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'Emerald City' is a Darker Version of the Baum Classic -- Literally
January 6, 2017  | By David Hinckley
 

If you plan to watch NBC’s Emerald City, the latest Wizard of Oz adaptation, forget the green glasses. Bring a flashlight.

Emerald City, whose 10 episodes kick off Friday with a double episode, 9-11 p.m. ET, imagines Oz as a dark world, literally and figuratively.

On the bright side, so to speak, Adria Arjona (below right) shines as Dorothy, who is hurled through time and space by a fierce tornado that rips her out of Lucas, Kansas, into Oz, a land where menace and violence seem to lie around every corner.

Soon Dorothy, who was a mild-mannered nurse back in Lucas, becomes something closer to Mad Max.  

If tribes of large, bearded men in animal skins aren’t accusing her of trespassing on their territory, witches are trying to smite her with spells and crackling streams of electricity.  

Fans of the more familiar Wizard of Oz adaptations, like the famous movie and the play Wicked, will recognize the witches and other adversaries.

That includes the Wizard of Oz himself, played by Vincent D’Onofrio (top, center) as a slick politician who convinces his subjects that he alone can keep them safe from The Beast and the bad effects of dark magic.

That’s consistent with other productions based on the original Frank L. Baum stories. The broader interplay of dystopia and magic here, however, make Oz more imminently menacing and sinister.

At least they seem to. It’s hard to tell sometimes because the threatening forces and a steady stream of new subplots make Emerald City challenging to follow.

The Wizard has outlawed magic, for instance, which threatens to cost several influential witches their jobs, and the Wizard also isn’t wrong in warning that ominous powerful forces would love to overthrow Emerald City and take control of Oz.

While none of this make Dorothy’s task any simpler, she does find a few friends along the way, starting with Lucas (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, left, with Arjona). Actually, Lucas doesn’t have a name when she finds him. He’s hanging from a cross, apparently in the middle of being crucified.

He tells her he doesn’t remember how he got there. They bond over his injuries, among other things, and head down the road toward Emerald City, because that’s where the Wizard lives and Dorothy has gleaned enough information about this weird place to conclude that if anyone can beam her back home, it’s the Wiz.

We know by this point that if she does make it back, she’s going to be more than just the good-hearted nurse whose biggest dilemma is whether to attempt a reconciliation with her long-absent birth mother.

That issue will probably surface again as we go along, but Dorothy in the meantime faces more immediate hurdles. Our job often seems to be figuring out exactly what those are, particularly the ones that seem to have been filmed before anyone turned a light on.

Emerald City is scheduled to run 10 episodes, and director Tarsem Singh Dhandwar has shot it more like an ongoing movie than a series of individual episodes. We mention this because if you want to give it a shot, it’s best to get in at the beginning.

Whatever lies over the rainbow in Emerald City is a long march away.

 
 
 
 
 
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Good news, TVWW readers: David’s new book from Doubleday, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific is available on Amazon for $20. (Paperback will be available September 5th, here.)

Doubleday says: “Darwin had his theory of evolution, and David Bianculli has his. Bianculli's theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way."

"The Platinum Age of Television is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV. For instance, animation evolved from Rocky and His Friends to South Park; variety shows moved from The Ed Sullivan Show to Saturday Night Live; and family sitcoms grew from I Love Lucy to Modern Family. A high point is the author’s interviews with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Bob Newhart, Matt Groening, Larry David, Amy Schumer and many others...Bianculli has written a highly readable history." —The Washington Post