Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Long Road to Air: “Emerald City”

Way back in 2014, when Jen and I were at San Diego Comic Con, one of the new shows NBC was touting was “Emerald City”, a darker reimagining of the tale of Oz we all know. I was intrigued by the premise (more so than any of the other Oz-centric pilots being tossed around at that time). I’m still not quite sure what it says that this was the only one to ever see the light of day. But, it did take 2 development seasons to get here. First, there was a change in executive producer because the vision that the network had wasn’t jiving with the producer’s idea of how the story should go. Then, we slowly got casting news and finally, the show made it to air.

The show was billed as an “event series” which used to mean mini-series or a one-and-done season show. Now, that’s not a bad thing. Shows like that can be great and tell a compelling story given they only have a finite number of episodes to get the plot across. I personally think the fact it took so long for Emerald City to make it on the air should have told everyone involved that given this status, it should have actually just been a one-and-done (as it is, the ratings have been subpar and given the strength of NBC’s other shows right now, renewal is a slim chance at this point). But, the way the season ended definitely leaves it open for a next season. And that is so frustrating. Maybe my expectations were too high or skewed, assuming given the way the show was billed and its ratings that it would provide resolution and now more questions.

As I said at the start, the original premise of the show intrigued me. I liked that it was going to be grittier and pull from some of the later Oz-centric books that were published. But, the execution was sorely lacking. We were given a slowly plodding story with characters we didn’t really connect with and way too many plots. Yes, there was the twister that brought Dorothy from Kansas to Oz. Yes, we met versions of the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow. But they weren’t very deep characters. When characters met their ends, I wasn’t moved or gutted in any way really. Similarly, the tension between the Cardinal Witches and the Wizard should have been intriguing but it was only mildly interesting. Perhaps part of the problem was also that there were way too many plotlines going on at once. You had Dorothy and her trek to Emerald City and dealing with the Wizard. You had Tip and West dealing with their drama but also West and North clashing. You had Emerald City and the City of Ev clashing as well. It was all just too much going on. Oh, and you also had Dorothy and Lucas and their pseudo-romance. Sure, they’re both pretty but there wasn’t a whole lot of chemistry between them.

I understand they were trying to build the backstory of the world (with the Beast Forever coming back to ruin the land and the feud between the science-based Wizard and the magic-wielding witches) but they could have done that much quicker and gotten to the far more interesting part of how Dorothy fit in and what her powers were. They gave her magic but never explained how it was possible, since they also established that witches are only born from Mother South. Besides, if we believe the other characters, Dorothy was born of an interloper, not a witch. So how could she wield the power of the Witch of the East? Also, when the finale ends and Lucas comes to bring Dorothy back to Oz to stop the Beast Forever, I was honestly expecting a resolution, not a cliffhanger. Also, it let you wondering, how could Lucas show up and not want to kill Dorothy after she left him strung up like a scarecrow again? What happened to dilute Glinda’s magic over him?

Now, the show wasn’t all bad. The visuals were absolutely stunning. I can’t imagine how much they spent on sets and shooting on location but it had to be pretty expensive. And whoever did the costuming should be praised as well. Some of the outfits worn by the witches were fantastic. Unfortunately, the beauty of the scenery and costumes just wasn’t enough to make up for the faults in the show. Also, I was a little disappointed that when they tried to tackle a transgender issue with Tip, they ended up just making Tip female because that’s how she was born and that’s the only way the witches would follow her to retake Emerald City. I’m not saying it should have been pushing a political agenda (that’s not really what this show is about) but it would have been far more interesting to see Tip be who Tip wants to be and see that rest of the kingdom fall in line. It could have given such a strong message to people. It felt like a partially wasted opportunity.

So, in the end, I think NBC would have been better off had they not spent all the time to make this show come to fruition. Sometimes, when something doesn’t work and you take another look at it, you have to accept that it just isn’t going to work out no matter how much you want it to. Maybe with different writers or team behind it, the show could have been stronger and earned more airtime the following year. But what we were given was just not enough in my opinion to justify giving it more episodes next season. There are better ways to establish the world (see Shannara Chronicles) and move a similar quest-like plot forward with multiple storylines without it dragging like Emerald City did. I don’t regret watching the show but I do wish it had been time better spent with these characters.

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