TV Review: Emerald City Series Premiere – “The Beast Forever” + “Prison of the Abject”

After many long years of rewrites and push-backs due to “creative differences,” Emerald City has finally reached network television. Although the show possesses strong and ambitious elements, it is evident that Emerald City has been put through the primetime wringer and has come out a bit distorted on the other side.

Emerald City follows the the basic storyline that we are all familiar with while adding new and modern pizzazz (some good and some bad) of its own. Dorothy (Adria Arjona) is a twenty-year-old from Kansas, who leads a normal and unassuming life as a nurse in her local town of Lucas. After discovering the identity of her birth mother, who abandoned her as an infant, she goes to pay her a casual visit. All very suddenly, she is swept up by a tornado and crashes into one of the witches of Oz. Though the introduction does hit the key points all backstories stereotypically address, it all happens quite quickly and feels a bit rushed. Within a matter of minutes, we are not in Kansas anymore.

Upon entering this strange new world, she is greeted by children in the woods (Munchkins), is off to see the wizard down a brick path covered in yellow poppy seeds (the yellow brick road), and runs into a guy covered in straw hanging from a wooden cross (you see where I’m going with this). These blatant signs all within the first few minutes leave you confused as to how exactly the show is meant to be interpreted. Though the show is sprinkled with mature content and deeper meaning, the overall plot comes off somewhat vapid, and it struggles to identify itself. As the show progresses, the awkward battle between over-simplification and complexity continues. Even when we are introduced to the great and powerful wizard, it is hard to tell if he is meant to be frivolous or frightening.

Despite this mass of contradictions being a little unnerving, it does create an enticing element that will leave viewers curious. We have found our scarecrow (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), our Glinda (Joely Richardson) and our wizard (Vincent D’Onofrio), but we are still left with many unanswered questions that will leave you wondering which side of the coin the answer will land on; obvious or implicit. Given that the bulk of the content is painstakingly literal, the peppering of newly added characters and unexplained plot twists make it is hard to predict what will happen next. The mass of contradictions within Emerald City leaves us confused, a bit angry, and dying to know more.

Even though the first two episodes do come off a bit too eager, it is clear that the show does possess a great deal of potential. Each scene is beautifully-shot and exquisitely executed. The director (Tarsem Singh) insisted on using primarily real locations and as little CGI as possible to add a modern and more mature element, and it paid off. It is also evident the cast itself holds a great deal of promise. As in most shows, the cast can make or break a series. In this case, the acting performances along with the chemistry between Dorothy and Lucas have a really powerful effect.

As always, it is difficult to judge the quality of a show simply based on its premiere. Given its puzzling ending and tonal shifts throughout, these two first episodes leave us a bit unsure on how to think or feel. There is a great deal of political and cultural importance to the characters and to the show itself, which is unfortunately diluted by its lack of seriousness and dumbed-down execution. However, I am optimistic that Emerald City will start to create a more solid identity as it delves deeper into the plot, but for now we must settle for uncertainty.

Episode Rating: 7/10

Anna is a twenty-one year old student residing in Columbus, Ohio. She is currently attending The Ohio State University and is studying Communications and Film Studies. She spends her free time binge-watching the Recently Addeds and binge-drinking wine while doing so. She worships David Fincher, Paul Newman and her cat Stella. Anna moonlights as a writer primarily because her friends got sick of her talking about film and TV constantly. Her hobbies include stalking celebrities online and getting overly competitive while playing board games.