Once Upon A Time In Wonderland: Thursdays at 8 Eastern on ABC
In the last decade or so, we’ve seen a move away from the traditional spin-off in favor of multiplication of trademark series. Whereas once Happy Days begat Mork and Mindy, Laverne and Shirley, Joanie Loves Chachi and about half of ABC’s sitcom lineup of the late 70’s, we now see the much lazier chain of Law and Order growing a homicide squad and a Special Victims Unit. CSI and NCIS (itself a spin-off of JAG) grew into new locations in far flung locales as Los Angeles, New York, and Miami. This sort of growth moves into fantasy land as ABC finds an hour to move the focus from fictional Storybrooke to the equally fictional Wonderland with it’s newest show: Once Upon A Time In Wonderland.
In the same way that Once Upon A Time focuses upon the mythos of Snow White, it’s sister show hones in to the story of Alice in Wonderland. Here, as in the Lewis Carroll book, Alice (Sophie Lowe) follows a rabbit hole down into a magical world. However, when she returns to her Victorian English roots, she is deemed insane and is about to forced into amnesia. However, before this can happen, her companions in Wonderland, The Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha) and the White Rabbit (John Lithgow) take her back down the rabbit hole to Wonderland.
The effects on this show are incredibly cheesy, worst of all is the poorly CG’d White Rabbit, and the equally weak CG segments. There are times where this cheesiness has an endearing effect (mostly during the fight scenes) where the cheap sets and clearly green-screened backgrounds give an almost classic Star Trek feel. However, the cheapness feels incredibly forced when you can’t splurge on some better animation (or animatronics) for what’s supposed to be one of the show’s central characters.
This cheesiness, of course, will ultimately permeate every minute of the show, mixing soap opera cliches (during the expedition), a shrink who sounds particularly creepy who has a Dr. Evil-esque look, and even the plotting itself (How do we get out of a marshmallow pond? Use a dragonfly to torch it!). This hamminess extends to it’s primary villains: The Red Queen (Emma Rigby — who gets the unfortunate task of trying to oversell the most nonsensical force choke ever) and Jafar (Naveen Andrews), however, much like in the fight scenes, this works to the show’s benefit, as there’s tons of room to overplay given the already fantastical settings.
If there is one clear strength to this show, it’s in the acting. John Lithgow in particular adds a very human and real element to his voice acting of the White Rabbit. Similarly, Sophie Lowe has a difficult task, having to alternate between naïve, confused, lovelorn, and fighting mad, but manages to mix all of these adeptly while having the harshest light shined on her as Alice.
The Final Verdict: Once Upon A Time in Wonderland is an incredibly cheesy, melodramatic affair that seems to hit and miss in equal portions. Probably more than any other show I’ve reviewed over the course of the previous year, your enjoyment of the show is going to be entirely subjective and based around how you perceive the hamminess that this show exudes– if you think it comes off kitschy and fun, you’ll like it more than if you find it hacky and cliché. For that reason alone, I think it’s worth checking out if you happen to like the source material or the sister series, but if not it’s probably worth avoiding.