TV Review: ‘Once Upon a Time in Wonderland’

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

A handsome pilot and appealing lead don't address spinoff's larger challenges

Once Upon a Time” started with enormous promise — graced with an intriguing, marketable idea and a beautifully realized pilot. As a consequence, it was disappointing — if not altogether surprising — to see the show go creatively off the rails, continuing to attract solid ratings but drifting rather listlessly from one crisis to the next. Perhaps inevitably, its spinoff, adding “in Wonderland” to the unwieldy title, is equally handsome, but behind those virtual sets lurk many potential flaws. An appealing Alice certainly helps matters, but past performance reduces the likelihood of a fairy-tale ending.

In a way, the darkened take on fairy tales employed here almost immediately takes “OUATIW” (as ABC not so helpfully abbreviates it) into treacherous waters, closer to the movie “Sucker Punch” than anyone should willingly venture.

Alice (Sophie Lowe) returned from her adventures in Wonderland as a lass spouting what sounded like nonsense, and her frequent trips back have done nothing to quell assumptions the poor girl must be mad. Now a young woman, she’s being held in a mental institution when the show begins, as doctors interrogate her and seek authorization to perform a “procedure” to deaden her pain.

That pain stems from the loss of her true love (ah, there’s that again), a genie named Cyrus (Peter Gadiot), who she met in Wonderland and has every reason to believe is dead. Given hope he might be alive, she journeys back with the Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha), braving the wrath of the Red Queen (Emma Rigby) and, in another one of those bits of fairy-tale-cross-collateralization, the wizard Jafar (“Lost’s” Naveen Andrews). Her companions also include the White Rabbit (voiced by John Lithgow), who in addition to being late seems to have borrowed his glasses from Elton John.

Even with incomplete visual effects in the screener, there are certainly some arresting designs (including the Queen’s chess-piece-encrusted castle) in the premiere written by Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, Zack Estrin and Jane Espenson. Yet this latest version of an extended quest to reunite young lovers faces all the usual hurdles about how to keep that interesting while deferring the arrival of “Happily ever after” for five or six seasons.

Strictly as a practical matter, ABC also risks diluting the “Once Upon a Time” brand through this line extension, as if ornate fairy tales were as readily replicated as “Law & Order” or “CSI.”

Given ABC’s struggles Thursday at 8 (its own version of a development rabbit hole), one can see the allure of a project with built-in name recognition and female appeal to flow into “Grey’s Anatomy” and the surging “Scandal.” Hell, there’s even already a tie-in ride at Disneyland.

That said, unless Alice and her rabbit pal have more tricks up their sleeve than Snow White and the gang could muster, ABC’s visit to Wonderland might once again leave the network less in need of a looking glass than a rear-view mirror.

TV Review: 'Once Upon a Time in Wonderland'

(Series; ABC, Thur. Oct. 10, 8 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in Vancouver by Kitsis/Horowitz in association with ABC Studios.

Crew

Executive producers, Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, Steve Pearlman, Zack Estrin; producers, Brian Wankum, Kathy Gilroy; director, Ralph Hemecker; writers, Kitsis, Horowitz, Estrin, Jane Espenson; camera, Stephen Jackson; production designer, Michael Joy; editor, Geofrey Hildrew; music, Mark Isham; casting, Veronica Collins Rooney. 60 MIN.

Cast

Sophie Lowe, Michael Socha, Peter Gadiot, Emma Rigby, Naveen Andrews, John Lithgow (voice)

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  1. Brooke says:

    Love OUAT and thought Wonderland would be great but no. Only thing I like is the crossover story of Knave and “Anastasia” and want to see how she became Red Queen. The Cyrus, Jafar thing is dumb and would rather have seen her first arrival in wonderland and the twists and history of how the cheshire cat became what he is, How Jefferson/Mad Hatter came to be and his life in WL. Cora and how she became Queen of hearts etcccc and how Alice lived and her many adventures. The idea of her in an asylum was cool but failed. I’ll give it a Couple more episodes and might watch for supporting character histories instead. Oh and did I mention the CGi sucks and Jafars Cobra staff is dumb and ridiculous!

  2. Jay Pea says:

    I love OUAT and I really wanted to like this show. But I’ve seen both episodes and so far it’s just…boring. I’ll continue to watch a few more weeks in the hope that it’ll improve. Naveen Andrews’ “Jafar” might spice things up a bit. But if the next two episodes ponderously plod along like that last two have done, I’m going to stop watching.

  3. peterpan says:

    Please check out my review on the episode and give me feedback!

    peterpansalterego.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/once-upon-time-in-wonderland-down_14.html

  4. Rachel says:

    I was looking forward to seeing Michael Socha and excited that it would be similar to OUAT but it was beyond disappointing. I don’t like grey’s and can not stand Scandal so I guess 2 1/2 men it will be.

  5. Rachel Blunk says:

    I wasn’t impressed at all with the Premier of “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland”. The acting is sub-par and the graphics are something you would see on like “Blues Clues” that children’s show that plays early in the mornings. I will watch it once more and decide whether or not the keep it in the shows to watch. I’m on the fence with “Once Upon a Time” too. I was excited about this season with Once Upon a Time, but it too is falling flat.

  6. Lisa says:

    I just watched OUAT in Wonderland and was extremely disappointed. I was looking for the action that the original OUAT has and got it at the beginning. However, as the story progressed tonight it flat lined and got really cliché. The could have started it further back to wheel us in and remind the audience why we love this story. It definitely wasn’t about her true love!!! OR if that’s what they were going for they could have really made Alice insane and took a more gritty approach. Alice and Wonderland had a wonderful underlying meaning but it seems like they will keep it surface. I will give it one more shot next week to see if it picks up but I might have to cancel it off my DVR. The only bright side to watching this was having my TV already on ABC for Scandal.

  7. Eli says:

    This show is awful. OMG! how is this stuff allowed in television. This is why I’ll probably just rewatch Orange is the New Black in its place.

    • liltimmy says:

      you would rather watch orange is the new black then OUAT in wonderland? holy crap , now wonder we get junk shows to watch on tv

  8. TrueBlue says:

    I am really looking forward to this show!! A younger cast than OUAT should appeal to different demographics, attracting new viewers who are not necessarily fans of OUAT (which by the way, is doing nicely so far in it’s 3th season) I think these shows can feed each other. Judging by the trailers it seems to have the right balance of heroics and romance. There is a good chemistry between Alice (Sophie lovwe ) and the Cyrus the genie (the gorgeous Peter Gadiot) .

  9. Gail Shields says:

    I loved We Are Men, its a comedy and it does excactly that, it made me laugh and not think about all the unnecessary nonsense that is going on in our country today.
    Thanks for making me laugh

    • Allen says:

      Other critics are complaining about only being provided a 20 minute edited version of ONCE that was almost unplayable on ABC’s media stream machinery. My question then, is this review of the entire pilot or the 20 minute version? I would think that would make a huge difference.

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