EMERALD CITY -- Season: 1 -- Pictured: (l-r) Roxy Sternberg as Elizabeth, Ana Ularu as West, Gerran Howell as Jack, Joely Richardson as Glinda/North, Stefanie Martini as Lady Ev, Jordan Loughran as Tip, Vincent D?Onofrio as Wizard/Frank, Adria Arjona as Dorothy Gale, Florence Kasumba as Wicked Witch/East, Mido Himada as Eamonn, Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Lucas, Isabel Lucas as Anna -- (Photo by: Michael Muller/NBC)
ReviewsTelevision & Film

EMERALD CITY Sure Knows How to Make a Splash

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Episode 101 “The Beast Forever”
Episode 102 “Prison of the Abject”
Directed by Tarsem Singh
Written by David Schulner and Matthew Arnold

[All photos courtesy of NBC]

Emerald City is a new adaption on L. Frank Baum’s classic book series set in the land of Oz. Here, magic has been outlawed by the Wizard (Vincent D’Onofrio), but with the arrival of Dorothy (Adria Arjona), things are changing. The Beast Forever is poised to return, and some of the witches aren’t happy about not using magic. Thrust into a mystical new land, Dorothy is left to figure out who to trust and how to get home. For a quick recap of the first two episodes, which aired on January 6, check out my video below.

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The shows starts us out with a little bit of mystery. A woman covered in blood and dirt runs up to the house in the middle of a field with a crying baby in her arms. When she holds the baby’s hand, we see a mark of five black dots in a circle on the child. After we jump forward 20 years, we see the same mark on Dorothy. It’s obviously an important part of the show, but it’s neither addressed nor shown again after these two instances.

We do see Dorothy caring for patients in a hospital and stealing medicine for Aunt Em (Holly Hayes), though, which is a change from the young girl in the blue dress we’re used to (though her scrubs are blue now!). We’re left with even more unanswered questions after Dorothy rushes to her mother’s house during the storm. There’s an officer dead inside and Karen (Gina Bellman) is injured in her storm shelter. We don’t find out any more information about what’s going on because Dorothy is whisked away to Oz with Toto in the back seat of the police car that she jumped in. Setting up some suspense outside of Oz really adds to the feel that Dorothy is taken there with a purpose, as there is obviously something going on with her and her family from the start.

It feels a little breezy out tonight.
It feels a little breezy out tonight.

The munchkins have been replaced with tribe children who lead Dorothy to the Tribal Freelands. When she identifies the witch of the East (Florence Kasumba) as someone she accidentally killed, the tribe is not very happy. Apparently, only a witch can kill a witch, so if she killed East, she must also be a witch. After some waterboarding, they finally vote to exile her instead of kill her, but not before Ojo (Olafur Darri Olafsson) takes her through the really intense Prison of Abject.

While this isn’t our first introduction to blood in the show, it does up the gore/intensity factor here. Not only are there people imprisoned in the mud beneath the tree, there are also people stuck on and inside the tree, and they don’t look like they had a very good day. It really shows that this version is not the same kid version we’re used to, and it just gets more adult from there. Dorothy comes across burned bodies, Lucas (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is found bloodied and crucified, West (Ana Ularu) is introduced to us mid coitus, and Mombi (Fiona Shaw) is graphically run through with a sword.

Overall, though, this show is amazing so far! It absolutely grabbed my attention and kept it through the entirety of the 2-hour premiere. There are so many elements that are done so well here. First off, the casting is phenomenal. West is my favorite character so far, but she has stiff competition from Lucas and Dorothy. Ularu, Jackson-Cohen, and Arjona do an amazing job making their characters real. The acting is really amazing from every single person on screen, and everyone works together flawlessly. This is a well put-together production, and I applaud NBC and everyone involved for their work.

The graphics are beautiful, the settings are fantastical, and the music is wonderful. A lot of the scenes give off a very Game of Thrones feel, especially in Oz where the Wizard’s Eternal Warrior stands and reminds me of the Titan of Braavos. The locations are all very diverse and thus offer very different feels from scene to scene. The tribe Dorothy comes in contact with lives in the middle of snowy mountains, Oz is a grand city by the sea, Mombi lives in a secluded cabin in the hills, and Lucas and Dorothy travel down a dusty road away from everything. The overall coloring given to each location really adds to the environment and impression, as well.

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Toto just knows Lucas has a treat for him.

Trisha Biggar is the costume designer for the show, and she did an amazing job! I loved every single costume, and just like with the settings, each was very different and told a unique story. In this version, Dorothy foregoes the ruby slippers for the ruby encrusted metal gloves that appear (and disappear) on her hands after the witch of the East officially dies. The dresses that each witch wears seem to be fitting of their outward persona, and the detail in every costume is beautiful. East’s flowing dress looks like flames when we see her perched on the stone wall. It was probably my favorite costume moment of the show so far.

The final touch in each scene is the music, which is not only beautiful in and of itself, but also combines perfectly with the other elements to round out each story.

She's so evil even her dress is trying to escape!
She’s so evil even her dress is trying to escape!

There are other changes from the Wizard of Oz movie besides the slippers, as well. According to showrunner David Schulner, this story more closely aligns with the books than with any of the preceding movies. Toto is no longer a Terrier but a fierce German Sheppard (and not even Dorothy’s dog!), the scarecrow is a real man who was covered in tar and straw when Dorothy found him, the yellow brick road is actually a path covered in Poppy pollen, and Dorothy is a modern nurse with a take-charge attitude who arrives in a police car instead of a house. Overall, the changes work as they distinctly separate this series from previous incarnations and help the show carve its own path in this world that most people are already familiar with.

My only quibble is the name of the nefarious unknown monster, the Beast Forever. That name just doesn’t make any sense. I’m assuming an explanation will be given later, especially because the only description we’ve been given of this entity is that it’s a whole bunch of evil stuff that happened as opposed to an actual being. Right now, though, it’s confusing, and I’m not sure what to make of this grand evil that everyone fears is making a return.

I’m really excited to see what comes next in this show. From the previews, it appears Lucas and Dorothy develop a more intimate relationship, so I’m interested in seeing how that plays out. Tip (Jordan Loughran) is also an intriguing character, and I can’t wait to learn more about her and why Mombi not only hid her but gave her a potion to make her appear as a boy. If the series keeps up the energy from the premiere, this is going to be a very good show.

What are you looking forward to from this new series? What did you think of the premiere? Let me know in the comments!

 

Emerald City airs on Fridays at 9/8c on NBC. If you missed the premiere, you can watch it now on the NBC app or site. Check out the show’s official Twitter and Facebook pages, and don’t forget to come back here for your weekly recap!

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Kayce Taylor

Kayce Taylor nurtured a healthy love of video games from an early age. Growing up in small-town Missouri offered plenty of free time to play the likes of Kirby, Mario (of all varieties), 007, and more. Though she was raised in a Star Wars family, her husband showed her the undeniable power of Star Trek, and she's been a fan of both ever since. If she were only allowed to watch one show for the rest of her life, she would pick The Office without hesitation. She recently began exploring photography, and even more recently went to her first comicon. She loves sci-fi/fantasy and dreams of going to Hogwarts and/or meeting a Shadowhunter.

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