Editor’s Note: This post contains spoilers from the show.
What is it?
Emerald City is an NBC television series and retelling of The Wizard of Oz by director Tarsem Singh, best known for The Fall and Mirror Mirror.
What’s it about?
The story focuses on Dorothy Gale, a young woman who works as a nurse in Lucas, Kansas, and lives with her adopted parents, Em and Henry. Dorothy was brought to the Gales during a storm by her birth mom, Karen, who then apparently abandoned her infant daughter.
At the beginning of the show, Karen has moved back to Lucas, and lives in a trailer nearby. She’s attempted to make contact with Dorothy, but Dorothy waffles on meeting her mother until the night of her birthday, when she drives over right before a tornado. She finds the trailer empty, except for a bank of meteorological equipment and a dead man. Karen is in a nearby storm cellar, injured.
When, despite Karen’s warnings, Dorothy attempts to flag down a police officer for help, the officer opens fire on her and then is sucked up by the oncoming tornado. Dorothy jumps into the empty police car with the police dog, and is sucked up by the storm. She, the car, and Toto are slingshotted into Oz, right into East, the local witch.
The Munchkins, she finds, really aren’t that friendly.
Will my kids like it?
Although this series takes its inspiration from the books by L. Frank Baum, et al., and the 1939 Judy Garland film, this show is neither.
It’s a grown-up take on the Wizard of Oz, and there are plenty of adult situations and scary moments. Also, while book!Dorothy and musical!Dorothy are brave, helpful kids who are always ready to do the right thing, this Dorothy is morally gray. She wants one thing—to get home, and (in the earliest episodes—I’ve only seen three so far) will do anything to get back to Kansas.
Grown up situations include: (SPOILERS) The witch of the East first being hit by a car, and then, later, shooting herself in the face. The witch of the West being introduced at the tail end of an orgasm. A woman being stabbed, then brutally beaten to death by a main character. Three women magically committing suicide by hanging. Opium.
The sex and the violence are not that graphic, but it is present, so if you have little kids, this is not a series for them. But, if you’ve got older kids who were able to handle the last Harry Potter film, they’re probably able to handle the violence in Emerald City. If your kids are old enough to be reading (or writing) even slightly salacious Harry Potter fanfic, for example, they’re probably going to be OK watching Emerald City.
Will I like it?
There’s a blurb that the show is using in its advertising: “Game of Thrones meets Oz.” It’s a fair assessment. It’s like Game of Thrones Lite for primetime. T. So if you like Game of Thrones you’ll probably enjoy Emerald City.
Visually, the scenery is also stunning and so are the costumes, while the tech is steampunk inspired. So if you enjoyed Sy-Fy’s Dune series, you’ll probably like Emerald City.
The plot is… not perfect. There are some head-scratching moments. The supposed villain of the piece, The Beast Forever, makes no sense to me whatsoever. But the characters are interesting: Vincent D’Onorfrio’s Wizard is probably a fraud and definitely a despot. Glinda seems to be the Varys/Littlefinger of Oz, and West is not a great witch and a flawed character, but she is a fascinating one.
But will I like it if I really loved the books/1939 movie?
That depends. I was a huge dork for the L. Frank Baum books when I was a kid, and I love this show because it introduces characters that didn’t get any time in the musical or in any other adaptations (Mombi! Tip! Ojo the Munchkin!). Singh and the writers clearly read the Oz books and are incorporating elements of them into the show, and I love that. Also, I was the kid who spent hours reading Oz books and imagining my own adventures there. Getting to watch what is essentially grown-up Oz fanfic is my jam.
Other Oz fans don’t feel the same. GeekMom Lisa Hollander grew up loving the Oz books and says she’s boycotting Emerald City because it’s blasphemy. While to her, reimaginings like Wicked and Tin Man felt true to the spirit of the books, Emerald City doesn’t.
What if I didn’t read the books, or watch the movie?
You don’t need to be a book fan to like Emerald City, or even a fan of the movie. You just have to like fantasy, steampunk, hero’s quests, or stories in which people get swept away to magical lands.
When did it start and how much catching up do I have to do?
It’s still pretty new. Emerald City started on Friday, January 6, airing two episodes, “The Beast Forever” and “Prison of the Abject” as its pilot. A third episode, “Mistress – New – Mistress,” aired January 13. “Science and Magic” is due to air Friday, January 20.
Am I going to have to have any tough conversations with my kids because of this?
When it comes to race, gender, and sexuality, you may want to prepare yourself for some conversations about nuance.
First, credit where it’s due: the cast is diverse. Two major characters, Dorothy and Tip, are played by non-white actresses. Despite this, the darkest-skinned members of the cast aren’t treated very well by the script. You know the Black Dude Dies First trope? Well, the only black cardinal witch in Oz, and the darkest-skinned actress in the cast, is East, the witch best known for dying first. In fact (SPOILER) she is killed not once, but twice, the second time, tricked into shooting herself in the face. Her servants, also played by black actors, are also apparently sacrificed, and for no apparent reason.
There are also some problematic stereotypes about women and consent happening here. (SPOILERS) Tip, a young boy who has been held prisoner, is busted out of his cell and runs away with his best friend Jack. But Tip changes into a girl within 24 hours of gaining his freedom. And of course, Jack can’t keep his eyes off Tip’s new cleavage. Eventually, in the middle of an argument (because Tip is understandably confused and upset and wants to go back to his old body) Jack moves in and kisses Tip. No permission. No preamble. He just goes in for the kiss. The whole thing is played off as Jack being a teenage boy who can’t control himself. Tip violently rejects his friend’s advances, and the show punishes them both for the incident.
Lastly, let’s talk about sexuality. West has forsaken magic and owns a brothel. She is depicted as being bisexual, but her bisexuality is portrayed as one facet of a dissolute personality. Also, while West does own her sexuality, it is presented in a male-gaze way, rather than a part of who she is.
Any other anxiety-inducing things I should know about the pilot?
If you or your kids have a weak stomach, there’s some barfing in the second half of the pilot (which I believe is technically the second episode), right after the witch funeral. (West is vomiting up the spells she took out of East’s body.)
If you or your child gets nervous about the safety of animals, don’t worry. Through the third episode, Toto is just fine.
How can I watch it?
Emerald City airs on NBC on Fridays, at 9pm/8pm Central. You can also catch up with it on NBC’s site or app.