Once Upon a Time in Wonderland: TV Review

Sophie Lowe in "Once Upon A Time In Wonderland."
ABC takes on the Alice In Wonderland story, but ends up only showing critics 20 disjointed minutes of it. But who knows, once they get the greenscreens back in place, maybe the show will be great. 

While ABC baffingly offered only 20 minutes of the spinoff to reviewers, there were hints at some real positives.

Editor's note: ABC posted the full episode Monday afternoon, after THR.com's deadline and after our story posted online. Tim Goodman will revisit later episodes.

It wasn’t very promising to find that ABC, a mere four days away (at press time – delayed as long as possible!) from the premiere of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, still only had a meager 20 minutes available for critics to watch.

The same 20 minutes they had ready in July.

What, did production shut down for summer holiday?

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Did they run out of greenscreen? After all, this tale of Alice, which borrows its title from ABC’s Sunday night series Once Upon a Time, seeks to tell the Alice In Wonderland story in all of its weirdness, and that requires a lot of greenscreen.

Or maybe series creators Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz and Zack Estrin are all too familiar with ABC’s balky, MediaNet player that the network forces critics to use instead of sending them cheap DVDs like everybody else. That might be fine for something like Lucky 7, which ABC killed after a mere two episodes, but something that’s aiming to be visually creative might be most effective if it can actually be seen.

Even with a mere 20 minutes to look at, ABC’s streaming player was glitch-filled and stopped frequently. Perhaps the idea was to just give a taste and save the rest for HD quality on the TV. Sneaky.

Or, you know, maybe it wasn’t ready because it’s no good.

Or, another possibility, maybe it’s not ready because they haven’t written all of it or the ending is terrible and they’re redoing it or the talking rabbit (voiced by John Lithgow) is really a black-out drunk who is terrible to work with on the set.

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See what happens when you don’t show us the pilot?

It’s a shame, really, because the 20 minutes that ABC did show us, while wildly out of order (so, really just a clip show) hinted at two real positives. One, Sophie Lowe, as Alice, is a joy to watch. When we first meet her – at least in the ABC sizzle reel – it’s Victorian England and Alice is in a mental institution, being badgered by doctors who want to “fix” her – from all those stories about a rabbit hole and a strange and wonderful land on the other side. We see flashes of what’s over there and that’s the second positive – the greenscreen Wonderland should be a magnificent vision, should it not? The brief look we get hints that maybe they can pull of some magic in this other world. It looked, if ever so briefly, visually intriguing – tiny Alice, eating mushrooms and running amok, etc.

But again – 20 minutes is not enough for a real review.

What Alice encounters on the other side is a genie named Cyrus (Peter Gadiot), who she falls in love with. There to muck things up is the evil Red Queen (Emma Rigby). There (against his will, mostly) to help out is the Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha) and, of course, the Rabbit.

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Once Upon a Time, now entering its third season, is a decent hit for ABC so it made sense to build on the brand (this is a Disney company, after all). If you dislike that over-the-top fairy-tale stuff of Once Upon a Time, there’s a chance that Wonderland will be a little more grounded with the acting while considerably more odd with the visuals, which just might be a good combination.

Too bad ABC wasn’t able to come up with fairy-tale ending for the 24 missing minutes. Perhaps Alice only dreamt up those scenes? Maybe they were being saved for a crossover episode? Perhaps there was a hooka involved? See what happens when you don’t finish the story? Someone finishes it for you.

E-mail: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine