Ever since the success of Game of Thrones, I am surprised no other television network attempted to compete with or copy it right off the bat. The epic fantasy series proved the genre can work on television if enough care and a big enough budget are on hand. But now, NBC’s long-postponed but not-all-that-entirely anticipated fantasy drama Emerald City will debut in January of 2017, two years after it was originally announced. As you might guess, it is based on L. Frank Baum‘s classic novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but with the obvious, rudimentary nods to The Wizard of Oz. As a lifelong fan of the franchise, I will be watching it. But with only the first trailer released, little fanfare, and only two months to go til the pilot airs, is Emerald City going to make audiences want to follow the yellow brick road or just click their heels together to change the channel?
The whole development process of Emerald City sounded rather bumpy. It was pitched at some point prior to 2013 to Universal Television by Matthew Arnold. It was greenlit to have ten episodes (like Game of Thrones), with Josh Friedman as showrunner. Friedman at least has some credibility to his work like The Sarah Connor Chronicles and wrote 2005’s take on War of the Worlds. Too bad he got fired due to creative differences, and the show was canned by NBC. But in 2015, they changed their minds and re-greenlit the show, with Tarsem Singh as the director of all ten episodes. But only in the past months have we even seen marketing for the series. There is the possibility that this show will be dead on arrival.
The series appears to be at first focusing on the key elements of the classic story, albeit with changes, altering the charming story into a war between science and magic in the Land of Oz. However, it appears other characters from beyond the first book will be featured such as Tip (aka Princess Ozma) and Jack Pumpkinhead (though portrayed as a human). Speaking of which, it appears all characters will be human while sporting features or nods to their literature counterparts. Both the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion are both human. I am concerned the more magical elements of the books will be cut out in favour for more expositional scenes about politics, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see a more serious take on Oz, but that has been done multiple times in the past.
A lot of the iconic signatures of Oz seem absent from the trailer – Dorothy does not get to Oz by house but rather by a stolen police car, the yellow brick road literally looks like it was drawn on the ground, and the Emerald City is lacking the iconic green design. Interestingly, the Silver Shoes/Ruby Slippers appear to have been swapped out with ruby gloves, worn by the Wicked Witch of the East and then inherited by Dorothy after she runs the witch over upon landing in Oz. Is it just me, or this new take not very Oz-ish. If they are going to do a dark, gritty adaptation of the franchise, there is no need to chuck everything that people know from the books and films. The book series Dorothy Must Die explored the canon of the books even when making their story bloody and scary.
Let’s have an examination of the trailer. It opens, where else but Kansas where we meet the newest incarnation of Dorothy Gale (Adria Arjona), who lives on a farm with presumably her aunt and uncle. The farm looks quite small since they have deliberately placed all of the traits of an American farm in one shot (scarecrow, weathervane, tractor, etc.) Inside, we get more nods to the franchise – a rainbow-shaped kitchen decoration, the scarecrow outside the window, a cup with a cat on it, a chicken-shaped container. And all we get out of Dorothy’s life at home is a vague wish “that there was more”. Maybe their life sucks or something. Dorothy then blows out a candle on a birthday cake – just like Emma Swann in the pilot of Once Upon A Time.
In the next scene, a storm whips up and Dorothy takes shelter in a police car where we meet Toto, who is a police dog for some reason. A cop is briefly glimpsed aiming his gun at Dorothy before he gets sucked away – if I recall, an early plot outline for the series described Dorothy as a troubled girl with a criminal record. Well that would certainly be refreshing. Then, bam! Dorothy lands in Oz and immediately runs out East (Florence Kasumba). She didn’t last long. Dorothy and Toto are next shown presumably arriving in a Munchkin village, but rather than being dwarves, they are normal humans who were Braveheart-esque make up to show they are a tribe. Oh, please, Game of Thrones has proven just how awesome dwarf actors can be, but NBC are copping out to avoid insulting them, despite The Wizard of Oz featuring the most prominent gathering of dwarf actors ever.
The Munchkins warn Dorothy that with East dead, her sisters will vie for her power and likely want Dorothy’s head. We briefly glimpse Glinda the Good (Joely Richardson), mistakenly named as the Good Witch of the North (rather than the South), and the Wicked Witch of the West (Ana Ularu), whose wardrobe assistant clearly remembered one thing from Game of Thrones that made it popular. Glinda also looks rather reserved and a little intimidating, traits which are a little more subtle in the books. The Munchkin elder sends Dorothy on her way to meet the Wizard himself down the yellow brick road. And, oh, joy, oh, joy. The Wizard is played by Vincent D’Onofrio. That is one great reason to view these series, since he was fantastic in Daredevil – but has he been deliberately cast in a similar role to attract ratings?
We get our first glimpse of the actual Emerald City, and to say it is different is an understatement. It seems to be taking some obvious influence from King’s Landing, being near the sea with the palace atop the city, also similar to Minas Tirith. There are also giant “statues” of giant men lining the shore, some in pieces and armed with weapons. I suspect they are in fact Nomes, constant enemies to the Land of Oz, somehow frozen in place by magic or are just dead. There is also a robot helicopter thingy flying overhead. Has the Wizard invented steampunk drones?
Things begin to pick up here. The Wizard speaks with an advisor who warns him that there may be a rebellion coming with the use of magic, but the Wizard claims there is no magic in Oz, replacing it with his science. Considering the whole of Oz is made from magic, I find that a little difficult to believes. I guess the Wizard has outlawed magic in favour of science. So much for being the man behind the curtain. He then speaks to a knight named Eamonn (Mido Hamada), the show’s equivalent of the Cowardly Lion, asking him to find Dorothy and make sure she does not return to the city. Dorothy is then shown in a prison cell being interrogated and tortured by West, who demands her sister’s magic.
Dorothy and Toto walk down the brick road, coming across a man tied to a post, covered in hay and blood. Now I wonder who he could be based on. This is Lucas (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), Dorothy’s love interest for the series. He suffers from amnesia and does not remember his true identity. We glimpse a strange red swirling vortex in the sky, East getting a couple of lines in, warning that whatever falls out of the sky, “they” send it back. I’m guessing the Wizard’s arrival caused a lot of change and sorrow for the witches. We immediately find out that Dorothy and Lucas are going to be a couple judging by their soppy lines to one another.
It is onwards that we delve into more Game of Thrones-esque elements, with Glinda commenting there is a war between magic and science, complete with armies lining up to fight, interestingly led by the Wizard himself. Then comes the most interesting shot of the trailer – what could be a glimpse of the series’ take on the Tin Man, showing blueprints of a human powered by gears. Said person then appears, sporting a mechanical arm with gears covering where their heart should be. Curioser and curioser. Dorothy appears to be gaining magic of her own, seen in a red dress with a blast of wind flying around her.
The Wizard asks Dorothy if there is more to her than just being a girl from Kansas as we fly through a montage of clips – an army of girls in white, Eamonn sporting his lion-shaped helmet, people leaping off cliffs, what looks like a cult practicing magic with West, Dorothy fighting one of the Nomes, the required explosion, and Dorothy summoning a tornado of bugs from the sky using the ruby gloves. The trailer then ends with Dorothy saying “Definitely not in Kansas”.
So, yeah, the trailer does actually look pretty good despite my complaints above. However, it doesn’t really feel something that has a lot of love and attention in it. You have the generic romance plot, a war of ideals, yet does make up for its exciting visuals. To me, this didn’t really feel like the teaser for an Oz-related drama series but an attempt to replicate the basic concept of Game of Thrones. But, optimism is a fruitful thing, and I will give this series a go when the time comes. There is potential, exploring a new side to key characters like Dorothy and the Wizard, and bringing a darker, mature edge to the beloved stories of old.
Have you watched Emerald City’s trailer? What do you think of this new series and will you watch it? Can The Wizard of Oz work as a darker toned story? Leave a comment below or on our Twitter feed.