It has been a bumpy trip down the rabbit hole for Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. The spinoff to Once Upon a Time has received mixed reviews from critics and viewers and the ratings have been slowly declining. But that’s no reason count the fantasy/romance/adventure series out. After all, Veronica Mars only pulled 2.5 million viewers its first season and it has a highly anticipated feature film coming out next month.
The basic premise of the ABC show is this: Alice travels back to Wonderland to search for her lost love, genie Cyrus. The Knave of Hearts and the White Rabbit help her against the land’s many creatures and villains, including Jafar and the Red Queen. Just like on Once proper, we get flashbacks and bits of backstory as we progress as well as ties to classic fairytales and the writings of Lewis Carroll. Seems interesting enough right?
Whether you are already a Oncer, a Wonderer, or are uninitiated in either world, Wonderland is worth your time. Here are five reasons why:
1. It Gets Better
This is important to clarify right off the bat. I know some of you watched the pilot episode and were underwhelmed at best. It’s true that Wonderland’s first outing does not grab you the way its parent show did. At first glance Wonderland is clunky and exasperating but let’s recall that many of us initially felt this way about little shows like The Office. Keep with Wonderland through the slow moments and you’ll be rewarded with stellar episodes like “Forget Me Not” (Ep. 3) and “Bad Blood” (Ep. 7).
2. The Knave of Hearts
Arguably the most entertaining character on the show, the Knave aka Will provides most of Wonderland’s humor and action. As Alice’s partner and guide in searching for Cyrus, he routinely saves the day and the episode with his cleverness and charm. Michael Socha, with his delightfully thick accent, plays Will as a fighter, lover, smartass and all around adorable rogue. As we slowly learn Will’s backstory, I found I only loved him and his puppy dog eyes even more.
3. The Red Queen
It would have been easy for Wonderland’s creative team to just make their own Evil Queen aka Regina. Instead they opted for a character who you think is a mindless pawn but slowly unfolds to reveal an emotional depth and intelligence that downright surprised me. Thanks in large part to Emma Rigby’s controlled, simmering performance, by the midseason finale it was the Red Queen’s story I most looked forward to (sorry Alice).
4. The Laughs
I love a show that makes me laugh even if it’s unintentional. Sure there are funny moments when Will cracks a joke or the Red Queen delivers a snappy insult. But there are also moments like Jafar (Naveen Andrews) surfing away on his magic carpet like he’s catching a gnarly wave. Whether I am supposed to be as amused by this show as I am, I’m not sure. I do know that I thoroughly enjoy snickering and giggling through each episode and that’s enough for me.
5. The Excellent Midseason Finale
If you’re going to convince skeptics to stick with your show when it returns three months later you need a fantastic midseason finale. Wonderland delivers in spades, tying up some loose ends and providing us with the hint of fantastical new adventures ahead. For a show that often felt artificial in its sentimentality and poignancy, I was unexpectedly moved during the finale. I credit this mostly to a knockout performance by Emma Rigby (see above). While you could watch “Home” without seeing any other episodes and you would probably get along just fine, you’d be missing out on the true emotional punch it delivers.
So do yourself a favor and binge watch all eight of Wonderland’s episodes before the show returns on March 6th. Then tune in here for weekly recaps by yours truly.
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