TV Review - Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

Just as Once Upon a Time mixed fairy tales and children's stories with others in a crazy adventure mash-up, so does this spin-off series. Last year, Once Upon a Time combined the story and mythology of Snow White with that of Peter Pan. The Snow White mythology and character has been and always shall be at that show's center. Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, obviously, takes its name from the classic story by Lewis Carroll and at this show's center is the character of Alice who as a young girl fell down a magical, rabbit hole into a fantasy world filled with a Cheshire cat, a smoking caterpillar, a mad hatter, an evil queen, a Tweedle Dee, a Tweedle Dum and a Jabberwocky.

This series begins years after Alice, played by Sophie Lowe, left Wonderland and returned home to England. Her father believed her to be crazy and thought Wonderland wasn't a real place but some invention of her mind. When she decides to go back is when the show starts to mash things up. Instead of Peter Pan, this series brings us a live action version of Aladdin (1992). Of course, the writers have altered the back story to their liking with an even darker bent than a cartoon might allow.

If you don't remember, Jafar is an advisor to the Sultan in the land of Agrabah. Jafar learns of a magic lamp, possessing a genie that can grant him wishes. In this new version, the genie isn't some big, blue shape-shifter, voiced by Robin Williams. The genie is instead a handsome, hunky, young man named Cyrus. He's more like the male equivalent of Barbara Eden, but he doesn't show nearly as much skin. Cyrus' lamp gets transported from Agrabah to Wonderland to keep him safe around the same time that Alice returns for the second trip.

Alice meets and falls in love with Cyrus and the two have an affair. Alice also takes possession of the lamp and Cyrus gives her three wishes. Before Alice can make those wishes, Jafar comes to Wonderland and kidnaps Cyrus with the help of the Red Queen who has already taken the place of the Queen of Hearts. In Season 2 of Once Upon a Time, the Queen of Hearts is accidentally killed by her daughter Regina, the evil queen from the Snow White story.

Jafar realizes that he can't take possession of the lamp until Alice uses up her three wishes. The past few episodes, therefore, have been Jafar keeping Cyrus hostage and trying to trick Alice into using her wishes. Alice refuses and hopes to find Cyrus, free him and escape Wonderland.

The way the show is built I don't see it going past one season. Unlike Once Upon a Time, there's nothing that ties Alice to Jafar. After the inevitable battle between them is concluded, it would almost be pointless to drag the series out. Jafar has no history with Alice or Wonderland. Aside from getting his absentee and abusive father to love him, I don't know what Jafar would do after taking possession of the lamp. Unlike the cartoon, this Jafar, played by Naveen Andrews, doesn't appear to have aspirations to takeover the world.

Even though Alice is trying not to use her wishes, there are moments when Jafar threatens the lives of people that Alice loves like her father or her best friend Will Scarlet aka the Knave, played by Michael Socha. Jafar can't kill Alice but he can kill her loved ones. Alice is forced to use her wishes to save them, but, it seems as if she could come up with better things in her wishes.

For example, Jafar uses his magic to lift the Knave into the air and then literally starts to tear his limbs apart, but Alice wishes that if the Knave dies then she dies. It works, but, instead, Alice could've wished that if Jafar hurts or kills anyone, then the same happens to Jafar. She also could've wished to take Jafar's magic for herself to use against him, but no.

It also seems inevitable that Alice's final wish will be the same as Aladdin's final wish in the 1992 movie. Giving Jafar a new purpose rather than the genie obsession could be interesting, but right now it feels like the show is just rote. In Once Upon a Time, the Mad Hatter character was already used. He was somewhat villainous, but even his brief villainy was more compelling than that of the Red Queen.

Like Once Upon a Time, the visual effects are horrible and the production design is so lackluster. It was funny how they made the Caterpillar basically the Jabba the Hut of Wonderland but everything else feels so fake. The White Rabbit, voiced by John Lithgow, is also baffling to me. The writers have yet to dig into his character. For example, the White Rabbit has the power to twirl his finger and create a portal to another land. With the tyranny of the Red Queen and Jafar, why doesn't the White Rabbit leave and stay gone? What is keeping him in Wonderland?

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-PG-V.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Thursdays at 8PM on ABC.
Returns March 6.


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