I’ve been excited about Emerald City for months, so now that several episodes have aired, I want to share my thoughts. I went in with some expectations, but the show has ended up being different from what I thought it would be. I knew it wouldn’t be anything like the 1939 Wizard of Oz film, but this incarnation of Oz is totally unrecognizable. The basics are the same, but that’s it. Some people don’t like the grittier, edgier tone but I really like it even though I have mixed feelings about the show overall. Fair warning: there are minor spoilers in this review.
You know the basics of the story. Dorothy Gale (Adria Arjona) lives in the small community of Lucas, Kansas. Only this time, she’s a 20 years old nurse and not a teenaged farm girl. When a tornado tears through town she’s transported far from home to Oz. The Wizard of Oz (Vincent D’Onofrio) rules from Emerald City and when he learns about Dorothy’s arrival he fears that her presence is a sign that the threat has returned to destroy Oz. To stop her the Wizard sets out to kill Dorothy. Determined to get back to Kansas, Dorothy travels across Oz in search of the Wizard she believes can get her home.
One of the great things about Emerald City is that Dorothy Gale (Adria Arjona) is Latina. She speaks Spanish in the first episode. As a character, Dorothy is interesting, but also frustrating. It’s been interesting to watch Dorothy as Oz changes her. I like seeing her try to stand up for what she believes in. She’s brave, and extremely cunning. The way she ultimately deals with the Witch of the East (Florence Kasumba) is terrifying. Which makes me wonder just how much power Dorothy really has. But, Dorothy doesn’t seem to react that much to the strangeness around her. After she’s transported to Oz, she just sort of accepts that she’s now in a magical world, far away from home. There’s no guarantee she’ll get back to Kansas, but she doesn’t get very emotional about it at all which doesn’t feel very realistic.
My favorite characters on Emerald City are the Wizard and the Witches. They’re at odds with each other. After saving Oz from a threat known as the Beast Forever, the Wizard has banned magic and replaced it with the science and technology that he brought with him. With magic outlawed, the Cardinal Witches are now powerless. The Witch of the West (Ana Ularu) now runs a brothel and is resigned to her fate. But Glinda the Witch of the North (Joely Richardson) hasn’t given up on regaining her power. There’s a tantalizing truth in Oz – only a witch can kill a witch. After Dorothy’s encounter with the Witch of the East, I wonder what’s in store for her when she finally meets the other witches.
One of the reasons I decided to start watching Emerald City was because I’m a disappointed Once Upon a Time fan. The Wicked Witch storyline on OUAT started off interesting but it’s just boring now. So if you’re like me, Emerald City might help to fill that void. Each episode of the ten episode season is directed by Tarsem Singh. I’m a huge fan of his work because even if I hate the story, his work is so gorgeous. Emerald City doesn’t look anything like the extremely colorful 1939 movie but it’s beautiful in its own way. Here, Oz is grittier, the terrain covered in yellow dust leads Dorothy through rough wilderness. The home of the Witch of the East is an enormous, sumptuous palace. Parts of Oz look like a steampunk fantasy come to life. And the costumes designed by Trisha Biggar are a feast for the eyes. The councilwomen of the Wizard’s High Council are dressed in blue robes and headdresses. The Witch of the East has the most fabulous wardrobe of red gowns. And Glinda is like an ice queen dressed in shimmering white. Emerald City isn’t as overwhelming to look at as some of Tarsem Singh’s previous work which makes it easier to take in and appreciate.
The problem I have with Emerald City is that even though I’m intrigued, I don’t love it. I don’t hate it, so there’s that. It’s strange, compelling, but oddly frustrating. I find the inhabitants of Oz to be interesting. I want to know more about Oz’s history and the culture of its people. I want to know more about how Dorothy fits into everything. But Dorothy spends most of her time walking down the yellow brick road to Oz. It’s a strange complaint, considering that was the basic plot of the 1939 version. But Dorothy followed the yellow brick road over the course of a movie and she was helped along by characters that are a hell of a lot more interesting than the swordsman she picks up in episode one. Also, there are musical interludes in the movie version. Emerald City is Dorothy walking to Oz over a series of weeks, and it gets old very quickly. The events taking place in Emerald City are more interesting than whatever Dorothy is going through and that’s my biggest issue with the show so far.
In Oz even though there’s magic everywhere, magic itself has been outlawed. The conflict between science and magic is intriguing. Dorothy comes from a world full of technology, and like the Wizard, she brings some of that technology with her. That technology is more destructive and powerful than anything in Oz. But Dorothy also has a touch of magic around her and seeing that duality within her is fascinating. So far, I like the show and hopefully Dorothy will get to do more as time goes on. So, I’d give the first three episodes a B-.