Thursday, January 12, 2017

NBC Attempts to Modernize a Classic Tale with Emerald City

When a tornado transports Dorothy Gale from Lucas, Kan., to the faraway land of Oz, her arrival sets in motion a prophecy about a disastrous event known as The Beast Forever and strikes fear into the land's almighty ruler, the Wizard. On her quest to meet the Wizard in Emerald City, Dorothy encounters witches, an amnesiac soldier, a sheltered little boy and many more mysterious beings who will ultimately shape the future of Oz and Dorothy's place in it.

Say goodbye to Kansas.

Creators: Matthew Arnold, Josh Friedman

Starring: Adria Arjona, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Ana Ularu 

The premiere episode of Emerald City was Jan 6th 2017 and was two episodes together, The Beast Forever and Prison of the Abject giving us a theatrical length pilot. The creators Matthew Arnold and Josh Friedman are relative unknowns and NBC seems to have taken a note from other networks in giving new creators a shot. 

Anchoring the cast is Vincent D'Onofrio, who has been recently hailed for his great performance in the Netflix original series, Marvel’s Daredevil, and Joely Richardson who has a slew of b-List credits to her name. The remaining ensemble are all relatively unknown actors and actresses and this was, I think a good move on NBC’s part. 

Let’s talk about the show. This is an updated version of the original Wizard of Oz complete with a gun and medical knowledge (as Dorothy in this version is a nurse). The fantasy, bright dream like quality of the original is erased and replaced with rich tones, dark shadows and even darker intent. There is no skipping in Emerald city. No singing, joking or even humor. It is a straight-laced drama and very dark. 

With violent scenes including the beating of a woman beyond reason, to manipulation via ignorance, the tones of the entire show are dark and dire. Even Dorothy is lacking a gleam of hope. 

All of that being said, the acting is good, the chemistry between Lucas and Dorothy is evident and leveraged in every possible scene. While I am a fan of D’Onofiro, his portrayal of the Wizard is thick and a heavy, very reminiscent of Wilson Fisk in Daredevil without the layers.  While the Fisk character is also very heavy we are given layers to the swamp and why it exists and that is reflective of good writing. This is not the case thus far in Emerald City for any of the characters. 

If the pitch for this show is Once Upon A Time meets Dystopia it fits, but is in its current state unpalatable. 

While there have been several television and movie reincarnations / retellings / reinterpretations / spins offs of the famed classic movie The Wizard of Oz. I have watched a few and others I have refrained. I was actually going to refrain from this version until a Twitter friend said I should watch. All have been interesting but none compare to the original. 

The Tin Man (2007) Starring: Zooey Deschanel, Alan Cumming, Neal McDonough - Set in the spirit of L. Frank Baum's classic, the "Tin Man" follows the adventures of DG, a waitress and part-time student, as she travels through the mystical world of "The O. Z. (Outer Zone)", discovering her hidden past. This well-known story takes a twist in this SyFy adaptation as DG battles the sorceress Azkadellia along with the help of four friends; Glitch, a former adviser to the Queen whose brain has been removed; Raw, a psychic empath; and Wyatt Cain, a former police man (aka Tin-man) who has been imprisoned in an iron suit, forced to watch his family's destruction time and time again. Although parallels can be made to the original book this story takes its own path down the yellow brick road.

Dorothy and the Witches of Oz (2012) Starring: Paulie Redding, Eliza Swenson, Billy Boyd - Children's author Dorothy Gale makes a decent living continuing her grandfather's series of Oz books. When a new agent enters the scene, Dorothy moves to New York city. In the midst of a major business deal for her books, Dorothy discovers that her books are not based on her imagination, but on repressed memories. While Dorothy struggles with the revelation, she is forced to confront The Wicked Witch of the West, who has descended upon the Big Apple, determined to settle an old score.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) Starring: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz  - A frustrated circus magician from Kansas is transported to a magical land called Oz, where he will have to fulfill a prophecy to become the king, and release the land from the Wicked Witches using his great (but fake) powers.

Return to Oz (1985) Starring: Fairuza Balk, Nicol Williamson, Jean Marsh - Dorothy, saved from a psychiatric experiment by a mysterious girl, is somehow called back to Oz when a vain witch and the Nome King destroy everything that makes the magical land beautiful.

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