Ruby slippers, a yellow brick road and a sweet farm girl in a blue dress all symbolize the iconic, light-hearted story of “The Wizard of Oz,” right? Wrong. In the new NBC TV series “Emerald City,” viewers are taken on a thrilling 21st century adventure to the land of Oz. The series premiered on Jan. 6 with a two-episode debut and will continue to run for 10 total episodes for the first season.
The series begins in Lucas, Kan., a nearly desolate farming community and hometown to main character Dorothy Gale (Adria Arjona). Judy Garland’s famous 1939 portrayal of Dorothy as an innocent southern belle differs greatly from Arjona’s Dorothy — a fiery badass with a witty attitude to top it off. Dorothy was raised by adoptive parents and the story starts with her going to visit her biological mother for the first time. A warm welcome is far from what Dorothy receives upon arrival; she is instead greeted by a dead police officer lying on the floor and a few minutes later she finds the bleeding body of her mother in an underground bunker. Before Dorothy is able to discover what happened, a tornado strikes and she retreats to a parked police car for protection.
We all know what happens next — the police car is swept away by the tornado and Dorothy earns herself a one-way ticket to the magical land of Oz. With a crash landing, the car runs over the Mistress of the Eastern Wood — commonly known as the Wicked Witch of the West — and Dorothy is left with no idea of what to do or where to go. Luckily, Dorothy doesn’t have to travel the journey alone as she is accompanied by a police dog who she later names Toto, and who also happened to be in the car during the tornado. Lacking the ability to fit inside of a picnic basket, this version of Toto is an aggressive German Shepherd who would willingly attack anyone that posed a threat to himself or to Dorothy. The two companions then begin their journey to find the Wizard of Oz (Vincent D’Onofrio), in hopes that he will be able to help Dorothy return home.
While journeying along the yellow opium covered road, Dorothy and Toto come across what can be considered the scarecrow from the original story, but who now hangs nearly dead on a crucifix. Dorothy takes the man (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) off of the cross and learns that he has amnesia and cannot remember his name or what happened to him — if only he had a brain.
Dorothy decides to name the man Lucas, after her hometown, and the two of them continue down the road to find the wizard. The wizard is not a wizard at all and holds no magical qualities, but attempts to uphold his power by outlawing magic — something that does not sit well with the two cardinal witches of the north and the south.
The Witch of the North, Glinda (Joely Richardson), oversees an orphanage for potential future members of the Wizard’s Council. Although people commonly assume Glinda to be the “good” witch, as she is in the original version, she may not turn out to be as innocent as one would expect in this one. Due to the outlawing of magic, there is evident tension between Glinda and the Wizard of Oz which may result in future altercations.
The story alterations continue when we meet the Witch of the West — typically viewed as the villain. The Witch of the West (Ana Ularu) is now portrayed as a character who defies the unjust laws of the Wizard of Oz and consequently could be a character audiences root for in later episodes. Even though the Witch of the West provides hope to upholding magic, she still carries a darker demeanor — as an opium addict and overseer of a brothel, the Witch of the West still carries her “bad girl” persona.
In addition to the modern-day alterations to the story, NBC also introduces 21st century social commentary. For example, one of the primary themes in the series is the power of women. Dorothy doesn’t cower or back down from anyone; instead, she pulls herself up and kicks butt throughout each episode. The two witches, of the north and of the south, also demonstrate female empowerment by secretly defying the wizard and constantly trying to undermine his rule in order to save magic.
Another interesting concept in the series involves gender identity complexities. There is a character named Tip (Jordan Loughran), who plays the part of a teenage boy and who later transforms into a girl — a concept that introduces transgender acceptance. Tip starts off as a small sideline character, but is later seen as an important aspect to the plot, as she is the connection to Jack (Gerran Howell) — the tin man.
“Emerald City” is a perfect series for “Game of Thrones” and sci-fi lovers. It encompasses dark and gory violence, as well as risque sex scenes — this show is not intended for children. The series takes viewers on an emotional rollercoaster and transforms scientific concepts and theories. By changing the face of a classic story, NBC reintroduces characters in a new light and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats as they wait to see what will happen to Dorothy, the witches and magic.