The premise of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, ABC’s spinoff of Once Upon a Time, is that the human, non-magical protagonist goes on a quest through a magical land to reunite with her boyfriend, who is being held captive by a power-hungry magician who is in cahoots with the power-hungry queen of the magical land. The protagonist uses skills and knowledge gained during a childhood trip to this magical land; also helping her is a thief who is also the queen’s ex. Distractingly enough, the protagonist is Alice, the boyfriend a genie, the magical land Wonderland, the power-hungry magician Jafar, the power-hungry queen the Red Queen, the thief/queen’s ex the Knave of Hearts. Sprinkle liberally with iconic Lewis Carroll creations; season with threadbare fairy tale tropes, including plenty of sappy bilge about True Love [tm], and serve. Yields at least 15 episodes.
I’ve just watched the first three episodes of the latest Disney
concerted marketing effort of various properties TV show, and I remain uncertain. Once I suppress all my objections to the unholy mashup of bastardized Alice + bastardized Aladdin, I find the Heroic Quest motif interesting enough to follow, especially since it features a female protagonist, which Heroic Quests hardly ever do. It’s nothing original, but it’s entertaining and less stodgy than the recent live-action Alice in Wonderland, for which we can also put the blame on Disney.
The show will succeed or fail on the strength of its performances, I think. Sophie Lowe does well as an Alice in her teens who accepts nonsense with the same calm aplomb as she did when a child. In the episodes that I’ve seen so far, she always has her wits about her and always has a plan, usually involving violence and force, rather than cunning. In fact, I kinda wish she’d stop thinking with her weapons, although I do appreciate the portrayal of a young woman as calm, confident and competent. Michael Socha, as the sarcastic, self-interested Knave of Hearts, plays well off Lowe and adds a lot more interest to the proceedings. Alice and the Knave’s relationship is one reason I’m continuing to watch the show.
Naveen Andrews, as Jafar, clearly enjoys himself as he strides and lurks and swirls his cape; at the same time, though, he portrays his character as dry, coldly calculating and truly menacing, having already racked up a score of nonchalant murders. Emma Rigby, as the Red Queen, enjoys her power more ostentatiously and hammily, preferring to get her way through manipulation, rather than indiscriminate slaughter. The uneasy collaboration between the Red Queen and Jafar, who have similar goals, but dislike and distrust each other, I find fascinating and yet another reason to keep watching.
Unfortunately, the relationship most central to the show’s plot — that between Alice and
S nore Cyrus the genie — bores me. That’s because, over three episodes in which all major players have developed a bit, Snore still remains a cipher. You’d think that being magically enslaved to a series of fickle whims would do an interesting number on a guy, but Snore doesn’t seem particularly affected. All he does is exist as a prop to Alice: teaching her swordplay when she asks, making her an origami rose because he loves her, telling her not to rescue him because Jafar has threatened to kill Alice to torture Snore, etc. Now this could be an interesting avenue for development if Alice told him that she would prefer that he actually get a life of his own, rather than become a codependent appendage, However, Snore remains a crashingly dull love object/damsel in distress who has yet to say, do or think anything significant. It sure doesn’t help that many of Snore’s scenes occur with him + Jafar, and Andrews camps it up in circles around Peter Gadiot, who plays Snore.
The show could really help the vacuity of Snore — and the character of Jafar too — by giving them some more backstory. We have extensive history on Alice, and we’re learning more about the Knave and the Queen through their past relationship with each other, but our main players of color [don’t think I haven’t noticed the conspicuous absence of speaking roles for people of color, ABC/Disney!!] have little background. Flashbacks tell us that Jafar has been stalking Snore for years, even when they were both back in
PseudoArabianNightsLand Agrabah, and we know how Snore got from there to Wonderland, but we don’t know why Jafar is so hung up on this particular genie and also how he got to Wonderland. [Interdimensional flying carpet?] I will gladly stare at Naveen Andrews striding and lurking and calculating and menacing and offhandedly slaughtering for hours because he does so in a talented and sexy manner [despite the unfortunate pencil mustache], but I will not be fully engaged unless we get some history on his character. Until then, I’m going to assume that Jafar pursues Snore because he wants him for his power and his pretty face. :p
P.S. Speaking of tragic facial hair, Snore needs to shave. He looks like a 16-year-old trying really hard to generate a beard.
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