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TV Reviews

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Cast
Sophie Lowe as Alice; Michael Socha as Knave of Hearts; Emma Rigby as Red Queen; Voice of John Lithgow as White Rabbit; Hugo Steele as Orang; Peter Gadiot as Cyrus; Naveen Andrews as Jafar
Channel
ABC
Reviewer
Paul Asay
Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

Some might say that Wonderland is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there. Not with all the evil queens and smoking caterpillars and nonsensical tea parties one must attend.

But for Alice, even visiting has caused its share of problems.

Alice, as you might remember from either reading Lewis Carroll or watching Walt Disney, stumbled upon Wonderland when she accidentally fell down a rabbit hole as a little girl. She got back just fine, of course—but it turns out, we're told here in this ABC spin-off, that her father was worried about her something fierce when she was gone. And when Alice continued babbling on (well into adulthood) about invisible Cheshire cats and time-conscious rabbits and whatnot, said dad checked her in to an insane asylum.

At the notorious Bethlem Royal Hospital she was destined for a lobotomy had not some otherworldly friends rescued her and taken her back to Wonderland. There she finds that absence makes the world grow weirder.

"I'm stranger," the gigantic—and hungry-looking—Cheshire Cat tells her when she shows up again. "You're stranger. Together, we are … strangers."

So while Alice no longer has to worry about padded rooms, she does have to survive Wonderland's many natural (and unnatural) perils. And she must rescue her one true love—the comely genie Cyrus.

Oh, and we mustn't forget that both Alice and Cyrus have made their share of enemies—most importantly the Red Queen and Agrabah's evil magician Jafar.

Yes, that Jafar from Aladdin, though in the guise of Lost's Naveen Andrews, he looks quite a bit different. Since Disney owns ABC and has made an indelible mark on pert near every age-old story or fairy tale in existence, it only makes sense—both from a storytelling and marketing perspective.

In Wonderland, imaginary, Disneyfied worlds are blended together like a fable-filled stew, turning each on its head and becoming something simultaneously familiar and different. The Red Queen looks nothing like Lewis Carroll's own drawings or the huge-headed Red Queen from Tim Burton's live-action Alice in Wonderland. No, this show's writers do not observe a canonical Alice. And yet, some of her touchstones do appear. The child Alice dresses in the same blue dress and white apron we've grown accustomed to. Jafar, for his part, still carries his snake-headed staff.

While this mooshed-up world can be sometimes dark and often perilous, there's also a brightly colored whimsy—not to mention Alice's dogged clinging to the high ideal of true love—that helps keep things from becoming too serious or dire. A smattering of profanities sometimes mar the script. And magic is a critical and inescapable part of almost every event. Swashbuckling swordsmanship is common, and people are sometimes hurt or perhaps even killed. But so far it feels slightly more innocent than sister show/predecessor Once Upon a Time—perhaps because it spends less time in gloomy reality and more in Technicolor fairyland.

So while I think it's abundantly clear now that you really wouldn't want your family to live in Wonderland, with all due respect to Alice and her travails it does actually seem like a better-than-average (for TV at least) place to visit.

Episode Reviews

"Down the Rabbit Hole"

Alice is locked away in an asylum after insisting for years that Wonderland is real. She's rescued from a primitive brain operation by the Knave of Hearts and the White Rabbit, who cross over into our world to tell her Cyrus is still alive. They have no proof, though, and as far as she knew, he'd perished in the boiling sea at the hand of the Red Queen. (We see him fall.) But what else can she do but go back to Wonderland and search for him?

"When you really love someone, you don't need proof," she says, repeated something Cyrus told her. "You can feel it."

The Red Queen and Jafar, meanwhile, plot to capture Alice. And we see Alice and others battling both Wonderland guards and British asylum orderlies—swinging swords and knives and fists and feet. She thwacks some with her boots and slams a head in a door. Jafar magically chokes the Red Queen. Cheshire tries to eat Alice, prompting quite a little cat fight.

Characters sometimes steal and/or flout authority, and we hear the Knave of Hearts talk about doing really bad things. "Bloody" and "h‑‑‑" both pop up several times, often together.

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