This past Friday, NBC premiered “Emerald City,” the latest reimagined, updated version of L. Frank Baum’s many stories of the Land of Oz. The two-hour premier showed a dingier, less sparkly Oz, and some promise, even if it still has a ways go down that dusty yellow brick road.
If the dark, gritty Oz of “Emerald City” seems familiar, then you probably watch, “Game of Thrones.” That’s not a sleight on the show’s style. In fact it’s a compliment. The costumes, settings, and cinematography are stunning. This Oz may be darker than the technicolor paradise that Judy Garland landed in, but its gorgeous and diverse landscape won’t have you pining for the primary colors of MGM’s classic film.
Speaking of diversity, that’s something “Emerald City” has added to its updated tale. With a Dorothy (Adria Arjona) who speaks Spanish and steals prescription drugs for Aunt Em (Holly Hayes), it’s a long way from that sepia-toned Kansas.
The story itself draws on the entire Oz canon with characters already showing up that those only familiar with “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” may not recognize. But don’t worry, there are plenty that you’ll know, even if they are less polished. There’s a Wizard (Vincent D’Onofrio) who has placed restrictions on the magic of the land. Which puts him at odds with the outwardly compliant Glinda (Joely Richardson) and her less agreeable sister West (Ana Ularu).
This familiar story seen through a modern lense should resonate more than it does. There’s something two dimensional about these powerful women. It could be that the show is still finding its feet, but it’s hard not to question the show’s creators, Matthew Arnold and Josh Friedman. When assembling this beautiful but shallow updated tale of powerful women, they neglected to include a modern, female perspective. Not to say that men can’t write compelling female characters, but maybe invite a woman to the writing party.
That being said, the show has promise, and a huge canon of quirky characters and tales to draw from and reimagine. If the show can find a way to make its main characters as dynamic and complex as the amazing landscapes they exist in, well to paraphrase a beloved Ozian, that would make this show a horse of a different color.
…just for fun: