Emerald City: The Beast Forever/Prison of Abject
Original air date: January 6th, 2017
NBC is bringing Oz, Dorothy and the yellow brick road back to television in a new show, Emerald City, on Friday evenings following Grimm. I have been anticipating this show for quite a while, and I planned on being in love from the get-go. I won’t ghost it, there will be a second date—but this was not love at first sight.
Most of the key players are introduced in this two-hour premier. There is Dorothy (Adria Arjona), a nurse from Kansas and her Toto is a K-9 German Shepherd. The “Scarecrow” is Lucas (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a man with no memories. The witch of the West (Ana Ulara) is an Opium dealer and Madame, with obvious substance abuse- issues. Glinda (Joely Richardson) is the warden of the North and advisor to the Wizard and her saccharine demeanor is clearly a front to hide her true motives. The Wizard (Vincent D’Onofrio) is the ruler of Oz, and instead of hiding behind a curtain, he hides under a wig and beard. The witch of the East’s death is by bullet rather than house and there aren’t ruby slippers, but ruby jeweled hand-things (gauntlets?). So, these are not the same characters from the movie or Broadway. There is a lot more edge to the characters, or are the faults that were inherent to them just more pronounced?
There were parts I really like: East, West and Glinda have some great costuming. The Glinda-nuns, not so much– I am not digging the look. I am so glad there was the scene with the Wizard taking off the wig, because up until then it was really bugging me. I thought they just got lazy with hair and make-up. Seeing that he was hiding his age (and weakness?) made it more bearable to look at. I think the reason the Wizard has banned magic is because he doesn’t have real power of his own. I am sure he is more afraid of the Cardinal Witches’ power than he is letting on.
Speaking of power, in the original The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Scarecrow assumed the Wizard’s place as ruler when the Wizard left. Is it a spell Lucas is under? Could maybe he be the rightful leader—say King Pastoria? In that case, was this by the Wizard’s decree or someone else—like Glinda. I don’t trust her. I wouldn’t be surprised if she turned out to be the big bad of the series. Then again, is that too obvious? Maybe West will kick her habit and seek revenge for her sister’s death. That would be more in line with the movie and book.
However, there is Tip (Jordan Loughran); at first I thought she was going to be the “Tinman”, but Mombi (Fiona Shaw) gave it away. Mombi is the wicked witch of the North! Tip was disguised as a boy to hide who she really is—Princess Ozma (King Pastoria’s daughter and heir). At least this is the case in The Marvelous Land of Oz (Baum’s 1904 sequel to the original). In the book the Wizard is the one that gives the princess to Mombi. Is that the case here? Did the Wizard stage a coup to gain power, and is he the one behind the Beast Forever?
Now in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Glinda was the Good witch of the South, and in the movie and in this series, she is equated with the North. In this episode, they mention the death of the sister of the South at the hands of the Beast Forever– is that supposed to be Mombi? In The Marvelous Land of Oz, it is Glinda that is searching for and rescues Princess Ozma. I am curious to see how this will play out. I still don’t trust Glinda.
So, I am intrigued by the story. What I like so far about the show is that there is diversity among the cast. The actors are from around the world, which is awesome. This isn’t the Oz we know, and that’s fine. The filming locations and set design are truly outstanding. One hang up I have with the show is some inconsistent performances—Vincent D’Onofrio seemed unsure what direction to go with his character; his accent seemed to change at times. Or is this a clue to the Wizard, like the wig… maybe I am getting hung up on details that are supposed to be clues. Like a lot of series, the original episodes aren’t the strongest, which is why I am willing to give it time and watch more—I think there is potential here. I think it is laying on the grit a little thick, however. I would like to see more scenes like Dorothy trying to explain “Knock, Knock” jokes to Lucas. Little scenes like that break up the intense ones, and gives the audience a chance to catch our breath. The yellow brick road is long, so a few pit stops would be welcomed. Still, this was just the introduction to the characters, and some have yet to be revealed. I am very interested in seeing how the “Tinman” and “Cowardly Lion” are portrayed.