The 'Wizard of Oz' mythos being ripped apart like a tornado had rampaged straight through it.
Apart from D'Onofrio and Ularu, there were too many scene-stealers to count -- but the glue of the story was Adria Arjona's incomparable Dorothy Gale.
The cinematography and music score never failed, and was possibly at its best in the finale as all factions declared war.
Though it came together, 'Emerald City' did run a tight risk of cramming too much plot, too fast. Ev was quickly brushed over. Perhaps next series there'll be more room for world-building.
It could possibly do with a little less promotion of a romance. 'Emerald City' has enough bolster beyond that.
In the hurtling, magical world of Emerald City’s Oz, Dorothy Gale is not the only soul entranced by its otherworldliness.
Is there such a thing as a golden age of television?
Perhaps it’s television as you know it. Viewers of the older generation may argue that their television age is far superior to younger viewers today, and vice versa. There will, of course, be outliers. But that just proves the vastness of the subjectivity of this topic. So it is with bold confidence that we declare ‘Emerald City‘ as possibly one of the best kept secrets within television this year.
There is no shortage of film and television taking classic tales and putting a (usually dark) twist on them for entertainment. ‘Emerald City’ blatantly did this, but was quite unique in doing so.
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Heading up a strong cast was the fiery Adria Arjona as Dorothy Gale, alongside Oliver Jackson-Cohen (Lucas), Ana Ularu (West), Jordan Loughran (Tip), Gerran Howell (Jack) and Vincent D’Onofrio (The Wizard). It’s difficult to shine when the story stretches so wide, so immediately, but Arjona did a more than convincing job of gluing the pieces together. She was charming, affable, strong, quick-witted and so easy to fall in love with. Arjona’s presence is something we hope we see on-screen more often. She most definitely has the beat of a leading lady, and something tells us her future’s just about to brew.
But before we plough onwards into the varying plots and how they all come together in the stomping, mic-drop finale, we must praise the cast and crew for their efforts. It was truly magnificent to witness everything slot into place; the turns that weren’t so ridiculous; and how you truly felt for each character. Before you lament on how this series passed right under your nose, go and do some viewing! But for keen viewers, let’s take a further look at this season as a whole.
The wide, ever-expanding world of Oz (and Ev) captured our imaginations from the start.
Huge credit to the never-ending imagination of Frank L. Baum, creators Matthew Arnold and Josh Friedman, but mostly to the jarring and immensely beautiful direction of Tarsem Singh. Singh’s sweeping, generous gazes over the landscapes and particularly of Oz allowed us to truly explore the magic that lay deep within this place. And it’s truly Singh’s effort that shouldn’t go without praise. Each and every episode, Singh has delivered with power. Whether it’s with an ominous marching army, the initial tornado or the gorgeous exploration into Oz and Ev, Singh never failed us.
It also offered us a much-needed bolster to the characterisation of each character. The set crew shone, particularly when they paired up Glinda’s (Joely Richardson) pristine front to her living chambers. Everything seemed too clean; too uniform. As you delved deeper into her character, it simply felt like a prison.
Again, we sing Singh’s praises for the shots of Lucas initially hanging as a scarecrow, and the recurrence of that theme, especially in the finale. The most memorable shot, perhaps, was when a distraught West collapsed in the middle of the great Ozian building, among the witches’ halls.
Baum’s unrivalled ways with his words were a driving force with his books. But without arguably one of the most dedicated set and design crew behind ‘Emerald City’, it would be nothing like the unexpected fireball it magically grew into. ‘Emerald City’ is not flawless. But boy, did it rev up its engine with its glitzy costumes, ornate masks, clever cinematography and perfect spot locations. A standing ovation for that—that, surely, is one point ‘Emerald City’ gets full marks on.
Did Dorothy get her show stolen from her?
Firstly, full kudos to Adria Arjona’s powerful performance as Dorothy. Baffled by her new world, she fought through Oz with grit, determination and wits that she clearly grasped from Kansas working as a nurse. It was a classic case of using modern-day skills to befuddle citizens of Oz into believing Dorothy was something more than she was (the Wizard would know all too well). Arjona’s believability and her observant nature as Dorothy never took away from the reality of whichever scenario Dorothy dodged, and why.
Two giants stood in her way. There was of course Vincent D’Onofrio. A fine actor in himself, the Wizard took a much longer time to warm. However, when he did, he was a mixed bag of coward, power-hungry, wily, cautious and commanding. There was nothing inherently likeable; briefly, there had been, when he’d just been the unappreciated Frank Morgan. But as power sucked him in, his soul twisted unpleasantly and D’Onofrio’s portrayal of that gluttonous commander who’d been undefeated for too long, unchallenged for too long, and in power for too long was an exceptional display. It made us cower in our seats—and it made for an even bigger fall from grace.
Another outstanding display came from Ana Ularu. It’s hard to portray West without smearing green all over your face. But Ularu welcomed us to not vilify her. Instead, she took a chance on Tip. She was not a pretty soul but she was unafraid to hide it. There were imperfections galore but for all of Oz, she was perhaps the only one not pretending. The breath of honesty was pleasant when deception ran amok.
Opposite D’Onofrio’s booming, commanding presence, Ularu’s command was much quieter. Though she was a prey to the Wizard’s games in the beginning, she soon rose from her opium daze into a dark, powerful force to be reckoned with. The difference between the duo was that one was hiding behind a picture, and the other started to bare her soul. Ularu’s show of sympathy and somewhat empathy towards Tip was beautifully done in the small twitch of adoration on her face, and the heartwrenching crackle in her voice.
Everything in Ularu’s depiction of West was a paradox. She was cunning yet she allowed herself to be naive with the Wizard. She was clever and intelligent yet familial ties still rendered her in trusting Glinda with an alliance. Her rise to the top has been magnetic and a complete underdog tale—but it’s her fall from grace we fear. It’s a long way down, and it’s probably Glinda who waits.
Here’s your white knight in shining armour, with a head full of hay and a betrayal rife on the horizon.
The romance in this story was clearly between Dorothy and Lucas. Except in this story, it wasn’t quite the fairytale ending. In this much distorted tale of events, Dorothy and Lucas offered us a brief but lovely breakaway. It must be cheesy in other stories, but the way ‘Emerald City’ forged the scenes between Dorothy and Lucas never seemed that way. They were earnest comrades, and Lucas had the honour of not once treating Dorothy like anything less than she was: a badass. From the moment Dorothy cut Lucas down from that cross, to their kiss in the woods, their relationship had been tumultuous and fiery, climaxing to gentility.
But that’s where we thought it’d end.
Oliver Jackson-Cohen’s Lucas was not to waste as the soldier in shining armour. With a touch of Glinda’s hand and his memories as the Wizard Guard Roan flooding back to him, Jackson-Cohen’s depiction of a man fighting his amnesia was brutal. Somehow, despite all he’d done to Dorothy, we rooted for Lucas to just forget. It’s the exact opposite of what it should be. In all we’ve known, people journey to ‘Emerald City’ to gain what they do not have. The Scarecrow would gain a brain, yet it’s that brain we want to cast aside now.
Arjona’s heartbreak was hard to swallow. It’s never easy when your heroine is broken so, but Arjona’s strength impeding through it was admirable. And again, we have to give it to ‘Emerald City’ for turning a predictable love story into a distorted, awful one to cast away in horror.
The show touched upon many themes that may be relevant to us all.
If we had a show of hands, who could honestly say that they’d never brew hatred against a group of people who continually treated you like a dumbass, just because they were more qualified? It’s Frank’s experiences he horrifically amplifies in terms of Oz. Given an opportunity to start life again, this time with men and gold to his name—something like a game he’d probably play at home—he builds a daunting empire. We see the repercussions in Ev. Left to fend for themselves the last time the Beast knocked, it was perhaps Frank’s cowardice that resonated within the Empire to leave a neighbourly land as a distraction to save his own.
Most charmingly played was Jordan Loughran’s Tip. In a jumble of plots, an outstanding exterior was portrayed by Loughran in growing through pubescence. But it wasn’t just a normal one she endured. It was littered with magic and witchcraft. She’d been born a girl, hidden and grown up by magic as a boy, and then, upon fleeing, became a girl again.
It’s quite the mind-bender, isn’t it?
Yet it’s something Tip constantly struggles with. She nearly kills Jack for it in her anger—the same anger West harnesses, because the duo mutually identify by it. But we look upon this world now and ask: how many young individuals struggle with their sexual identity? Not just with whom (or no-one at all) they are attracted to, but who they are? We have a growing population of young people identifying as ‘non-binary’ or those who struggle with their biological sex. It differs to their gender. Matters like these don’t get brushed aside, not even in the land of Oz. So we ask ourselves: why should we be ignorant in real-life, either?
FINAL VERDICT: ‘Emerald City’ has shown that it’s still got a lot more of a punch to deliver. If it were to stop now, it’d be a greater loss to television than something to make room for. And it’s about time people start jumping on the bandwagon and giving this rollercoaster ride a try.
We’ll admit once more: ‘Emerald City’ isn’t perfect. Week after week, performances do not remain consistently sturdy and sometimes the plot does seem all over the place. Admittedly, it all came together in the end—as we like to say. But certainly midseason, there seemed to be a thumping pace where plot strands were everywhere and there was a definite feeling of fear that the show was aiming too far, and too high.
And it did.
And we’re glad.
NBC pulled out all the stops for this production—there’s no doubt about it. ‘Emerald City’ promised to be a world of magic and that it is indeed. It’s been perhaps the most unexpected firecracker of this still young year of television, but it’s reached a crescendo where there is genuinely no option except renewal. We are simply left on tenterhooks on all story-points, and it’s something we cannot be more thankful for. It’s to everyone in the cast and crew, to Frank L. Baum’s original creation, to the revelation that is Adria Arjona’s woman-of-colour, ass-kicking Dorothy Gale. This isn’t Oz as you know it. This is ‘Emerald City’ property—and we’re damn glad it is.
EMERALD CITY: Season 1 in Review [NBC]