Thursday, January 5, 2017

‘Emerald City’ is a Trip You Won’t Soon Forget

Review of "Emerald City"
Joely Richardson, Florence Kasumba, Ana Ularu, Isabel Lucas, Gerran Howell,
 Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Michael Muller, Roxy Sternberg, Adria Arjona,
 Jordan Loughran and Stefanie Martini. (NBC)

TV SHOW REVIEW

Most people are familiar with the first story of the Wizard of Oz, but L. Frank Baum wrote 14 Oz books and none of them were initially written for children but were instead written as a political allegory. Because of this, it is not unusual that the story could be “re-imagined” as a story for adults. Gregory Maguire’s Wicked was not written for kids and is quite dark, and yet, it has been turned into a bright and sunny musical. NBC premieres yet another version of the Oz story tomorrow night that is also not very family-friendly. Actually, scratch that. Emerald City is definitely not for kids.

There is much to appreciate with NBC’s new limited series even if you don’t know the reason why. Emerald City starts off fairly similar to the classic story in Lucas, Kansas. Dorothy Gale (Adria Arjona) is all grown up and working as a nurse, but she still lives with her adoptive parents. The family kitchen sports a rainbow decoration by the kitchen window and a tin man cookie jar on the counter. And of course, there is a scarecrow in the yard. Dorothy has also made contact with her birth mother, or the other way around, and learns that she lives nearby. When she goes to visit her mother, she discovers that the woman has been hurt and might be involved in some sort of crime. Before she can sort things out, a twister lands, she jumps inside a police car with a German Shepherd (Toto of course) and Dorothy is swept away.


Review of "Emerald City"
Dorothy and  Toto (NBC)
Dorothy crashes into a snowy landscape and ends up hitting “East” (Florence Kasumba) aka the Wicked Witch of the East. Instead of ruby or silver slippers (depending on which version of the story you’re going with) East wears a ruby glove like contraption. Instead of Munchkins, Dorothy is greeted by children who take her to their leader. She is accused of being a witch since only witches can kill other witches and they are not particularly happy that she killed this witch. Dorothy of course just wants to go back home but she is banished from their town and is sent to meet the Wizard. She is given instructions to follow the “yellow road,” a path created by poppy pollen, not bricks. Instead of making people sleepy as in the original tale, the opium path tends to drug people up.

Review of "Emerald City"
The Yellow Road. (NBC)
During the first part of her journey, Dorothy finds a man hanging from a cross much like a crucifixion. (He represents the scarecrow.) He doesn’t know who he is, what has happened to him and doesn’t make sense when he talks. Dorothy ends up calling him her home town name, Lucas (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). From there, the story becomes less and less like the original tale although the press materials promise that the show will bring around characters that represent the tin man and cowardly lion in later episodes.

Glinda (Joely Richardson) is less “Glinda the Good Witch” and more “Glinda the Not-So-Bad Witch.” Her sister, West (Ana Ularu) is more like a madam than an evil witch who if fond of free sex.The sister witches ask the Wizard of Oz (Vincent D'Onofrio) to re-open the witches’ temple so that they can hold a traditional witch’s funeral service for their sister. He obliges.

Review of "Emerald City"
The witches of Oz: West (Ana Ulara), East (Florence Kasumba) and Glinda (Joely Richardson). (NBC)
Emerald City is basically one story broken up into 10 episodes. There is a beginning, middle and end but if the show becomes a hit, there’s no reason why another 10 episodes couldn’t be produced for “book #2.” If the show will be popular enough for a second season remains to be seen. At first, NBC doesn’t seem like the right fit for such a show, but dark fantasy shows have become more popular on Friday nights including NBC’s Grimm, FOX’s Sleepy Hollow and The Exorcist and the CW's The Vampire Diaries, so many there’s an audience for this.

Review of "Emerald City"
The Wizard of Oz. (NBC)
The first two hours of Emerald City move at a slow pace with a storyline that is more complicated than you would think. This land of Oz is full of sex, violence and religious symbolism. It is more similar to Grimm than the much lighter and uplifting Once Upon a Time which are both based on children's stories.

The Wizard is somewhat of a fraud made evident by the fact that he wears a toupee to hide his baldness. It is unclear if the Wizard is supposed to be some sort of a man of the cloth. There are a number of nun-like characters who serve him and West makes fun of one of them because she’s pregnant even though she is supposed to be chaste. In fact, it appears as if the nun-like women are supposed to be chaste for no good reason rather than a religious conviction. I also felt uncomfortable watching the witch’s funeral scene with their chanting and supernatural whatnot. I’m not sure If I will bother to watch any more episodes or not.

However, I will say that both Arjona and Jackson-Cohen are quite perfect with their roles as Dorothy and Lucas and the story is pretty intriguing and there is a twist at the end of the second episode that I did not see coming. According to NBC, the show was filmed in exotic locales including “old Roman roads on the coast of Spain, a remote national park in Croatia, 15th-century castles in Hungary, Gaudi’s Park Güell in Barcelona.”

Emerald City debuts on January 6 with a two-hour premiere at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.