Emerald City Review NBC Miniseries Reboot Wizard of Oz

Emerald City Review: NBC's Oz Reboot Has Courage, Short on Heart and Brains

grade_D+A sexy, gritty reboot of The Wizard of Oz. It sounds like something Jack Donaghy would dream up on 30 Rock, doesn’t it? Yet Emerald City isn’t a 10-second sitcom joke; it’s a 10-hour actual thing that NBC has created. And while it displays some dazzling visual flair and is plenty ambitious in its scope, like a certain famous Scarecrow, this ponderous revamp doesn’t seem to have much of a brain at all.

Debuting Friday, Jan. 6 at 9/8c, Emerald City begins, appropriately enough, in Kansas, with a grown-up Dorothy Gale (True Detective‘s Adria Arjona) searching for the truth about her birth mother. But we don’t have to wait long before a tornado sweeps Dorothy away to a magical land of witches, wizards, giant statues and decadent palaces. Looking for a way back home, she befriends a handsome swordsman she names Lucas (Dracula‘s Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and seeks the counsel of the all-powerful Wizard (Daredevil‘s Vincent D’Onofrio).

While the classic Wizard of Oz tale is certainly rich enough to support a modern retelling (Syfy did just that in 2007 with Tin Man, starring Zooey Deschanel), the scripts for Emerald City seem to be marking off boxes on a “gritty reboot” checklist. Dorothy is a jaded nurse with severe mommy issues. Her Scarecrow equivalent, Lucas, is a brooding hunk who admits to killing people. The Munchkins are feral, Wildling-like tribal warriors. The Wizard would rather murder Dorothy than help her leave. It’s all very grim and humorless — shouldn’t The Wizard of Oz be at least a little fun? — and, in case you were wondering, not at all appropriate for children.

Emerald City Review NBCThat said, Emerald City is definitely a feast for the eyes, with dreamlike landscapes and beautifully elaborate costumes, like the fluttering cape of red ribbons worn by the Wicked Witch of the East (Florence Kasumba). All 10 episodes are directed by Tarsem Singh, the visionary behind J.Lo’s 2000 thriller The Cell and R.E.M.’s iconic “Losing My Religion” video. So while Emerald City has all the emotional depth of a music video, at least there are pretty things to look at along the way.

Since it has 10 hours to fill, Emerald City pads the original Oz story with side characters from other L. Frank Baum Oz books like the young boy Tip (Jordan Loughran). But with too many plotlines to tend to, the narrative ends up feeling sluggish, dragging its feet on the way to the titular city. The Dorothy/Lucas coupling is meant to set off sparks a la Once Upon a Time‘s Emma/Hook, but their romance is more dutiful than convincing. And intriguing characters like the Wicked Witch of the West — here, a sultry opium addict played by Ana Ularu — are left frustratingly undeveloped.

Given how muddled the final product is, it’s not surprising that Emerald City has been in development for more than three years, and has been through multiple showrunners already. (You can almost hear the NBC executives standing off-camera shouting, “More Game of Thrones-y!”) But it’s still a disappointment to see a beloved fairy tale wasted like this.

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: Dazzling visuals from director Tarsem Singh can’t make up for Emerald City‘s sluggish pacing and relentlessly bleak tone.

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43 Comments
  1. kate says:

    I’m giving it a chance and no idea why. Heck, part of it is that NBC does that one minute leak in thing on its shows and I could easily see them occasionally giving Grimm and its last season some extra time per episode. Sometimes you fall into interesting if awkward stuff, like Constantine, sometimes you are figuring out how to add additional time to your Grimm recording to avoid things like Dracula. I liked Tin Man. I get how they could make the story harder (heck, they could easily have avoided a lot and just based this on Return to Oz, that is already a darker and more sinister tale where while you are confused why people are mad at Dorothy, it starts to make some sense).

    • Collette says:

      When did L. Frank Baum’s masterpiece become a casserole cookbook? 100 different ways with hamburger becomes 100 different yellow brick roads? Enough!

      • kate says:

        I don’t terribly mind it as the story, to me, read differently to different audiences. But, I think that is part of the reason why I wish they would go with the secondary tales rather than the main one. I mean, its part of the reason why Wicked is so popular (unintended there) because there are like five minutes of covering the original story but from the other side point of view, and, it actually feeds into the Return to Oz landscape much better. But even with Tin Man, all they really did was set it in modern times and do much more the original story rather than the movie musical most are familiar with.

      • bliz says:

        every single wizard of oz story is mind numbingly dumb and childish….nostalgia has taken over your reason and clouded your judgement….go eat some more memberberries why doncha

  2. um says:

    Maybe if you all reviewed shows that are FAR, FAR WORSE this harshly folks would take you seriously.

  3. Anna says:

    I`m sort of confuse here. Who are Emma and Hook? I don`t remember anyone with those names in the books.

    • Collette says:

      Emma [ostensibly Snow White’s daughter] & Hook [ from Peter Pan] are characters on Once Upon a Time, a show that puts every children’s story in a giant blender and pours out an unpalatable mocktail.

      • Anna says:

        Thank you. I don`t see that show, but now i`m even more confused, is this a review article or a comparation article, comparing Emerald city and once upon a time? i mean if they are using references to characters from another shows, they have to be careful, because not everyone may understand those mentions and now i wonder if how neutral this article is, if is biased towards the other show, making this look bad. But then again, many times reviewers, go with their eyes and say bad things and tv shows and movies end being way better than they make it sound, i will just have to wait and see.

      • Emma says:

        Hey man, Once Upon a Time was awesome!
        … For the first two, two and a half seasons.
        Well, I love it unconditionally myself, warts and all (felt the same way about BBC’s Merlin), but objectively, it has gone downhill over the years. But I love it anyway.
        And why do you say “ostensibly?” In the show, she IS Snow White’s daughter.
        Oh, and Anna, Emma and Hook are one of the main couples in the show. They’re quite popular.
        You should give it a try, it’s quite an enjoyable show. Just leave your logic at the door.

        • Piers says:

          Nah. OUAT was fun the first 2 seasons, partially because of the hunt for Easter eggs. As for “ostensibly”, maybe because in the original story she never existed. Deus ex machina gone mad. I’m with Collette on this one.

  4. Billy meacham says:

    I’m giving emerald city a chance since it has kingpin from marvels daredevil in it. Why does it have to be on fridays since I have last man standing, dr ken, macgyver, Hawaii five 0, rosewood, sleepy hollow and blue bloods?

  5. Jared says:

    This just looks bad, And TVLine reviews are usually spot on. I think I can skip this one.

  6. ScottJ says:

    I’ll watch any show that keeps its episode count down. Although I”m far more likely to record this and binge watch once its finished.

  7. Jess says:

    Still going to watch it. Reviews and I never agree anyways. Like with the movie Armageddon, I love that movie and critics and most people hated. I liked it for what it was, a way to escape my life for a little bit.

  8. herman1959 says:

    I’m guessing that the + in the D+ grade is for Vincent D. – he was born to play the Wizard – because nothing else about this show sounds interesting to me. Plus, the fact that NBC scheduled it on a Friday (after 3 years in development and multiple showrunners) sounds like they don’t have high hopes. See it now; it’ll be gone soon.

  9. Bartimeus says:

    The reviewer seems to mostly just be upset Wizard of Oz is getting a Dark and adult retelling so I can’t really take it seriously.

    The show looks awesome and looks far more interesting than the original thing. Oz only ever slightly appealed to me even as a kid but I’m stoked for this.

    • rinaex says:

      IMO the reviewer seems more annoyed that they decided do go with a whole BvS grimdark thing with nothing in the writing or acting to make it palatable.

  10. Katherine215 says:

    My original comment didn’t post so I’ll try again – I’m really surprised this review takes such a negative view of the show when TVLine listed it as one of the best new winter shows to try just last week. I’d link to that article but I think that’s what got my first comment deleted.
    .
    Anyway, I know people have different opinions as to what’s good, but it’s a pretty extreme difference between this review and rating it one of the best new shows to try.

  11. Curious, For Now says:

    I’ll give it a try. Those amazing visuals are enough to pique my interest. Like everyone else, I read the reviews but watch in the hopes I will enjoy something reviewers didn’t particularly like (which happens about 1/2 the time or more). After the boredom that is network TV in between Christmas and New Year (resulting in numerous visits to Netflix, among others), I’ll give something new a try. It is NBC though, and I haven’t been thrilled with the peacock for a long time. We shall see. Fingers crossed.

  12. kirads09 says:

    Wow. Pretty harsh review there. Everything I have seen about EC looks exceptional. Maybe I have a built in bias being a huge Vincent D’Onofrio fan for a very long time. He doesn’t just play characters, he INHABITS them. I am certainly going to watch and enjoy every breathtaking moment. I can’t wait. I should admit here, not a purest when it comes to Oz. I do love the original movie a great deal.

  13. bliz says:

    every single wizard of oz story is mind numbingly dumb and childish….nostalgia has taken over your reason and clouded your judgement….go eat some more memberberries why doncha

  14. bliz says:

    when did “original” become a dead species? you know at one point or another allllll these things we keep re-doing had to be made with imaginations, so maybe lets try using our imaginations more as content makers and consumers……lets make some more breaking bads–not the show or genre itself, but being original from an actual mind of someone currently living and working today that becomes a massive hit in masses……

  15. JadedFaded says:

    Saw (but didn’t hear) what I guess was the first episode– or the pilot– on an American Airlines flight from Phoenix to Vancouver last night; strange way for NBC to promote a new series. I usually ignore in-flight entertainment, preferring to stare out the window or read a book, but it was a night flight and I was too tired to read. I didn’t have headphones so watched the whole thing in silence on a 10″ screen six feet away– hardly ideal viewing conditions. Anyway, I’d never heard of “Emerald City”, had no idea what the hell I was looking at at first, but was able to figure out what was going on without too much trouble (it helped that I recognized some names in the credits)– it was just visually interesting enough to pique my interest. Young woman in Kansas (doctor or nurse?) gets whisked off by a tornado to a strange land, along with a dog; check. Meets a bunch of short humanoids who take her to their village; check. There she meets some huge barbarian-type humanoids who subject her to a water torture of some kind; hey, what happened to the faux-Munchkins? Later she rescues a guy who’s hanging from a cross by the side of the road, in pretty bad shape; he looks nothing like Ray Bolger, but what the hell… anyway they set off together on a yellow road; check. They meet a cool-looking wicked witch with ruby gloves… Lots of crosscutting to the Wizard’s doings, whatever they were (mostly calmly strutting about, hands behind his back like a ship’s captain, and striving to look like he’s in charge); Vince D’Onofrio with a bushy beard. The Glinda analogy (??) turns up at the Wizard’s fortress and her apprentice nearly blows it up inadvertently; Joely Richardson as “Glinda”. Some kind of strange subplot involving Fiona Shaw as some healer woman(??) with a very bad attitude and a captive kid. A whole bunch of parallel plot lines fighting for supremacy. Ends on a sort-of cliffhanger.
    Half an hour later they ran the damn thing again. No clearer the second time. I guess being able to hear the dialogue might have helped just a bit… If this show runs for more than one season it will be proof that magic really does exist.

  16. Emma says:

    I’ll give it a try, mainly ’cause it’s directed by Tarsem Singh. It’s true that The Fall is literally the only good movie he’s ever made, but man, was it SPECTACULAR. Fingers crossed this is more The Fall than Mirror Mirror.
    Plus, I’m a sucker for these kind of reimaginings of fairy tales and childhood classics.

  17. Val says:

    Well i do like Emma/Hook as a couple and love story <3

  18. Mark D. Moss says:

    I haven’t seen the show, so I can’t speak to the end-game conclusions made here … but I *do* know a bit about fairy tales and folklore, so it’s worth pointing out how totally confused and wrong Dave (and pretty much *all* of the OUAT fandom) is about the source material being generally discussed as the foundation for the arguments made. First of all, while Baum’s “Oz” books were certainly fantasy, and unquestionably aimed (audience-wise) at children they are as distinct from “Fairy tales” as, say, Tolkien’s “LotR” or Lewis’ Narnia books. What the writer is confusing here is *Disney* (fluffy, good wins over evil, over simplified, bowdlerized *versions*/re-imaginings of classic folk tales themselves) and the real source material that is almost always a LOT darker, twisty, ambiguous and more juvenile. Dare I say *richer*? (Bottom line, if you learn nothing else: “fairy tales” are collected *folklore* by the likes of Hans Christian Andersen or the Brothers Grimm and many, many lesser-known folklorist … fantasy literature, like the Oz books, Narnia, Lord of the Rings — all by KNOWN authors — are not “fairy tales.”)

    Having read the entire *Baum* Oz series to my daughter when she was little, I can attest that the classic Garland/MGM musical version, as great as it is, is *also* a pretty significant re-imagining of the original text. Omitting lots, adding lots, and changing much of the story. This isn’t to claim *anything* about the success or failure of this version (again, I haven’t seen it), but protesting because it’s not “light,” “fun” or “humorous” is simply ignorant.

  19. Al says:

    I’ll give it a shot for its debut but if it doesn’t grab me, I’m out. So far the reviews are making it sound like a bleaker Once Upon a Time, a show I fell off the boil for awhile ago, and I’ve read some reviews suggesting the show is trying to push the envelope on what is acceptable re: sex, gore for network TV, which suggests possible desperation that could interfere with the story. But I am still curious to see how it looks. They’re airing the first two episodes on debut night; if 1/5 of the season isn’t enough to convince me, I’ll be calling it a day.

  20. Lydia Romano says:

    I loved it

  21. Lydia Romano says:

    I loved it. Thought that I would not like it, but I did.

  22. Jeanna says:

    I often agree with TVLine but we differ here. I found the show and the performers very compelling. While I don’t completely grasp the dynamic between the west witch and the wizard, I may very invested in the Dorothy – Lucas dynamic and very interested in Pip’s storyline. I’m in.

  23. caughtup49 says:

    That’s so frakkin up! What a waste of TV money to destroy a classic. Your twisted, stinkin rotten mind is soooo deranged you have think up something like this to capture people’s attention.

  24. caughtup49 says:

    Well it’s so ooooo frakkined up.
    That’s all I got to say about the shat!

  25. scott says:

    i was really looking forward to it, I had a hard time getting through it. I will give it one thing though the visuals are amazing, storyline is way to confusing and i found it boring at times. will not be watching the rest of the episodes,, i’d pass on this one if i were you. By the way I love once upon a time and this is nothing like it at all.

  26. Kree says:

    I loved it and couldn’t wait to tell my daughter about this awesome new show. She beat me to it by calling me and telling ME to watch it. We are 32 years apart so it may appeal to all ages. It is really good..!

  27. Tina says:

    I really like the show, Is the wizard of Oz no but it is still good

  28. lika says:

    so…I suppose every run of the mill series seen on all basic major channels are better ? God I am so glad one of these channels IS doing something different, and YES..SMART. please don’t change their minds…its clever, amazing, costuming and settings too….so it isn’t” instant to make a point ! THATS the point ! STORY>>EVOLVES.” Make
    stupid people and shows famous and everybody else who watches the soap opera idiot entertainment out there , I like the challenges and so do a lot of people.

    • Mark says:

      You may think it to be a smart show but your average viewer will be hard pressed to connect. You want a smart rewrite watch “Tin Man”. This is so far removed from the original take it needs an original name so as not to confuse the audience. Something like “Dumb Knockoff of a Childhood Tale” or “The Envious Wizard of Green City” or “The Ambiguous Witches of Oz”. Please don’t glorify a horrifyingly stupid “reimagining” of a great story.

  29. Mark says:

    They tried so hard to recreate this story, that they lost touch with the elements that made the original great. And in doing so, they have made the principle characters almost unrecognizable. Way to slaughter a perfect childhood tale NBC.

  30. Natalie says:

    I absolutely loved it, it’s totally different than original, but I love that, I am upset when it ends, can’t wait for next episode, actors are great, storyline is good, I hope it continues, can’t wait to watch next series. I’ve always loved wizard of Oz and now love all the spin-offs. Great job NBC!!!

  31. Robin Apple says:

    I’m a great fan of the series, “Grim”. The cast is engaging and work together well, making the viewer care about them. The episodes are fascinating in the unique retelling of Grim Fairytales in a modern setting with characters that you can relate to, along with the fantastic creatures the show creates. This is a much more entertaining and less depressing than this forced retelling of the classic Wizard of Oz story that did not need to be changed or “improved on”. I’d much rather watch Grim than this dull series NBC has seen fit to run and in their infinite “wisdom” to cancel the previous series to show the latter dog of a series. Pretty sets do not a successful series make. I couldn’t care less what happens to the characters of Emerald City and if it returns, I won’t be watching it, but I will buy the DVD of the complete series of Grim.