By Kelly Etz, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 16, 2013
The allure of a fantasy world lies in the possibilities. Interest is created in the unknown, in seeing the unusual or the unexpected. Originally, “Once Upon a Time” played on this interest, creating a charmingly CGI-ed world unlike anything else in the TV landscape. Unfortunately, its spinoff “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” fails to live up to expectations. The problem isn’t that “Wonderland” can’t stand on its own, only that its unoriginality is so obvious.
Once Upon a Time in Wonderland
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Plunging the technicolored splendor of Lewis Carroll’s well known children’s story into darker, grittier territory is nothing new. Tim Burton literally did that three years ago. And remember the miniseries “Tin Man,” Syfy’s edgy reimagining of “The Wizard of Oz”? The point is, “Wonderland” may have met better success in keeping true-to-the-source material, with a fantastical world dizzyingly drenched in primary colors and literally overflowing with ideas.
As it stands, Alice’s (Sophie Lowe, “Beautiful Kate”) confinement in a Victorian-era asylum feels less like a twist and more like a cop-out. Lobotomies aside, even the imagining of Wonderland is oddly restrained. As a series obviously unconcerned with likeness to reality, the computer-generated backdrops are less than inspiring. At least the White Rabbit (John Lithgow, “This is 40”) has a bit of style, hot pink Lennon glasses notwithstanding.
The plot centers around a freed genie called Cyrus (Peter Gadiot, “Night Wolf”) whom Alice meets on her subsequent trips into Wonderland. Inevitably, the two fall in love and, after a highly inconceivable proposal (just how old is Alice supposed to be anyway?), are about to start living happily ever after. Enter the Red Queen (Emma Rigby, “Demons Never Die”) and totally randomly, Jafar (Naveen Andrews, “Lost”) with an evil plot to capture Cyrus and make Alice think he’s dead. Underneath all the exposition is a nice, basic adventure plot — the quest to find a lost love.
The actors, at least, aren’t holding anything back. Lowe — who plays Alice as an ass-kicking adventuress, brandishing “Drink Me” bottles like mini hand grenades — is the driving force of the premiere. Hopefully, on her way to finding her lost love, she’ll stumble upon some better-written dialogue. It’s the Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha, “Shank”), however, who brings the pilot alive. Bantering with Alice every step of the way — in a truly fantastic British accent — the Knave is the comic relief, perpetual eye candy and potential love triangle all rolled into one.
The secondary cast tarnishes some of the sheen of the two leads. Bottled hottie Cyrus barely makes an appearance, while Rigby overacts her heart out as the Red Queen. At one point, she even tears up. It’s like watching a really intense scene in a high school play. Andrews as Jafar is fine, and the fledgling chemistry between the two villains makes them better together than apart.
Creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz — who both worked on “Once Upon a Time” — along with Zack Estrin (“Zero Hour”) should have had an easier time with “Wonderland.” Instead, the premiere takes on all the questionable elements of its predecessor without any of the ingenuity. As a teen-angst fest, it sort of works. As a successful series in its own right? Barely.