Emerald City (Pilot Review)

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Credited as Tarsem Singh’s reimagining of Oz, NBC debuted the pilot episode of Emerald City last Friday night. Today I grabbed some Swedish Fish and watched the streaming version on the network’s website. I have much to say, so let’s jump into it.
WHAT WORKED FOR ME:
Above all, the producers, writers and creators of the series have crafted a masterful backstory from Baum’s first three Oz books. Taking the fall of King Pastoria to mythic heights, Emerald City sets the stage with prophecies, feudal witches and a neurotic wizard.

The ebb and flow of what you’d call art scenes (the “abject prison” of magicians, the Witch of the East’s second death and the introductions of Lucas and the Yellow Brick Road) was perfect, about as perfect as you can get on network TV. These scenes played out beautifully under Singh’s direction.

Speaking of esthetic directions, once we move on to Oz, both the outdoor and indoor locations were also close to perfect–by television and big screen standards. I was particularly partial to the ruins of Nimbo, the signature Singh rock valleys and Mombi’s house.

While we’re on the subject of Mombi, Fiona Shaw was first-rate. Mombi and Tip are two of my favorite Oz characters and I was pleasantly surprised to find them here. But more on Shaw: I would not have considered her for the role of Mombi but I think she was the perfect choice. As Mombi, she delivers a believable overprotective mother, healer and hedge-witch. The emotional delivery employed by Shaw was, again, first rate.

WHAT DIDN’T WORK FOR ME:

For starters, most of the Kansas scenes can be summed up by two words: rushed and forced. I just didn’t care about Dorothy. The actress delivered the character with all the vulnerability and strength of Shaw’s Mombi, but the episode failed to make her (transparent, obligatory feeling) character development scenes believable or relatable. It was just awkward, from Dorothy’s delivering the stolen pills to Aunt Em (why?), to the clumsy reunion with her birth mother. But I suppose being ripped from the violent reunion gives Gale something to come home to, and as an audience, we’re supposed to want Dorothy to get home (as well as find out what the hell was up with her mother’s command center and panic room/storm shelter.)

Speaking of forced intro’s, while I loved the atmosphere of the Witch of the West’s brothel, meeting her at the point of orgasm was unforgettable–in the worst way. I expected a sexed up version of the character from the trailer, but I didn’t think they’d be so cliche as to employ the old “sex at the first meeting” gag.  But I also didn’t think anyone would elect Trump, so…

My greatest disappointment with Emerald City was it’s disjointedness (pointing, I fear, to a lackluster future). Singh’s art scenes and poppy pollinated Yellow Brick Road felt ethereal and looked beautiful, but they don’t exactly match with the rest of the episode’s stale crime drama lighting and pulse represented by its Law and Order meets Grey’s Anatomy Dorothy Gale.

I’m giving it some slack because it’s network television, but I fear the cunning, legendary sprawl the creators have in mind will encounter many difficulties translating to the screen with the plethora of hands sculpting the show’s future.

OVERALL:

Hailed as Tarsem Singh’s Wizard of Oz, Emerald City is really just NBC’s Wizard of Oz with Singh on a short leash to add some flavor. The pilot was spectacular in many ways, and some great moments are probably ahead, but I’d be lying if I said I had high hopes for Emerald City’s future.

3 out of 5 Stars, I’d say.  Given more creative freedom, I feel Singh and the writers and producers could have given me a 5, but it’s network TV afterall.

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