Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pilot Review: Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (ABC)
Premiered October 10 at 8pm

I watched “Once Upon a Time” for an entire season before finally deciding to give up on it because it just wasn’t executing its admittedly intriguing premise well at all. A spin-off that isn’t really a spinoff is both appealing and off-putting at the same time. My concern was that, like the original, this show would obsess over stuffing as many characters from different fairy tale universes into the same storylines and trying to make a real-world version of it interesting. The insane asylum setting made this show’s non-fantasy scenes extremely creepy and started the show off on an uninviting note, but that did make her time in Wonderland more enticing. Everything in Wonderland looked cool but also seemed rather fake, and that makes it hard to take seriously. I understand this show is all about suspension of disbelief and being drawn into the characters, but it still feels lacking. The Red Queen really is evil, but as there’s always a bigger fish, it’s actually Jafar who has the true heart of stone. Combining “Aladdin” with Alice and ending things in Wonderland with Cyrus as Jafar’s prisoner suggests that this show won’t flip-flop between the two worlds in the same way or even be framed like that. Instead, it’s up to Alice and Wonderland itself to sell this premise. Sophie Lowe seems like an Alice, and her spunk works pretty well. John Lithgow is a good choice for the voice of the White Rabbit, while Naveen Andrews has seen much better days in his past ABC life on “Lost” than here as the rather cartoonish Jafar. This pilot didn’t surprise me, and that’s a disappointment more than anything.

How will it work as a series? I do think a second viewing might be required to comprehend the structure and format of this show. Merely portraying an alternate version of Wonderland which also includes Jafar and characters from other stories could work, but even if that’s the case, it’s clear that this show is content to let its storylines speak for themselves and not worry too much about sophistication.
How long will it last? The original show has proven to be a hit, and this show’s start wasn’t nearly as promising. Of ABC’s Thursday night offerings, it was the least-watched, but it still did pretty well compared to the other networks. It’s too early to tell, but I think this one could go either way, leaning more towards cancellation right now than renewal.

Pilot grade: C-

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