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Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Joyous Skip Down The Yellow-Brick Road This Ain't #EmeraldCity #Post-Mortem #Review

A Joyous Skip Down The Yellow-Brick Road This Ain't #EmeraldCity #Post-Mortem #Review #Recap

All pictures courtesy of NBC

Sigh! Well, this kinda thing seems to happen far too often these days, but at least we give them a chance, right? So, we've reached the mid-season/winter-season finale or spring-season premiere—hell, I don't know what networks are really doing with all these mid and full season finales—again. That means that outside of the awkward and clunky sentences like above (I promise you far better sentences in my books and other works, though, no promises!), we also are slated to get a new crop of mid-season replacement shows here to keep us busy with the TV watching and the obsessing and the complaining about how terrible networks treat their fans and their shows. Doesn't that sound like fun! Yahhh! (Howard Dean voice; hopefully my last political reference for this season ending in May). So, amongst all the new shows such as Taken, 24: Legacy, Training Day, blah blah blah, we had what could have been the crown jewel Emerald City (see what I did there?) that promised us one more heartfelt trip down that yellow-brick road. But did it reach the heights of that sparkling somewhere over the rainbow, or did it swirl and bluster and leave us to feel trapped under a house—er, in the house for the winter. Let's journey together to find out.

NBC's Emerald City (#EmeraldCity) starred Adria Arjona as Dorothy Gale, our whirlwinded-wanderer who only wants to find her way back home. I commend them both for making the character older (a shrewd move so it could have sexy parts) and for making the character Latina (something I hate when they do just to fill a minority quota or something, because if they make a white character non-white, they'll definitely start making non-white characters white). Adria was a pretty good choice looks-wise and did have a certain innocence quality to her as a grown woman that could make the viewer feel for her at times. However, much of that was undone and I'll tell you why later.

You know the story, or at least you think you do but let me clear up a few things for you here. Being an adult, Dorothy now is a nurse at a local hospital. While I am still a little shifty on this, I think she lived with her mother in a trailer, though she was also seen sleeping at her Aunt's farmhouse as would be familiar. In any case, during a big storm she must go to the trailer to check on her mom. Something crazy has happened there and the place looks out of sorts. As the storm comes, Dorothy goes back outside to find a cop holding her at gunpoint thinking that she did something suspicious. The cop's dog also gets involved. There's some action-y stuff that goes on and somehow Dorothy winds up in the cop's car along with the dog. Do we see a big whirlwind taking them into the sky? No. We see the wind surround the car, a few close-ups I guess for low-budget TV purposes (though it came on a major network, so...) and boom! The tornado spits her out into the great land where blue birds fly. Disclaimer: I saw not one blue bird in the entire series. Rather than the house landing on the witch, the car plows through her and, thusly, our story is born.

Take Our Land But You Shall Never Take Our Free--Oh, you're taking that too?
After this, Dorothy emerges from the car and some hairy, fat, Braveheart-looking dude finds her and is all, “You killed the Mistress of the East.” He takes her back to his village which you totally expect to be filled with Munchkins from the lollipop guild, but isn't, and you're suddenly feeling bad for all those little people actors and actresses in Hollywood, until you realize that this is a twist on everything.

Before I go further, let me inject a big disclaimer here as this will undoubtedly come up later. L. Frank Baum, as many know, originally wrote a full series of books surrounding Oz. They were, essentially, the Chronicles of Narnia or Harry Potter of his day and he worked his butt off to promote them. However, we all know that the most memorable two are The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz which were squished together to make the classic 1939 film version starring Judy Garland. There, however, were seven or nine books or more but I haven't the energy to properly research (I'm flogging myself for being too busy and too lazy). Each book detailed another part of Oz's story and all the goings-on in this mythical land. Well, there may be a reason why many of those stories never made it to the big screen or TV in a meaningful way, and why the original movie is so beloved.

Also, I mention this because while the books have been out for over 100 years, sad to say that I don't believe many people have read the series in its entirety, and most only remember the Judy Garland film and more recently the Sam Raimi-directed, James Franco-starring Oz the Great and Powerful. Therefore, certain characters that might first appear familiar to viewers really are not familiar at all. If you're only familiar with the film, you'll say that they changed a lot and probably not in a good way. Even if you're familiar with all the books you still might not find the show's interwoven stories reminiscent of what's on the page. But this is what they gave us so this is what we shall go with. From here on out, I will do most of my references through the lens of someone who expected to see a different telling of the familiar story as seen in the 1939 film and not the books, while peppering in some truths only the readers would know. Got it? Good.

Back to the non-little-people village of Braveheart wannabes. The fat guy hails her as a pseudo-hero for having killed the witch, then quickly half-turns on her because as he and everyone in this land knows, “Only a witch can kill a witch.” But she insists she isn't a witch so he takes her to some cave where there are a ton of witches trapped in a strange tar bog dying a slow death. He rambles needed exposition (always forgivable this early in a show or movie) telling her all about how this land is one of magic but magic is outlawed and it could've gotten her home. There are witches but they no longer do anything because the land is under rule of the great and powerful (wait for it)... Wizard of Oz. Ta-dah!

The Wizard and his Blue-Bonnet Servant Girls

And we're all like, “what?” Yes, we know the wizard doesn't really have powers from all the different iterations, save for that strange The Wiz live one where Queen Latifah looked like Benico Del Toro in Guardians of the Galaxy. Yet, somehow, he was able to (un)magically get these giant stone soldiers to move around the city and guard the lands from what was known as The Beast Forever, which the show totally shoots itself in the foot over at the end. Like a baby with an over-flowing poop-filled diaper who has been running around the entire house unchecked for 30 minutes, it's a mess! (Tangent: Did everyone see that video where the reporter is talking live and his kids come in and then his wife frantically runs in? #JoysofParenting). Now, for whatever reason he has outlawed the use of magic after thinking that it somehow led to or attracted the Beast Forever and the witches' magic proved useless during the attack. The tar pit with all the witches in it has some skinless red guy growing in a tree along with Fat Braveheart's wife who was put there for being a witch. Oddly, she was put their by a witch, the very one and the same that gave Dorothy such a headache in the film.

The Wizard is played by fan-favorite Vincent D'Onofrio who seems to have gained back every pound he lost when he trimmed down for that last Jurassic World film (not mad at him. Get yo' grub on, playa!). What does offend me is that outrageous wig that is so clearly a wig it deserves a spot in the hall of fame next to that cheap rug worn by Chevy Chase's uncle in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. No curtain behind which to hide, he's the frightened leader of Oz who rules with iron fist after having a pathetic life back home in Kansas. His back story: he was one of the four scientists working on a storm-cloud science machine. The grunt of the group, he saw to it that the machine they had to make storms (yes, you heard that right) didn't go out of control. It did and it sent him and two other female scientists to the land of Oz. When first he arrives he encounters Fat Braveheart and his wife. The guy's witchy woman does magic while he's teaching the kids science and he gets pug-faced and upset. But there are hints all over the place in this scene and throughout that foreshadow what really happened, so long as you're paying attention.

Also living in the city under his rule is the Wicked Witch of the West, or rather Mistress of the West, or more aptly, Crackhead Non-threatening Hoe-house Madam of the West. Harpo, who dis lady? Played by the eccentrically gorgeous Ana Ularu, West, as she is called, never lives up to any of the pictures we've all formed in our head of the Wicked Witch. She's not green yet, which, if this was supposed to be a prequel story, you can understand. But she also never comes off as all that menacing. The way her character is written and directed has her trying to be sly, but not devil-sly, so she never creeps you out like an oily snake. Her drug use and nagging to and about the Wizard unfortunately (and boy will this sound sexist) comes off more as a nagging wife, an Al and Peggy for a magical realm, rather than true hatred. She oddly does more helping of every pseudo-protagonist in the realm than hurting, and the only thing frightening about her is her lack of true sinister appetites.

As said, she runs a brothel frequented by the Wizard, yet supposedly hates his guts because he not only ordered no more magic, but has a stone soldier positioned over the witches' sacred temple in the center of town, ready to destroy it on command. She blames him for the destruction of so many witches and the fact that not her nor any of her sisters can bare children. He also was responsible, supposedly, for her mother's death. With him frequenting her sin den, it makes you wonder why she hasn't simply killed him already. There truly is nothing stopping her from doing that. Yes, the people, who hail him as hero would revolt but... uh... they don't have magic, so...? The only reason I could truly come up with for her living in the city and doing nothing to this man she truly hated was the one that the show either wasn't brave enough to do or never saw it as a possibility, which was that the two of them were, at some point, sleeping together and she still had feelings for him or something, or they loved to get high together. Again, why has she not killed this man and is living in the city alongside him? Why?

This fact and theory is made even more painfully obvious when, in the finale, she raises most of the witches in the tar bog in order to fight the Wizard and retake the kingdom, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Now that I think about it, all of my biggest disappointments with the show came from the witches. Glinda, the Good Witch was, in no way, shape or form a good witch. Played by veteran actress Joely Richardson of Nip/Tuck fame, if you ask me she is the real Wicked Witch. For starters, her crackhead sister is really only there to serve: serve the Wizard, semi-serve Glinda, service the men and women of the town with sexual deviance. Glinda, on the other hand, is her own woman. While she also gifts the Wizard with many orphaned servants that look like blue flying nuns, she also is the partial catalyst for one of the bigger secondary plots. She is also trying to kill the Wizard and reclaim witch dominance and has an actual plan to do it, as opposed to her sister who just lies about and luckily has a plan fall into her lap in the last two episodes of the 10-episode mini-run. More on Glinda and her wickedness later as I have to give you some plot and catch you up to her deception.

But Where the Brick At Dough?

Back to Dorothy, Fat Braveheart tells her that the Wizard could maybe get her home so she should go see him and follow this DIRT road that is covered over with the shed, yellow blossoms or pollen from poppy plants. Along the way she meets a man hanging up in a field crucifixion-style, tarred down and with a crow sitting atop him. Our “scarecrow,” or at least that is how viewers may see him, surprisingly has no memory of who he is, and has cuts and bruises all over him beneath the tar. Played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen, who, given the right part should make a fine leading man, the scarecrow, or Lucas, immediately bonds with Dorothy once she bothers to take him down from the cross. But as soon as they are each freed, the Wicked Witch of the West pops up to agitate. Surprise, she survived that car hit.

Which of these three women looks like she slays every day?

The best designed character on the show (we're talking, she slays like Beyonce), the Wicked Witch of the West is still alive and, as it turns out, she controls the weather with some ruby and gold gloves. Dorothy, who left the police car not only with a gun from the car but with the cop's dog who Fat Braveheart named Toto because that's the indigenous word for dog there, points her gun at the woman. The witch quickly takes it and wonders how it works and what it does. In the most ignant (not ignorant, because that word is too good for it), ignant (double ignants? Oh boy!) move I've seen so far this year, the witch turns the gun to herself and curiously pulls the trigger and blows her own brains out under Dorothy's direction. Thusly, a witch kills a witch. Then, Dorothy magically gets the golden gloves, which go invisible on her hands and only pop up through the serious at the most convenient times as Dorothy has no power over them for much of the series. Her and Lucas go merrily down the road to Oz to see the wizard for a new brain—er, his memory back, and to get home.

Finally, along the way they run into a house where is kept a boy locked away by magic. Way on the outskirts of the city, an old witch is keeping this young Indian (at least the actress looks Indian to me) boy trapped in a house whose door is a thicket of dead bushes that only opens at magic's command. Tip played by newcomer Jordan Loughran, has a friend outside of the house that runs to him and talks with him about escaping. Tip's friend, Jack played by Gerran Howell looks like a nervous lot whose background is mostly unknown, dubious at best. He plans to hack at the bushes to somehow free his friend, until Dorothy and Lucas come along.

The unfriendly witch keeping Tip prisoner caves to Dorothy and Lucas' pleas of help and food and all that jazz. She begrudgingly lets them into her house where they discover she is keeping Tip as prisoner. And, are you ready for this because here is where the story gets crazy, in an act of heroism, they beat the witch to death after trying to poison her. They all escape into the wild where Tip tells them of how the woman would constantly make her drink this strange elixir everyday which she thought made her weak or something as she looked small, thin and frail. Tip and Jack part ways with Dorothy and Lucas and are left on their own in the woods for the night.

Jack on the left and Tip on the right, being Just One of The Guys
Did you catch it? You reading closely? No, that subtle change in pronouns in the previous paragraph wasn't on accident. That's right, the very next morning, after Tip has not taken the elixir that the witch had given her, it is actually revealed that the elixir was a magic spell to keep her as a boy. Tip is actually a girl. Now, before some of you more conservative-thinking readers get up in arms about them “fitting a transgender message into the Wizard of Oz,” let me note that Tip and this storyline are actually part of the original books. However, unlike the books, while Tip does still want to be a boy and sets out on a journey to the wizard to try to reclaim her real body and not this fake girl body she was born with, this Tip seems more evil throughout the series. For starters, as soon as Jack sees her ample cleavage in the moonlight and starts thinking “how you doin'” (yes, that's a Joey reference. This whole story is nothing more than a twisted play on Friends) to his once male friend, she rages on him when he goes in for a kiss, and pushes him off a balcony where he plummets to a bloody fate. Fear not, however, for a white, lady scientist who works for the king of Ozman has the mechanical know-how to Bionic-Man his butt into a partial robot. At this point he could be the tin man or he could be another character in the book, but he does have a few times in which he rusts in the forest and is saved by the King's daughter who owns him like a slave and falls in love with him.

Got the characters? Good, because from there, it kind of slows into nothing much. Again, I know how difficult it is to keep a series going and make it interesting and move it along, but once you have the basics of the main characters, you are left too much time wondering why they're wandering for so long. Dorothy and Lucas encounter a young witch girl that can turn people to stone or make stone crumble. She gravitates to Lucas for reasons unknown until all three end up in the clutches (read: helping hands) of West who, instead of killing Dorothy for revenge against her dead sister takes all three into a strange dream state to help Lucas remember what happened. He remembers that he was part of the Wizard's guard, had been secretly smuggling young new witches for Glinda and had nearly slaughtered the guards that got in his way. West realizes that not only has Glinda been lying to her, but that their mother, the only witch that could ever birth a witch and who had given birth to over thousands of witches (total Holland Tunnel down there) is still alive. Now she's more pissed with even less of a plan as she still doesn't see her sister about joining a rebellion against the wizard.
Yeah, It's The Sexy Times!!
Dorothy escapes, so does Lucas. She sees the wizard but to kill him. He tells her that she has finally returned. Apparently, she was born there as her mother was one of the two female scientists that came with the Wizard when they transported in their strange weather machine. He'll help her so long as she goes to kill Glinda. She agrees, gives him the policeman's gun, and instead takes the little girl and Lucas to see Glinda in hopes of somehow stopping Glinda? I'm not sure what the plan really was there because it seemed like the Wizard expected the little girl to hug Glinda and turn her to stone and I'm like, “what? You're leaving this whole evil plan up to the power of a child's huge? Uh... OK.”

Not entirely true, he seeks to make guns and commissions the king to do it, but the king dies from the little girl who can turn people to stone right before her and Dorothy leave. Now, the King's daughter and owner of the tin man is queen. Her quirk: she wears hundreds of different expensive masks to hide her face from the world. Why? Is she ugly? No. As we find out later on the finale, she is actually a robot. The king's real daughter died long ago and the king wanted a robot of his daughter (because forget his wife and son) and commissioned the white scientist lady (the same who patched up Jack/Tin man) to make a mask for her to hide her never-aging face, to which I was like, Why not just make a new flesh-like face that showed some age? But whatevs!

This Little Girl was the Best Part of the Show

The Wizard wants to use those guns to kill the witches because he heard that she was killed by a gun, not knowing that she shot herself. It all becomes tedious and murky when Dorothy, Lucas and the little girl arrive to Glinda's and the good witch kisses the would-be scarecrow to break her own forgetfulness spell, and reveal that they were lovers, and he was transporting those little girls for her as he secretly worked on the rebellion. But once she realizes that Dorothy is in love with her man, Glinda orders that Lucas kill Dorothy because, you know, jealousy and stuff—all the trappings of a good witch. But Dorothy tries to kill her with some white sheets, escapes the white witch castle and is back on her way to Fat Braveheart's village after finally realizing something: The Wizard had no magic to move those stone warrior men throughout the kingdom, but Braveheart's wife did. So she wants him to help her get his wife from the tar pit because she thinks she can use the East witch's gloves to move the stone men again. Why? Shrugs.

Meanwhile, Tip, who has yet to come to grips with her feminine body gets sold to Glinda who will treat her as an orphan but doesn't know who she is nor that she is a witch. Instead, Tip chooses to work at West's brothel because she'll have freedom or some other existential crap. As maid to West, she frees Dorothy and blames it on the loyal head maid to West. Naturally, West believes the treacherous boy/girl newbie over the long-trusted servant and kills that woman in a scene that was supposed to make West seem more evil but only made her look gullible and made Tip look like a true evil genius.

It's a Mask, so... Yeah. Not Enough Magic For Talking Animals
After West and Tip witness the round-up of all little girls in the city and the persecution of them as possible witches, which includes a very stupid scene of West keeping a fiery young witch girl in a pit while whining about how cruel the Wizard is, a dagger comes from out of nowhere in the last two episodes. The dagger makes West realize that Tip is not only a witch but the long-lost daughter of the true King of Ozman who was slain long ago when she was a baby. All Tip can remember is seeing a lion slice into her parents. The lion was and currently serves as the head of the guard for the Wizard's army. West has Tip drink her dead sister's spirit to learn her magic spells and it kills her. Distraught, West then attempts suicide before Tip resurrects and feels no different. There's a short scene of Tip learning how to find the true essence of her new magical abilities and she turns back into a boy in the process—what she always wanted since escaping the house.

West gathers her some witches from the tar pit and seeks to take the city from the wizard with a now back-to-girl Tip who should be Queen of Oz. In luck, and to make her even less meaningful to this story, the Wizard isn't even in the city when West and Tip arrive with their witch hoard. It's a pretty easy battle.

For Perspective, the guard has the spear, and the rest is city
Instead, the wizard and his guard and the guard from the robot queen are all lined up in a field outside the city walls because Dorothy was able to get Fat Braveheart's wife to give her the spell to raise a statue—this only after Dorothy freed her from the pit and helped that skinless red man stuck in the tree who had been there longer than any of the witches and was still surviving. Back in the field, Dorothy confronts the wizard and just wants to go home as she had to defeat Lucas and leave him on a cross in some farmer's field somewhere after he tried to kill her as Glinda ordered. Glinda comes from out of nowhere and attacks with a literal swarm of witches, but the Wizard starts shooting them all, and howling something about using the guns to finally kill the Beast Forever, and you stop and are like, “Huh? Does he think that the witches are the actual Beast Forever? Did he never see the Beast Forever? How many times did this show make Baum roll over in his grave?”

Glinda calls him an idiot for thinking the witches were the Beast Forever and has all the bloodied witches rise again as she says, “Only a witch can kill a witch,” which was the BIGGEST RULE OF THE SHOW!!

Almost Forgot this picture of Jack After He is fixed by the Scientist Lady.
The Wizard and Dorothy escape back to his castle where he has promised to put her back into the restored weather machine that brought him, her mother and that other scientist there but they are interrupted when the same white lady scientist that fixed Jack/Tin man arrives and shoots the Wizard. Then it's revealed that this white lady is actually Dorothy's mom and not the minority woman that looks Latina just like Dorothy back in Kansas. Hm. Welp... OK, I guess ( and here you thought I was just being racist by mentioning her being white; yes, I know how interracial relationships work but it was a poor twist that came from nowhere and for no reason). She shoves the girl into the weather machine and says she'll return with her but doesn't because Pa Kent must die in a tornado, or um... My bad, I got my senseless plot twists about people living in Kansas mixed up. She stays because why not?

Dorothy returns to find that it has only been a few minutes—hour tops—since she's been gone and her other non-mother mother (the Latina or Native American woman) is still alive but bleeding in the storm cellar. She takes her to a hospital, sits with her aunt on the farm, sees her aunt's black-dark hands and looks out into the empty field. Now, at this point, I couldn't be bothered to try figuring out the black-fingered symbolism so if someone knows what this refers to, let me. But we do see Lucas suddenly standing behind her and a returned Toto who only appeared throughout the show at his convenience. We flash to Oz where we see that skinless red man putting on some skin that looked like clothes and morphing into the real Beast Forever and menacing all of the magical land with a bird-like shadow. And back to the farm where Marty McFly says to Dorothy, “We gotta go back, Doc! Back to the land of Oz!” Or... something like that.

Here's Those Perfunctory, Meaningless Gloves That Showed Up at Random and Served Little Purpose

What's my grade? I give it a C-. I know this 10-episode recap was lengthy but at times the show seemed to drag out more, if you can imagine. I can appreciate what the writers and creator/director Tarsem Singh tried doing, and I always try to give at least 50 points out of 100 for effort, but this didn't hit it for me. Straight out of the gate you got the mixture of fairy tale wonderment like that of ABC's Once Upon a Time, trying to blend with HBO's Game of Thrones to create a more adult-oriented story. The problem here is that too seldom are the characters made to be more than what you see. As said, everyone seemed evil at one point or another, which made it difficult to root for anyone. Instead of elevating a classic childhood movie dating back generations, it managed to rip all of the joy, excitement and wonderment from the material, while also not having a very poignant message to tell. If you're going to make something dark, make something that speaks to humanity about its experience. This was an adventure without fun and adventure.

No, this isn't the final image of the show, it's how I feel: both confused and a little tarred.
As I said, the characters are rather bland and none of them hit the marks you expect from them. The Wicked Witch ain't wicked; Tip comes off as bratty; because of his memory loss, Lucas not only has little personality but falls in love with Dorothy way too quickly (by the third episode their skipping around holding hands? What?); Glinda, though her intentions with the witches may be good, seems evil; The Wizard is definitely a bastard (though you can make the argument that he is closest to his original character). But worst of all is Dorothy. While I haven't seen Adria in anything else and I look forward to more of her work, here, she is given nothing to work with. The entire series she looks like Kristen Stewart in the Twilight series, no facial reactions whatsoever. Is she floored by this magical experience, left breathless at the performance of magic? Eh! I think it probably greatly came from the direction, because she travels through the series with an air of, “Oh, and then this happened,” that elicits nothing of the emotional matrix we should see her going through. So when she does kill, it only comes as a shock to fans who still see Dorothy through crystallized memories of Judy Garland's hopeful but dismayed film version. Emerald City's Dorothy comes off as flat as the pages in Baum's book.

Should you check it out? Eh! Wasn't going to mention this, however, this series had originally been scrapped by NBC back in 2014 or 15 and went through a development hell of its own before NBC caved and said they'd air it, but give it a crap time slot on Fridays at 9pm. Granted, it had the lead-in of Grimm, which had thrived at 9pm for two seasons and is now on its way out with its final season. This, was just OK. If you come to it as a fan of the Wizard of Oz films or come looking for a familiar story or even come looking for a bright fantasy, I suggest you look to Once Upon a Time. Emerald City tries to be Game of Thrones and doesn't quite hit the mark. It will, however, tide you over in the off-season of that show. Ultimately, I would say that unless you are a fan of darker interpretations of everything from your childhood, you can probably safely skip this one. Unless it surges in on-demand binge views on Hulu or cable, I doubt this'll make it to another season with its lackluster ratings.

What do you think? Did you see Emerald City? If not, do you think you'll check it out on demand (on both, most cable providers, and Hulu)? If you did see it, do you agree with me? Did it do L. Frank Baum proud or did it miss the mark on many levels? And what did you think about the characters? Who was your favorite. While I hated West, I think I might actually have a crush on the actress. We live in confusing times. Anyway, let me know what you think in the comments below.

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Until next time, “You mean to tell me you couldn't fit in not one single song? What's wrong with you people.”
Image Belongs to Pink Floyd and the current holders of the Wizard of Oz 1939 rights.

P.S. Seriously, though, the frickin' Flash and Supergirl are going to have a musical episode but they couldn't fit in not one road song betwixt Dorothy and Lucas and the girl, not even a lullaby to the little girl. Sigh! At least they fit in that blink-and-miss-it reference to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Rainbow. I'll think of a better sign-off next time.

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