Emerald City: Season 1
It is the obligation of each generation to revisit the great works of literature and reinterpret them through the lens of their own experiences, predilections, hopes and fears. While Shakespeare is arguably at the list of remakes and re-imaginings one set of novels on the list of the books of. Frank Baum, the author of the perennial children’s classic, ‘The Wizard of Oz ‘the most famous interpretation is the 1939 film of the same name, considerations of the stories contained in the series the latest is a television series on NBC. ‘Emerald City’. It is a rather bold move away from what is traditionally regarded as the story and characters. With the success of ‘Oz’ in such venues as an award-winning Broadway musical, this is an opportune time to reformat the adventures of Dorothy Gale in the far of land of Oz. The series does manage to perform a substantial reinvention of the familiar augmenting the story by drawing on other material culled from various other books of the series. The show makes a valiant attempt but falls short of reaching its full potential. Unfortunately, the series was cancelled by the network after only ten episodes. This is regrettable since the series could have become an interesting addition to the broad selection of fantasy stories currently popular on television. The abrupt termination of the series by NBC/Universal was another instance of corporate short sightedness. A story like this is exceptionally dependent on crafting an intricate tapestry of situations and character development. This is part of the evolution of a new variation of a tale generally perceived in a set pattern. This requires time and patience both for the creative people producing the series and the audience. It is frequently easy for a viewer to remember that this is part of a multibillion dollar industry and ultimately the network executives are obliged to make what fiscally responsible decisions. With the current distribution paradigm including numerous tiers of cable stations and an ever-growing influence of streaming video services, there is usually a glimmer of hope. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case here. The series contained an impressively talent cast on both sides of the camera. The issue that introduces is the simple fact that they are typically busy and most likely already involved with another project.
A few familiar elements are retained in this treatment of the story. Most importantly, the protagonist and principle point of view character is Dorothy Gale (Adria Arjona). Rather than the young girl dressed in her iconic blue gingham dress followed by a cute little puppy, this Dorothy for the new millennium is a twenty-something savvy Latina whose Toto is a large German Shepard. The simple farm girl has been morphed into a nurse, an educated, resourceful professional woman. Understandably, this place a completely different spin on the underlying narrative. In the movie, the dominant theme pervading the story is the transformation of innocence through a series of incredible adventures. The series opens with Dorothy living in a remote town in Kansas. She wants to recone4ct with her biological mother. Twenty years ago she was given up for adoption and although her new family was supportive, Dorothy still had an unrelenting need to connect with the woman who gave her life. A sudden tornado sweeps through force her to seek shelter in s police car along with a police dog. When the dust clears Dorothy and Toto find themselves in a place not Kansas.
The means of traversing the realms between our world and Oz is eventually explained as a scientific research project gone awry. The purpose of the research was to explore creating a new source of clean energy. This is a rather subtle nuance to the story that balances the requisite dependency of magic as a major driving force to propel the themes. This offers the audience a balance between science and the supernatural. Upon landing in Oz, she is met by a trial community, the Mombi who inhabit Munja'kin country. Her arrival in the squad car resulted in the hitting of one of the four Cardinale witches of Oz, Sister East (Florence Kasumba), better known as ‘The Wicked Witch of the East.’ The chief of the tribe informs Dorothy that this incidence will make her a target for the powerful Wizard of Oz (Vincent D'Onofrio). During his tumultuous rise to power he outwarded magic banishing witches. Life rapidly becomes increasingly complicated when Dorothy attempts to find the Wizard and hopefully explain what little she understands about the recent events. Along the way Dorothy encounters East again understandably angry about car falling from the sky striking her. East intends to kill Dorothy but becomes distracted by the service revolver Dorothy took from the police car. The quick thinking young woman tricks the witch into pointing the gun at herself, pulling the trigger blown a hole through her head. Upon the witch’s death the focus of her power, ornate gems and gold chains surrounding her hand. it disappears but when Dorothy is facing a potentially lethal situation it reappears conferring with magical powers.
Dorothy gaining access to magical abilities does assist in reintroducing one of the core themes to the story, the loss of innocence as manifested through Dorothy. As a nurse, her education was geared towards a reliance on science. Suddenly she is literally dropped into a strange world were magic exist. Compounding this major perceptual change of realty is discovering she can wield these supernatural forces. Thankfully, much to the credit of the professionalism and talent of the writers, this plot contrivance is judiciously applied avoiding the ancient pitfall of Deus ex machina. The over use of magic would completely negate the effect achieved by its juxtaposition of science. Midway into the season a twist was infused into the plot that made this comparison crucial from another perspective. The revolver that Dorothy brought to Oz is initially mistaken for a powerful magical talisman capable of killing a Cardinal witch but the Wizard, originally from this world, recognizes it for what it is. He plans to coerce the ruler of a kingdom with mechanical resources to mass produce them. His excuse to the people is the weapons would be used to defeat their archenemy of boogieman proportions, ‘the Beast Forever'. He plans to dominate other regions and eradicate the witches forever.9
One aspect of this canceled before its time series that was well executed was the imagery. From imaginative set design and costumes to the use of numerous genre styles the look and feel of the show was beyond what is commonly seen especially on broadcast television. The initial antagonist, West (Ana Ularu), is reminiscent of a Goth stylist’s dream. Dressed in black and augmented by the dark ash perpetually on her fingers, she has fallen from status since the Wizard outlawed witches. West was reduced to an opium addicted madam of a brothel. West is vindictive and a constant source of consternation to Mother North, Glinda (Joely Richardson). She remains powerful despite the ban. Although she hates the Wizard Glinda performs a critical service for him. She runs an orphanage for young girls. They are trained and educated so as young women they can become part of the Wizard’s High Council. Once again amazingly creative design clads these advisors in plane robes topped with a large, cobra-like hood. It does imply a cloistered, religious order appearance to them. Naturally Glinda is opposite West in everything but opposing the Wizard. The Witch of the North is always shown in glistening white robes. One of the fascinating visuals is how the Tin Man is reimagined. He is a boy named Jack who was critically injured, kept alive by the replacement of failed and damaged body parts by mechanical replacements. His appearance is taken by the iconic look created in steampunk. Naturally, one organ requiring replacement was his heart. In due course, the audience is shown a ‘Scarecrow’ and ‘Cowardly Lion’ with a novel twist in appearance, character development and personality. The series concluded on a cliffhanger leaving audience members that did become invested in the show forever in the lurch. While some networks do demonstrate a modicum of respect to the viewers by changing the last episode to wrap up loose ends it appears that NBC set the pink slips out when it was too late for the showrunners to do anything.