Pilot Review: Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (★★★)

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Alice (Sophie Lowe) travels back to Wonderland in this spin-off of the popular fairy tale series, Once Upon a Time.

The show starts with the revelation that Alice has made many trips to Wonderland through the years, trying to prove that it exists. On one of her visits, she met and fell in love with a genie named Cyrus who was captured and tossed into the boiling sea by the Red Queen.

Because of her frequent disappearances and insistence that Wonderland is real, Alice’s father has sent her to Bethlem Asylum where the doctors are eager to try a new procedure that promises to erase her memories of Wonderland and Cyrus and all the things she believes in. She consents to the procedure, but before the doctors can carry it out, Alice is visited by someone from her past, the Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha) who declares that Cyrus is still alive.

In order to convince Alice to return to Wonderland, the Knave has brought along the White Rabbit (John Lithgow) and together the three make their escape and journey through the rabbit hole back to Wonderland.

Thus begins Alice’s adventure in searching for her lost love. Along the way she encounters a very unfriendly Cheshire Cat, the abandoned home of the Mad Hatter, and a host of dangers that threaten to thwart her mission to find Cyrus.Alice

Also introduced are the Red Queen (Emma Rigby) and her ally Jafar (Naveen Andrews). They conspire to stop Alice, though their reasons and the purpose of their alliance aren’t exactly spelled out in this first episode.

Despite unimpressive special effects and a mish mash of characters that don’t appear to go together (so far), Sophie Lowe is far more watchable as Alice than Mia Wasikowska in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. She exhibits curiosity and wonder, as well as a sense that she understands the nonsensical rules of the place. Plus, she has some great combat skills.

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland is branded as a spin-off of Once Upon a Time, but is really not so much a spin-off as an extension of the original. Thus far, it features characters we haven’t yet met in OUAT and storylines that haven’t been introduced. It’s a stand alone series that requires no understanding of the original in order to follow along.

The actors are good, and manage to avoid over-the-top performances in a show that could easily lend itself to such. The writing manages to be decent too, even though there is little originality to the script. It’s funny that the series credits four creators when it is about characters and stories that were created by someone else. Somehow, though, the show manages to feel refreshing and fun and whimsical, without constantly reminding the viewer that you’ve already seen that.

Overall, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland is a fun show that the whole family can enjoy. How rare that is in television today.