L. Frank Baum’s classic yarn on the wondrous land of OZ and its inhabitants has been hashed and rehashed over the years, some epic successes (The Wizard of Oz 1939, Wicked the Musical), others epic disasters (Return to OZ, Legends of OZ), and others just meh (Oz the Great and Powerful). NBC brings the iconic story back to primetime television with their re-imagining of the characters and locales that are as familiar as home.
Adria Arjona portrays the main character with a bit of a chip on her shoulder. She is an orphan who has worked her way up to a nursing career, but seems to still have something to prove. She is whisked away on a twister in a cop car to a whole new world, where she is captured and tortured for killing the witch of the east (the dynamic Florence Kasumba). There is no hero’s welcome for Dorothy, however, as the inhabitants feel it’s better to exile her from their lands in order to avoid the wrath of East’s sister witches and the Wizard of Oz. She begins her trek on a poppy dusted gold road, rescues an amnesiac former soldier of Oz who has been left to die on a scarecrow pole, and a boy who is not a boy without regular medical injections. Like I said, re-imagining.
When I heard of the series, I was most excited to see what Vincent D’Onofrio would bring to the role of Oz. I must say, it was a bit of a disappointment. The actor brings such fire and depth to his characters, so I expected nothing less. Here, however, D’Onofrio seems to go through the motions and seems almost a bit bored with the proceedings. He comes off as a dictator who has abolished magic in the land of Oz, and views the arrival of Dorothy from the sky as a bringer of doom for his city and a threat to his rule. Perhaps the role will gain some meat in future episodes, but the premiere fell flat.
Joely Richardson and Ana Ularu take on the roles of Glinda and the witch of the west respectively, and they do it with style. This was the best part of the premiere for me, with west as an indulgent, petulant witch, and Glinda as a frosty ice queen who has no stomach for her sister’s antics. The death of east brings them together for the funeral ritual, but the foreshadowing of the resurgence of magic in Oz is palpable. This dynamic alone will keep me watching, at least for a few more episodes.
Emerald City has the potential to be an interesting take on the lore of Oz, but it needs to provide more in subsequent episodes in regards to pacing, passion, and style. While the cinematography is beautiful, the landscape of Oz is bleak. Part of the joy of the story is the subtle magic within the bonds of the characters, and that has yet to be established.
2 Totos out of 5