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Emerald City - The Beast Forever / Prison of the Abject - Review

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I truly enjoyed the two hour premiere of Emerald City. True, there were a few points where I wondered when the plot would pick up, but Emerald City has captivated my interest by the simple fact that it is not a beat for beat retelling of The Wizard of Oz. Future episodes will tell if my excitement for this project will last, but for right now I’m hooked enough by the series premiere to continue going down the yellow brick road. I found the scope and visuals of Emerald City to be stunning and rather grand, something I wasn’t expecting with a production on broadcast television. The size of the world they are building with Emerald City really gives the show more weight; everything has a greater scale, history, and stakes.

The strongest and weakest aspects of Emerald City for me were the characters. They are more interesting than your average The Wizard of Oz fare, but the audience is being told more than shown what kind of people these characters are. The biggest offender I think is Dorothy. I like her, I do. She is very clever and thinks on her feet. I like the fact that she is a healer and how that skill has served her and her traveling companions so far in the story. Dorothy is also tough without being macho, and she has her moments of vulnerability, but I’m not buying the idea that she is a woman who is stuck in her same old dreary Kansas life, that she’s someone who is drifting. She’s a nurse; an occupation that takes a lot of commitment from someone they imply doesn’t have commitments. I just don’t understand Dorothy’s motivations, other than her desire to “get home”. What does home have for her? Her relationship with Auntie Em and Uncle Henry seems fine, she appears to find her job rewarding given her interactions with patients. True, her birth mother just decided to reconnect with her, but there doesn’t seem to be any resentment on either Dorothy or her aunt and uncle’s part, so it just feels as if the character of Dorothy isn’t very fleshed out.

Speaking of companions, I really am enjoying what Emerald City has done with Lucas, our expy of the Scarecrow. It’s not so much how he was found and that he has amnesia, but going off of Mombi’s speech, it’s the idea that his actions were “unthinkable” so his mind became unthinkable and then seeing how willingly and robotically he performed a horrible act of violence makes you being to wonder if you want to see the Scarecrow get his brain. Emerald City has taken one of the most whimsical characters people know from the Oz stories and made him responsible for unspeakable acts, but I don’t feel as if this change veers into “dark and gritty” territory. It’s more mature, similar to what happened to the same character in the musical Wicked, which I wouldn’t consider “gritty” either. By the end of the two hour premiere Lucas and Dorothy are still traveling companions but their relationship is strained and who knows if it will recover to what it once was. The attention Lucas’s character got in these two episodes and how we aren’t left with a clean resolution between him and Dorothy are things that have hooked me into watching more. I want to know what his story actually is.

Interestingly, I was at first very intrigued by the witches and Wizard of Oz, but as the premiere went on I felt that their scenes dragged and my attention with them wandered. I found myself not really that engaged in the funeral for the Witch of the East, nor was I terribly impressed with the Wicked Witch of the West. Having Dorothy’s traditional antagonist so close to her age will provide an interesting power dynamic when the pair meets, but I don’t find the western witch to be intimidating. In fact I was a bit annoyed with her; her rebellious nature came off as more the actions of a petulant child. The actress also strongly reminds of Fairuza Balk, which I think is funny considering the latter actress’s role in Return to Oz, the quintessential dark retelling of the Oz story. (Speaking of Return to Oz, I wonder if Mombi will take on some characteristics of her namesake from that movie. Those twitching hands weren’t for nothing.) I am deeply interested in this political one-upmanship Glinda and the Wizard seem to have. The implied and referenced history of Oz is another thing that caught my interest. It was unexpected to me to see these two together so soon, as well the begrudging relationship Glinda has with her sister. What happened before the events of Emerald City to get everyone to this point? These relationships also remind me of the uneasy alliances often found in Game of Thrones. Glinda seems to be the biggest antagonist in the whole of Emerald City and I look forward to seeing more of her particularly.

I have to say the best thing Emerald City has going for it is that it’s providing the unexpected. The journey to the titular city is a mystery given that so many liberties are being taken. I will admit the show tricked me with the death of the Wicked Witch of the East, I really thought they would be presenting a cut and dry “object falls on witch” type of story. But here, Dorothy actively meant harm and death for the witch, instead of passively participating in an accident. The same goes for the Tin Man. I surely though Eamonn, the guard pursuing Dorothy, would be chopped to pieces and given his silver armor be reborn as a new ally because that’s sort of what happened in the book. So I was quite surprised when Emerald City just bypassed that completely and had Eamonn simply cut down his enemy. The same goes for this show’s version of the munchkins. Or even the smaller things, like expecting Dorothy to run Mombi through with the sword, or that she acknowledge Lucas’s attempt to clear the air with a knock knock joke. This is where Emerald City is succeeds, when it plays with our familiarity with the source material.

Since it’s taking its own path with telling the The Wizard of Oz story, Emerald City has my attention, especially as it seems to be borrowing from lesser known L. Frank Baum books, such as The Marvelous Land of Oz. This could make it less accessible to viewers unfamiliar with anything outside the Judy Garland version, but I find it refreshing. Emerald City doesn’t nudge you in the ribs with its references to the source material. Instead, it uses that as a platform to build its own world, one that harbors a few mysteries yet to be teased out. The two hour premiere was a wise decision; a single hour wouldn’t have given enough information to hook the audience, and hopefully the continuing single hour format will allow the pacing to be tighter, while giving enough time to develop essential characters more. My concern is losing interest, either after Dorothy’s band of traveling companions is assembled or if that assembly is dragged out too long. A balance must be struck for Emerald City to succeed; it can’t be bogged down either by stretching the mysteries out or by cramming everyone together so as to explore the new unique storylines. For now, I want to learn more about Emerald City and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next.

Tune in next week for “Mistress – New – Mistress”.

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