TELEVISION REVIEW: Syfy’s Alice Underwhelms!

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is a classic tale for two reasons – it functions as a cheerfully demented children’s story and it is also a genuinely wicked satire of politics and England’s nineteenth century society through the innocent Alice’s inability to understand the bizarre behavior of Wonderland’s inhabitants.

syfy-alice

Alice [Sunday, Dec. 6 & Monday, Dec. 7, 9/8C], Syfy’s two-part miniseries, updates Carroll’s multi-levelled work to within an inch of its life by giving us a twenty-seven year old Alice [Caterina Scorsone, Crash] who finds her way into a greatly changed present day Wonderland where Bad Things are going on.

Alice is a tae-kwon do instructor who has relationship issues because her father disappeared when she was ten – which is unfortunate because a very charming fellow named Jack Chase [Philip Winchester, Crusoe] has fallen in love with her. Poor fellow gets dumped during dinner with Alice and her mother [Teryl Rothery, Stargate SG-1], though not before he gives her a ring and is kidnapped!

Alice has the misfortune to witness Jack being dragged off and follows – right through a peculiar mirror in a building site – into a Wonderland that seems to be half massive city and half overgrown ruins. Before she can quite wrap her head around things, she’s captured and placed in a box that whisks her into a kind of sky prison. Jack is taken home. Yup. Jack Chase is actually the Jack of Hearts, heir to the King and Queen of Hearts [Colm Meaney and Kathy Bates].

The Red Queen rules Wonderland with an iron fist and keeps her subjects under control by feeding them black market emotions – which are drained out of kidnapped humans and kept in colorful glass bottles. Naturally, she indulges as well, and always gets the first taste of any new emotion to be distilled. There is also a Resistance, run, it seems, by Dodo [Tim Curry, Rocky Horror Picture Show], who is neither stupid nor birdlike which, of course, makes him the perfect choice for the role.

The fully liberated, independent Alice gets in and out of trouble involving the Resistance and the Casino where the kidnapped humans are robbed of their will, their memories and their emotions. Her father plays a small but crucial part in the proceedings and we get some intriguing but mostly unrealized versions of Carroll’s original characters – like Hatter [Andrew Lee Potts], Doctors Dee and Dum [Eugene Lipinski], Caterpillar [Harry Dean Stanton] – who at last carries a hookah, and the White Knight [Matt Frewer].

From what I can tell, writer/director Nick Willing changed Alice from an innocent kid to a cute, sexy twenty-seven year old solely to create an unlikely romantic triangle. Sex, or at least romance, sells. Other than that, the most obvious allegory seems to be Drugs Are Bad [some Wonderlandians go to great lengths to feed their emotion habits], or possibly Insane Queens Are Not Fun, or even that without our emotions we’re not much fun to be around.

Alice [the miniseries, not the woman] galumphs along like some Bizarro World Muppet, wanting to be loved but not quite knowing what that means. Worse, Ms. Scorsone has tons of chemistry with Mr. Winchester but much less with the guy wot gets her [which constitutes a hint, not an actual spoiler – though if you can’t see this coming fifteen minutes in, then you may need glasses].

The screener I received was a rough cut so I have no idea what most of the finished effects will look like, but most of the sets were well done – just not particularly memorable for monumentally huge buildings made of cards. And I still can’t buy Tweedledee and Tweedledum as psychotic torturers any more than I can buy Tim Curry as a dodo.

Kathy Bates is somewhat less horrifying than was likely the intention, though Mr. Meaney’s pleasant, distracted King of Hearts was kind of fun. Mr. Frewer, on the other hand, played the White Knight exactly as he’s played dozens of other characters in his career. The only way we can tell he’s not sleepwalking is that he carries off a pretty decent  faux-English accent.

Not to sound too mean about it, but if Alice had gone for three nights, I might well have dozed off by the end of the second part. Mr. Willing may have been willing, but he’s come up short in both the writing and the direction of this event. His Wonderland is meant to be colorful, but it comes off as mostly grey. Thank [insert name of preferred deity here], Tim Burton’s version of the classic tale will be along anon. That might just make me feel better after this entirely underwhelming effort.

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