October 18, 2013

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Once Upon A Time In Wonderland”



A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND:  In this revisionist spin on the classic tale, a Victorian-era young adult Alice (Sophie Lowe) has escaped from the asylum where her father kept her after hearing the wild tales of her childhood, and she’s headed back to Wonderland, with sidekicks the Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha) and the untrustworthy White Rabbit (voiced by John Lithgow).  Her quest is to reunite with her true love, the genie Cyrus (Peter Gadiot), whom she had believed dead.  But the evil Red Queen (Emma Rigby) and at-least-as-evil sorcerer Jafar (Naveen Andrews) have their own plans for Cyrus (currently imprisoned by Jafar) and his magic powers, which they’ll set in motion as soon as Alice has taken care of  the three wishes she’s never used.

Episode 2:  A few flashbacks to fill in the (sappy) backstory of the Alice/Cyrus romance aside, Wonderland continues to be a much more structurally straightforward piece of work than its Once Upon A Time forebear.   The show’s first regular episode, written by Consulting Producer Rima Mimoun and directed by Romeo Tirone, sticks with the single story of Alice’s pursuit of Cyrus and the Red Queen and Jafar’s efforts to stop her.  Tonight’s hour centered on the search for Cyrus’s bottle, with two featured misdirects:  Alice’s giving everyone the wrong location so that she could get there first and see who was hunting the bottle, and the Red Queen’s fake-out of Jafar after the Rabbit told her the real location.  The only relief from the main storyline was a bit of screwball comedy where the Knave turned out to be an ex of the fairy who acts as ferry across a Wonderland sea, and she dropped him into the water, forcing Alice and Knave to make their way on the back of a giant sea turtle–although the gag that they thought the beast’s back was an island is a very old one.  And even that plot turned soapy when the fairy forgave the Knave after he told her of Alice’s profound goodness.

Wonderland is sufficiently different in tone from Once to make one wonder just who the intended audience is.  The Red Queen and Jafar are an extremely broad, arch pair of villains–it’s not even clear what kind of accent Emma Rigby is supposed to be doing, but she sounds like a spy in a World War I movie–and combined with the intensively CG’d look of the show (some of the effects better than others, as you’d expect on a TV budget), Wonderland sometimes has the feel of a live-action/animation hybrid.  But with its strong emphasis on the rapture of true love, tonight including magic origami birds that fly from Cyrus to Alice and back with secret messages, it’s not really aimed at young kids.  12 year-old girls?  So far there’s little of the cleverness or character depth that give Once a broader feel, and the only element really driving the show is the way Lowe and Socha play off each other.

Wonderland got off to a feeble start in the ratings, and there isn’t much to suggest the kind of ambition that might generate some buzz and bring new viewers in.  Conceived originally as a self-contained mini-series to run in the winter break between the season’s halves of Once, it still feels like a stopgap story, held together by sentimentality and silliness.  Without some imagination beyond the visual, “ever after” may come sooner than expected for this spin-off.


PILOT + 1:  Where’s the Magic?


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."