Aired 10/10/13 on ABC
Going into this show, I had a set of expectations from already watching the original Once Upon A Time. As a lover of the first season, I went off it slightly towards the end of the second as the storylines and characters seemed to be there just to drag the series to 22 episodes. So when I saw the trailer for Once Upon A Time In Wonderland, I was drawn back into the fairy tale world again by a story that looked like it could shake up and refresh the premise. After watching the pilot, I was generally pleased by what I saw.
Oncerland follows a grown version of Alice going back to Wonderland to find her genie fiancé Cyrus with the help of both new and familiar characters. The pilot episode of any series is predominantly about introducing us to the characters and setting up the main plot. The challenge of this show is that it has to set itself apart from the original OUAT, introduce us to characters and a story that we are already familiar with and set up why it’s going to be different from previous adaptations to persuade us to watch it - and enjoy watching it.
Cue the familiar sight of a little girl dressed in a blue and white dress running back to her father to tell him of her adventures - understandably he thinks she’s gone a bit crackers. Cut to an older Alice locked up in a Psyche Ward with a douchey doctor asking her questions about Wonderland which we see through flashbacks. This scenario manages to keep the necessary background exposition enjoyable enough to watch in order for the main plot to continue in Wonderland.
As it’s assumed that the main audience is going to be people travelling over from the original series, not much explanation is given about how the magic works, but it doesn’t seem to be needed as the idea of portals to different worlds and time periods is discussed various times by different characters that by the end of the episode, jumping from Victorian England and landing in a Marsh of Mellow with fire breathing dragonflies seems like a totally plausible situation.
The central relationship we’re supposed to lovingly follow and fret over was set up nicely between Alice and the genie Cyrus. When she breaks into his bottle to hide from some guards in the flashbacks he was all ‘Hey girl, why don’t you stay in my bottle and we can talk and stuff,’ and she was like, ‘OK!’ His pretty face and the close quarters (seriously, there was barely room to stretch, what use it having genie powers if you can’t even magic yourself a bigger interior in the bottle?) meant that all the talking led to a romance that travelled through different worlds, introducing potential flashback and plot directions along the way.
When he proposes to her by the not-so-romantic Boiling Sea and seals the deal with his magical glowing necklace of love, the Red Queen swoops in with her minions and decides to stomp all over their romance as she sweeps him of the cliff with a wave of her hand, seemingly killing him.
Alice was obviously upset; something which the douchey doctor took advantage of in the psyche ward, as he emotionally manipulated her into agreeing to a new procedure done by Victorian power tools that will take all the pain away. Luckily, help was at hand when the charmingly cheeky Knave of Hearts came through the White Rabbit’s portal from modern day Storybrooke, with his leather jacket and quips galore, to tell her that Cyrus was actually alive and break her out. After a quick scuffle with the guards and a big ‘eff you’ to the doctor, they quickly jump through another portal into Wonderland to search for Cyrus.
Unlike the original, which switches between the fairy tale land and the real world, Oncerland is set predominantly in Wonderland, with a lot of CGI background and characters that don’t always look great but are easy to forgive due to the nature of the show. Sophie Lowe as Alice does an ok job fighting against a CGI Chesire Cat (that is way creepier than should ever be allowed), while the rest of the cast manage to make it look like they are loving life in the trippy world of Wonderland rather than staring at a green screen in a studio somewhere.
The episode ends with Alice and Knave heading off to search for Cyrus, who was actually chilling out in a massive bird cage after being caught by Jafaar and his magic carpet. The setup of the show seems simple enough and the pilot was satisfactory but hopefully, like the original OUAT, the mixing and skewering of fairy tales as we know them will keep things fresh and keep exceeding expectations.