There are certainly pros and cons to creating a new creative work from an already established brand. On the one side, the public is already aware of the title. That helps to cut through the noise of competition. On the other side, comparisons to the original give new works an almost impossible bar to meet.
As of late, TV reboots and remakes have proven that the challenges can be pretty insurmountable. In the past year alone, we’ve seen the failures of Fox’s “Exorcist,” CW’s “Frequency,” ABC’s “The Muppets,” CBS’s “Limitless,” “Rush Hour,” and “The Odd Couple.” TV remakes have pretty much worn out their welcome.
That’s the dangerous climate NBC’s “Wizard of Oz” adaptation, “Emerald City,” faces when it premiered on Friday at 9 p.m.
“Emerald City” stars Latina actress Adria Arjona (“True Detective”) as Dorothy. In this iteration, she’s a young woman who finds that looking for the mother that abandoned her years ago creates new questions and thrusts her into a dark world called Oz. While trying to figure out her mother’s connection to this strange land and a way to get home, she happens upon similarly lost souls as traveling companions, most notably the handsome scarecrow substitute, Lucas (“Dracula” actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen).
The series had been in development off-and-on for nearly three years and had seen showrunner changes as its creative team and NBC settled on a vision for the show. In the end, David Schulner (“Dracula,” “The Event”) served as showrunner and Tarsem Singh (“Mirror, Mirror,” “The Fall”) joined as an executive producer and director on all 10 episodes.
As a result of Singh’s involvement, the show’s star is its cinematography. Sorry, Dorothy! “Emerald City” is visually stunning – from its beautiful use of pops of color against the grey, barren land of Oz to its intricate costume design.
Amid some thin character development, there are standout performances. Vincent D’Onofrio (“Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “Daredevil”) plays a kooky, villainous wizard to the hilt. And it’s tough to take your eyes off Romanian actress Ana Ularu (“The Borgias,” “Inferno”) as the drugged-up, brothel-running wicked witch of the west. I don’t even have a problem with Dorothy sort of being led through Oz like a pawn, because I expect she’ll find her inner strength at some point. Isn’t that the underlying lesson of “Wizard of Oz”?
The series takes the story to a lot of ambitious places: It’s extremely sexy, explores violence, the aforementioned drug use, and even a gender-bending supporting character. That said, it should be noted that this Oz probably isn’t suitable for young children.
The challenge for audiences here is whether they’ll be able to clear their minds of Judy Garland’s musical, suspenseful journey or L. Frank Baum’s novels and let “Emerald City” tell its own story over 10 hours. But after all, that’s the challenge NBC took on when it decided to go to Oz in the first place.
Watch a trailer for “Emerald City” below: