological aspect to it, it maintains an active plot, brilliant writing and beautifully complex characters. Once Upon a Time succeeds simply because it is passionate; passionate about stories, about people, and about life.