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Wonderland Not So Wonderful

October 19, 2013

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I wanted to like Once Upon a Time in Wonderland so bad. And I really tried. But after two episodes, I’m giving up.  It may be too early, but the show doesn’t have the same joy for me that its sire does. I couldn’t put my finger on it for a while, but what I’ve found is that what the spinoff lacks is balance.

The original show, Once Upon a Time, does a very good job of balancing two storylines taking place in separate worlds. For two seasons it went back and forth between present day Maine and the Enchanted Forest.  Now it is between Neverland and the Enchanted Forest.  While Neverland is more fantastical than our world, the characters are still grounded in the present and who they are in our world.  In Wonderland, it switches back and forth between Wonderland and well, Wonderland.  Frankly, it’s too much Wonderland.

It’s not that Wonderland isn’t a lovely place; it is. But it’s so fantastical, so over the top, and so completely computer generated that the world completely overshadows the characters – and isn’t that why we tune in week after week? Some of the characters are interesting. Alice (Sophie Lowe)is clever, self-reliant, and as far from a damsel in distress as you can get. She travels with the Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha), a cad who is inherently selfish, yet feels a need to help Alice on her quest to free the man she loves, who is inexplicably the genie from Aladdin (Peter Gadiot). His name is Cyrus in this version and he’s very sweet, if a tad one dimensional. 

Which brings me to the characters that don’t quite work.  Since we’ve already covered the genie, that part of Aladdin’s story remains the same: Jafar (Naveen Andrews) wants the genie and he’s come to Wonderland from Agraba to get him. That’s all we really know. I loved Andrews ever since Lost, but Jafar’s presence in Wonderland seems like they just ran out of ideas.  He constantly butts up against the Red Queen (Emma Rigby), who is so poorly written and acted that I wonder what the point of the character is. They seem to be portraying her as cold and calculating, but she comes off as a bad Marilyn Monroe impression that is in complete contrast with the world around her and has nowhere near the presence that the Evil Queen Regina (Lana Parrilla) does in OUAT.

Then of course, there’s the White Rabbit (voiced by John Lithgow). He seems on Alice’s side, but it is quickly revealed that he is being blackmailed into helping the Red Queen. And yet the information that he’s able to give her at the end of the second episode is information that he should not have except that he happens to be in the right place at the right time to hear it, for no reason other than the writers needed him there to make the plot point work.  I’m frankly disappointed that the White Rabbit is CGI. Almost everyone in the OUAT world is played by an actual human, if only in one world (Jiminy Cricket – Raphael Sbarge). But so far both the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Keith David) are CG creatures (and it looks as though the Caterpillar will be also), when it could be so much more interesting if they were humanized.

When half your cast is uninteresting or unwatchable and the other half is overshadowed by the world around them, sadly, it makes for a show that is hard to follow, because why follow if I don’t care? And I don’t.  I wish I did, but like many spinoffs, I think Wonderland is doomed.

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