The world of Oz has been revisited and reimagined seemingly dozens of times now and the end result is NEVER good. NBC is taking their own shot at finally getting the material right in their latest; the 10-episode event series Emerald City. The kind folks at NBC gave me the entire series to review, I’m going to try to avoid spoiling anything past the 2nd episode and will pretend like I haven’t watched the entire thing. Although, I desperately want to talk about the back half of the season, more than the front. The 2-Hr Series premiere debuts January 6, 2017.
NBC doesn’t have a good track record at this modernization game. Knight Rider, Bionic Woman, and their never got off the ground Wonder Woman projects are proof of this. I actually didn’t hate these efforts as much as everyone else and thought they had potential. An example of reimaginings/modernizations that actually worked include TNT’s Dallas update, while really rough, I did like SyFy’s Flash Gordon and SyFy (owned by Universal) hit it out of the park with Battlestar Galactica.
The pedigree behind Emerald City is pretty solid. It’s Executive produced by David Schulner (Desperate Housewives, Everwood, Kings), Shaun Cassidy (American Gothic, Cold Case, Invasion), Tarsem Singh Dhandwar (The Cell, Immortals, The Fall) – who also directs and has a cast headed up by Vincent D’Onofrio (Marvel’s Daredevil, Law & Order: Criminal Intent) who plays The Wizard and Adria Arjona (Pacific Rim 2, True Detective) as Dorothy.
On paper this should be exactly what I’m looking for and generally love in a show. How producers can look at a script or the dailies and continue to plow forward with a production this expensive is beyond me. It seems like at every point in this production where a choice could be made to right the ship, everyone involved decided to double down on insanity and banality. I’m not sure where to begin with what went wrong with this.
Adria Arjona is a fine Dorothy, but it doesn’t feel like she’s doing much throughout the first several episodes. Her character is hard to connect to, she says she wants to go home, but I never felt like there was a reason for her to go home nor like she particularly cared about anyone at home. Arjona has basically one acting mode throughout the series and that seems to be ambivalence and a perpetual “Why am I here?” expression. D’Onofrio’s preening, hammy, over the top performance sucks the air out of the room and the entire series is basically about The Wizard. He’s really one of the main reasons this entire exercise fails.
It seems The Wizard has a chip on his shoulder and thinks the world owes him something. He’s a venal tyrant who came to OZ because he didn’t feel like he was respected in his own world. The first thing does he when he gets to OZ is to try and dazzle the locals by showing them electricity. When a small time witch embarrasses him in front of some kids with her display of magic he immediately hates it and makes it his lifelong mission to rid OZ of witches and magic at one point he screams “Science will always rule magic!” My eyes rolled hard. This is an Oz that only science nerds would like.
One of the easiest things to get right (and most often wrong) in any Oz adaptation is Dorothy’s classic companions and it seems like the producers took great joy in teasing the Tin Man, The Lion and Scarecrow throughout the 10-eps only to pull the rug out. We get the Scarecrow in the form of a mystery man named Lucas played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen. He doesn’t remember his past and decides to go along with Dorothy, because he doesn’t have anything else better to do.
We’re introduced to Jack (Gerran Howell) a country boy who is trying to save his friend Tip (Jordan Loughran). Dorothy comes along and helps the two boys. I started thinking ah, I guess these two will be the Tin Man and Lion, however Dorothy leaves them and they go off on their own adventures. This leads into several MAJOR spoilers and issues that I had with the series, that I can’t talk about.
The Witch of the East that Dorothy killed with her police car ended up being a semi—good witch and her sisters never quite seem to generate true outrage at her death. They have their own agendas. The Witch of the West (Ana Ularu) claims to hate magic and spends the first few episodes in a drug fueled haze, while her sister Glenda (Joely Richardson) – who isn’t necessarily good is playing her own political games with The Wizard.
Every episode felt like a chore to sit through, but somehow I hated myself for sticking with it. I certainly would have bailed after the first 30 minutes if not for the review I had to write. Each episode ends with a “What the hell just happened?” moment and it wasn’t a “OMG, that was cool!” way. Don’t even get me started on the final episode.
I’m not convinced this series had any kind of potential, on paper nor execution. Do yourself a favor and don’t bother watching this. I wasn’t even frustrated because I really didn’t care about any of the characters nor the overall story. I just kept thinking, “Why am I watching this mess?”
Final Grade D