Charles Lutwidge Dodgson's 1865 classic novel gets a makeover with ABC's exciting new series, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. Creators/executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitis (Lost) demonstrate how a spin-off can be an excellent way to build upon a universe that millions of fans are already captivated by and not just another cash-cow for the studio.
The key word here is "new." Yes, Wonderland is a series loosely tied to ABC's Once Upon a Time; however, the unique characters and the world they inhabit give this classic tale new life. If this is your first journey into the realm of Once Upon a Time, then fear not, for the writers do a superb job at explaining the story without too many "wink-winks" at the audience.
Alice, played by the fearless young Sophie Lowe, could become one of the best new heroines on television. The writers deserve credit, but it's Lowe's multilayered performance that steals the show. The young adventurer has had a tough life, as we see her recently returned to our world from Wonderland, with tales of talking cats and hookah-smoking caterpillars. These outlandish stories put her in Bethlem Asylum, where Alice tries to forget her lost love, Cyrus (Peter Gadiot). The look of confusion on her face as the Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha) attempts a rescue proves that Lowe was a brilliant casting choice, as the Once Upon a Time franchise continues to produce some of the fiercest female characters in the business.
An impressive supporting cast brings even more vitality to Wonderland, with comedic icon John Lithgow leading the way as the voice of The White Rabbit. A good antagonist can make or break a show; fortunately, the inclusion of Lost veteran Naveen Andrews as Jafar was another solid casting choice. The spellbindingly gorgeous Emma Rigby's take on The Red Queen commands respect each time she enters a scene, and will most likely fulfill "the girl we love to hate" role. Wonderland's strength goes beyond its choice of actors though, and continues with an engaging story as well.
Dodgson may have been in a drug-induced state while writing his classic tale, yet the hour-long 'Down the Rabbit Hole' premiere never felt hazy or disorienting. The Knave says that "Nothing is impossible in Wonderland," and he's more right than he realizes. In typical Once Upon a Time fashion, fairy tales are either combined or modified slightly in order to keep the viewer guessing. Watching Jafar and the Red Queen quarrel over their villainous plot was a moment of pure delight. It seems that the magical realm of Agrabah has come to the queen's domain in search of Cyrus and the three wishes he possesses. Will there be an appearance by Aladdin in upcoming episodes?
With the White Rabbit on the queen's payroll, what adventures will await our travelers as they search for Cyrus? At the end of the episode, as the camera pulls back to reveal just how long our heroes must venture, its difficult not to think of The Lord of the Rings and its epic quest. Again, Wonderland stands on its own as a new and thrilling fantasy world to explore. Hopefully, we'll get more back-story into Knave, Alice, and the rest of Wonderland's inhabitants as the season moves forward. Do Alice's adventures entice you to stay for the journey, or are Sunday's Once Upon a Time stories enough fairy tale goodness for one week?
_____Once Upon a Time in Wonderland returns next Thursday @8pm on ABC