The broadcast networks have almost 30 shows debuting this fall, including new sitcoms from Michael J. Fox and Sean Hayes, a futuristic tale from the Fringe team and Marvel-ous adventures for the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. To help you prep for it all, TVLine is offering First Impressions of the not-for-review pilots.
Next up on our list….
THE SHOW | ABC’s Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (Thursdays at 8/7c; premieres Oct. 10)
THE COMPETITION | CBS’ The Big Bang Theory/The Millers (new), Fox’s X Factor results show, The CW’s The Vampire Diaries and NBC’s Parks and Recreation/Welcome to the Family (new)
THE CAST | Sophie Lowe (Beautiful Kate), Peter Gadiot (The Forbidden Girl), Michael Socha (the UK’s Being Human), Naveen Andrews (Lost), Emma Rigby (Hollyoaks) and the voice of John Lithgow (Third Rock from the Sun); Naveen Andrews (Lost) joins the cast in Episode 2.
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THE SET-UP | At least as framed by the 20-minute “presentation” that sold ABC on this spin-off, Victorian era British lass Alice (Lowe) has been institutionalized after relating a story about her trip to “Wonderland,” where she met a hookah-smoking caterpillar and invisible cat and ate/drank things that made her smaller/bigger. Just as Alice retracts her tale, she gets a visit from the Knave of Hearts (Socha), a Wonderland pal who has portal-jumped from Storybrooke to report that Cyrus (Gadiot) — a genie with whom she fell in love — possibly did not perish at the hand of the Red Queen (Rigby). Cue: “We have to go baaaaack!”
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THE FIRST IMPRESSION | While it’s hard to say what the first episode will look like at a full 42 minutes, I can see — as skeptical/disappointed as I was when ABC aborted the plan to air this as a wintertime hiatus-filler — how the network suits were dazzled. The arc here is pretty linear and pretty romantic: Venturing back to Wonderland (thanks to Lithgow’s portal-happy White Rabbit), Alice will labor to locate her true love, with a begrudging assist from the Knave (who in the semi-clunky cold open snarks to Storybrooke’s Leroy, “I don’t help anyone“).
Lowe and Gadiot have good chemistry, so hopefully their flashback moments are among those beefed up in the full pilot, while Socha in fleeting scenes sells us on his alter ego’s sass. Rigby’s Red Queen is fun (and barely dressed) in a saucy, CW sort of way, but it may take some getting used to having a decently rendered CGI rabbit on your TV screen every week.
One reservation, aside from how the Knave was “inserted” into old Once scenes set during the wraith’s rampage: Already, non-Wonderland characters such as Andrews’ newly added Jafar, here fashioned as an evil genie, are being plugged into the narrative. At what point does this simply become Once 2 (Once Twice?) and you’re robbing Peter (Peter Pumpkin Eater) to pay Paul (Bunyan)?
RELATED | More Fall TV First Impressions: NBC’s The Blacklist, The CW’s Reign, ABC’s Trophy Wife, Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, CBS’ Hostages, NBC’s Ironside, ABC’s Super Fun Night, The CW’s The Tomorrow People, Fox’s Almost Human, CBS’ The Crazy Ones
THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE | It will take some magic for ABC to have any success in the Thursdays-at-8 time slot, where the likes of Charlie’s Angels, Missing, Last Resort and Zero Hour in recent years have quickly died. The Once brand surely will lure some lookie-loos, and ABC obviously is so hot for this offshoot that they’ll give it a lot of rope. With Big Bang as big as ever, the opportunity here lies in a vulnerable X Factor, which seems to have minimal buzz heading into Season 3.
Watch a video preview for Once: Wonderland, then vote in our poll below.