Everyone knows the story of The Wizard of OZ. Whether it’s from L. Frank Baum’s series of books, Judy Garland’s wonderful 1939 film adaptation, the acclaimed Broadway play, or the numerous sub-par renditions out there, the story of Dorothy is engrained in our culture. This time it’s NBC’s turn to tell the story, and like many unnecessary Hollywood remakes, Emerald City is deeply flawed and makes us yearn for an industry that values creativity and originally as much as they do profits.
Emerald City, like many reboots, is a dark and gritty take on the source material. Dorothy (Adria Arjona) is now a pill stealing Kansas nurse, the “Scarecrow” (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) was introduced to us while he hung from a cross, Glinda (Joely Richardson) is now a power-hungry ice witch, and her western sister (Ana Ularu) is a drugged-up brothel owner. While watching the premier, all I could picture was a bunch of NBC executives sitting around pondering a way to cash in on the success of Game of Thrones. Unfortunately for them, all they could think of was a sexed-up and violent Wizard of OZ.
In this world, the Wizard (Vincent D’Onofrio) reigns supreme after he saved everyone from a mysterious beast. He rules with an army of guards and an arsenal of flying monkey-drones and he banished magic and its users to the fringes of society. There are numerous factions throughout the land and several different people vying for power. The show also makes it obvious that beast is back and I’m sure Dorothy’s arrival has something to do with it.
Like in the original movie, Dorothy was transported to this world by a tornado but this time she was taken in a police car instead of a house. Upon landing in a snowy forest, she’s captured by an indigenous tribe filled with people that resembled Ewoks and Braveheart warriors more than Munchkins. They eventually send her in the direction of the great Wizard who she hopes can help her get home. While walking along the yellow poppy-covered road, she encountered Emerald City’s version of the scarecrow, an amnesia-induced man strung to a cross. I didn’t expect them to actually use a scarecrow, but I was still surprisingly disappointed this character was just another person. The two of them (and her police dog Todo) continued north together, running into trouble along the way.
I don’t know if it was just me, but it was annoying and almost funny how calm Dorothy was with her situation. The show was so focused on drowning us in characters and plot points, it forgot to develop the most important character. How are we supposed to feel attached and sympathetic for Dorothy if she acts as if all this is normal? In fact, the first episode in general failed to induce any emotions. Maybe it’s because the story is so well known, but I was more concerned with how Emerald City compared to the original movie than I was with anything new the show had to offer. I could also do without the very forced love connection Dorothy and the scarecrow-man she named Lucas are supposed to have. All it feels like is a desperate move by the writers because they needed a way to add more drama and connection to the story.
Visually, the show is great. It has a blockbuster look on a network budget, something more and more shows are able to do these days. However, unlike movies, television shows can’t rely on visuals alone because they need people coming back every week. That’s where the story comes in and right now Emerald City doesn’t have the story to hold viewers’ attention. The two-hour premier felt flat and uninspired, and to be honest I have no idea the direction the show is headed.
I’m rooting for Emerald City to succeed because I think there needs to be more fantasy in mainstream media. Game of Thrones is helping, but the classic and generally loved story of The Wizard of OZ is the perfect story to normalize the genre. However, unless the show improves its story and connects to the viewers’ emotions (and not through lazy romance drama), I don’t have very high hopes.