Emerald City Review: A Dazzling Vision With No Magic

Tarsem Singh (The Fall, Immortals) agreed to direct NBC’s “Event Series” Emerald City if he could treat it like a ten hour movie.

That’s the perfect approach storywise, but when confined to the standard broadcast weekly format I have a bad feeling folks are going to grow impatient and tune out. It’s a good thing NBC has branded Singh’s epic an event series (or miniseries) because then they have no obligation to deliver a second season. Don’t get me wrong, the visuals are absolutely stunning and certainly deliver the goods. ‎However Singh is his own Wizard of Oz here, somehow managing to suck out all the magic from the Land of Oz.

I always say it’s tough to judge a show by its pilot, but the second hour delivered just more of the same. Perhaps since we’re supposed to know who Dorothy and the other players are, the series takes little to no time developing them. I’ll admit, as a Hispanic myself, I love the fact that Dorothy (Adria Arjona) is Latina and we meet her family briefly. On paper, she’s probably the perfect heroine among a cast of powerful and diverse women. Trust me, that’s always a plus in my book. The truth of the matter is that Arjona is not bad, but she’s also no Gina Rodriguez. The actress wanders from scene to scene delivering a music video worthy performance, for which ultimately Singh is to blame.

Emerald City - "The Beast Forever" Episode 101-- Pictured: Vincent D'onofrio as The Wizard
Courtesy of NBC

If it were just Arjona that would be one thing, but the majority of the cast moves through this premiere like lifeless dolls. Pretty and dressed in terrific costumes sure, but not giving us anything to grab on to. Even Vincent D’Onofrio, who was so brilliant as Kingpin in Daredevil doesn’t quite work. He’s way too over-the-top compared to everyone else and simply comes across as irritating. Think Jesse Eisenberg’s Luthor in the far too serious Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Actually, Emerald City’s tone is very much BvS meets Game of Thrones.

That’s part of the problem right there. The Game of Thrones influence is so damn obvious, it’s hard to get past the fact you’re not in Westeros but in Oz. I totally get appealing to Thrones’ fans and bringing a little bit of the Seven Kingdoms’ grit and realism to this adaptation. That said, George R. R. Martin’s characters are written with such depth of purpose they make the residents of Oz feel like a pale imitation. Yes, Thrones’ pacing can be sluggish at times and Emerald City suffers from this as well. The difference is the performances of actors like Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Lena Headey and Carice Van Houten (among others) elevate every scene they’re featured in. Sadly, that never happened during Emerald City’s premiere.

Emerald City - "The Beast Forever" Episode 101 -- Pictured: Florence Kasumba as Wicked Witch of the East
Courtesy of NBC

I will say, the twist of the Wicked Witch of the East surviving her initial encounter with Dorothy only to later shoot herself in the head was “Game of Thrones” worthy. Florence Kasumba will be missed as the Witch of the East, since she was one of the few characters that stood out in the premiere. The only other performer with actual personality in the pilot was Ana Ularu (the Witch of the West). Joely Richardson (Glinda) suffered from the same blank stare as the other leads. Another familiar face was Fiona Shaw, and while it was cool to see Aunt Petunia perform magic, she was as over-the-top and out of place as D’Onofrio. I’m not sure if I’ll keep watching, but if I tune into the third episode it will be solely to see what tricks Ularu has up her sleeve. For me, she was the one bright spot in an otherwise dim two hour journey. I don’t mean to be a hater, but where’s Tyrion when you need him?

Emerald City - "The Beast Forever" Episode 101-- Pictured: (l-r) Oliver Jackson as Lucas, Adria Arjona as Dorothy
Courtesy of NBC
Verdict

All in all, I didn’t hate Emerald City despite the fact there are very little positives to my review. It’s always possible Singh’s dish needs a few more hours to marinate. The fact that Tip morphed into a girl is interesting, but I’m not sure it’s enough to bring audiences back next week. Dorothy and Lucas’ relationship certainly won’t be bringing me back. Perhaps the Cowardly Lion will be a welcome addition when he is finally introduced. Emerald City is no Thrones, but it might just tide fans over until the Mother of Dragons returns this summer.

*Update: Since writing this review I have screened half the first season. While the storytelling remains fairly nonsensical, there are a couple of developments with the supporting characters that have piqued my interest enough to keep watching. I plan to finish the entire season as it’s only ten episodes.

Emerald City airs Fridays at 9/8c on NBC.