Tell Me A Story Season 2 begins on Thursday. This season there will be three new fairytales woven together to merge into one seamless tale.
Tell Me A Story Season 1 featured the tales of The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, and Hansel and Gretel to great effect.
Can the latest season match the heights with retellings of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the Beast?
Critics received the first two episodes of the second season which set the stage for the stories to begin.
Set in Nashville, Tennessee, we meet the Pruitt family including matriarch Rebecca (Carrie-Ann Moss) and her three children, Ashley (Natalie Alyn Lind), Maddie (Odette Annable), and Jackson (Matt Lauria).
Each of the three children finds themselves embroiled in one of the three fairytales.
Ashley is at the heart of Beauty and the Beast, Jackson at the heart of Cinderella, and Maddie on the periphery of Sleeping Beauty.
Returning cast members Paul Wesley and Danielle Campbell join Annable in Sleeping Beauty. Wesley plays Tucker Reed, a struggling novelist and Maddie's fiance, and Campbell is the object of his unwanted affections, Olivia.
Eka Darville also joins the cast as Beau Morris, the beauty opposite Lind's beast, and Ashley Madekwe is the Cinderella of that tale as a young woman estranged from her family after her father married her stepmother creating a home in which she no longer felt wanted.
Simone doesn't have evil stepsisters, but she has a couple of stepbrothers who, while abnormally adored by their mother, don't seem all that bad.
The "evil" stepmother is Veronica Garland (Garcelle Beauvais), and her sons are Ron and Derek (Caleb Castille and Christopher Meyer).
The first season took its time developing characters and switching their characterizations on their heads.
Knowing the way it worked for that season, my expectations for the first two episodes were that we'd slowly move into the more complicated nature of the fairytales while first getting to know the characters.
This season, though, immediately feels different. Connecting with the characters isn't as easy. They all SEEM to be locked in already.
But that's also what was so surprising about the initial season. Campbell's character, especially, evolved greatly during that run as she went from being a trite and petulant teenager to a grounded, compassionate young woman.
Similarly, the character that James Wolk played was introduced as the quintessential nice guy who became so obsessed by the tragedy he suffered that he lost himself entirely in his quest for vengeance.
This season, "victims" and their bad guy counterparts are seemingly established rolling out of the second episode. If that holds, it would be palatable if any of the characters grabbed attention (or compassion) straight out of the gate.
Sleeping Beauty should elicit some kind of emotion as the story is heinous. Now, I'm not one to believe that fairytales are to be viewed through a PC lens, so this has nothing to do with that. Fiction is fiction, and fairytales are cautionary and suggest lessons to be learned.
What is true is that Olivia deserves none of what she gets, but her distress would be far more effective if she were one of the better-established characters. She's not.
Wesley's Tucker aka the perpetrator of Olivia's troubles, also appears to be one-note, and even worse, he's offensive to two women without offering much by way of insight into why.
That's hard to justify when he played one of the more emotional characters during the first season. Even when that character was wasting his life and breaking the law, he had a surprisingly strong moral code that breaking ultimately broke him.
The best characters of any story are complex and various shades of gray, never black and white. But even when Tucker is attempting to shower affections onto his fiance, Maddie, you get the urge to shake him off like a dog does water.
Maddie, too, suffers from unlikability. She's hardworking and family-oriented, but that she's getting the shaft doesn't sting as it should. She has a bite that takes away a little too much softness.
Jackson has faults and comes across as more sympathetic only because he's so eager for his mother's affection. His initial interactions with "Cinderella" Simone, though, border on creepy, so it's entirely possible I'm trying to find sympathy in a character where there isn't any.
Lauria was so good as Ryan Wheeler on Kingdom, a series that deserved a much wider audience, that it's impossible to imagine he's going into Jackson without adding layers upon layers to a character who would otherwise be difficult to swallow.
So far, it seems as if Simone, who shares the family history with Cinderella, might be Jackson's Princess Charming instead of him as her Prince.
With a good head on her shoulders, she comes across as one of the better, more colorful characters on Tell Me A Story Season 2. Even her family, such that they are, offer more possibilities than the Pruitts from whom every story stems.
And if you think Beauty and the Beast almost plays as Phantom of the Opera, well, you're right, and it doesn't go unnoticed on the show, either. Ashley is a promising singing artist who suffers misfortune at the hands of a character you'll see coming a mile away. That doesn't make his less-than-savory nature any easier to take, though.
But Ashley has Beau looking after her, and his arc is one of the most fascinating while also leaving an open for a jaw-dropping bait and switch. Is he as good as he seems? His history leaves that door wide open with an intriguing mystery begging to get uncovered.
It's that story around which all of the others revolve, so it makes sense that it feels the most fleshed-out within two episodes.
Just as in the first season, the cast is going overboard. They're working their material and getting the most from it, but two episodes are just not enough to get a feel for whether they'll capture the magic of the earlier tales.
Every character elicited some time of reaction by the end of two seasons during Season 1, but the same cannot be said this time around. It's the relatively flat nature of some of the characters that is most worrisome.
It's better to feel anything intensely even if it's a loathsome feeling. Whether the latest season will come around and turn around everything will be the ultimate test, and it's absolutely worth tuning in to find out.
Tell Me A Story Season 2 Episode 1 premieres on CBS All Access Thursday, December 5 at 9/8c AM
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.