×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘Once Upon a Time in Wonderland’

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

With:

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

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)

More TV

  • SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Steve Carell"

    'Saturday Night Live' Stages Mini 'Office' Reunion (Watch)

    “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 […]

  • SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Steve Carell"

    ‘Saturday Night Live’ Takes Shots at Voter Fraud, Facebook and Nancy Pelosi (Watch)

    “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 […]

  • 'Big Mouth' Renewed for Season 3

    'Big Mouth' Renewed for Season 3 at Netflix

    “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 […]

  • Channing DungeyWomen In Film Crystal and

    How ABC Pulled Off a Stealth Transition for Channing Dungey and Karey Burke

    “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 […]

  • Diego Luna Inclusion

    6 Takeaways From Variety’s 2018 Inclusion Summit

    “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 […]

  • Frankie Shaw as Bridgette Bird and

    TV News Roundup: 'SMILF' Season 2 Premiere Date Set at Showtime

    “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 […]

  • "The Consummation Deviation" - Pictured: Rajesh

    Live+3 Ratings for Week of Nov. 5: 'Big Bang Theory' Ticks Up

    “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 […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content