NBC’s Emerald City review
I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.
When NBC announced they were developing their own tale of Emerald City, there seemed to be many complications. After two years of back and forth discussions, potential cancellation before production, and a change of a showrunner from Josh Friedman to David Schulner, the series was finally ready to premiere. Also, it seems like lately, Hollywood has run out of ideas and are coming up with remakes or reinventions of beloved stories, twisting them into a contemporary version. But, NBC’s Emerald City, the reimagined version of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, works wonderfully. After viewing the first two episodes, I am hooked.
This twisted and dark version of Dorothy Gale, her companions, The Wizard and the witches of Oz draws for more drama and enticing storylines. Dorothy (Adria Arjona) is a nurse who seems to want more in life than living in a little town in Lucas, Kansas. After a tornado brushes through her town, Dorothy is whisked away in a police car (with a dog “TOTO”) into the world of Oz. Unbeknownst to her, she has accidentally killed the Witch of the East (Florence Kasumba) and instead of the shoes being forced on Dorothy, she obtains something else magical. While on her journey to find the wizard (Vincent D’Onofrio) who would take her home, she runs into several characters from the beloved tale, including characters not featured in the classic 1939 musical.
The Wizard has taken control over the kingdom and has outlawed magic. He must deal with the witches, who grow angry under his control, and the potential disaster from unnatural forces – which brought Dorothy to Oz.
There are many differences between the original story and this version. Instead of a scarecrow without a brain, Dorothy runs into a hunky soldier named Lucas (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who has no memory of his former life, strung up on a cross, left to die. It’s obvious that there is chemistry between the two characters to become something romantic. Come on. Two good-looking people on an adventure together constantly staring at each other… yeah. It’s bound to happen.
Instead of real flying monkeys, the wizard has robotic monkey drones that record everything happening in his town. The Yellow Brick Road is a yellow opium-filled road full of hallucinogenic effects, which makes brilliant imagery. The munchkins are warriors who aren’t small and aren’t the kindest people. And, instead of the Wicked Witch of the West (Ana Ularu) being completely green, she is a smoking hot druggie temptress who could send shivers down your spine with just her stare.
You should also expect several Easter eggs paying homage to the musical and books. There are a lot if you could catch them.
Directed by Tarsem Singh (The Cell, Self/Less), there never seems to be a dull moment in Emerald City, especially with a fantastic cast consisting of D’Onofrio, Arjona, Ularu, Mido Hamada, Gerran Howell, Jordan Loughran, and Joely Richardson. D’Onofrio, Ularu, and Richardson steal every scene they are in, even without saying a word.
D’Onofrio and Richardson are veterans to the screen and it shows in the series. D’Onofrio’s Wizard isn’t at all silly as the musical version. In this adaptation, the Wizard has a commanding presence, only to mask his real self-pitying state. Richardson portrayal of Glinda, the witch of the north, isn’t the typical “good” witch. She has many shades and it’s an interesting interpretation.
Ularu is absolutely fantastic as the witch of the West. She is definitely one to watch out for.
NBC’s Emerald City is an epic, romantic adventure and plays on the story we all grew up with, but for the aging and mature audience. The CGI and special effects have improved vastly from the musical to now, which beautifully showcases the world of Oz and makes it more realistic.
Emerald City premieres on Friday, Jan. 6 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.