Developed by Matthew Arnold and Josh Friedman, Emerald City is a modern day retelling of the Oz book series written by L. Frank Baum.
Fun fact: The Oz book series first started over 100 years ago with the publication of The Wonderful Wizard Oz, probably the most famous of the fourteen books and the one this series is mostly based on.
Adria Arjona stars in this version of the well known tale, as a 20 year old Dorothy who finds herself whisked to Oz in a twister while searching for her mother. As a lover of fiction and fairytales, especially older fiction such as The Wizard of Oz which has been adapted a buttload of times, the most interesting concept of this series is how they’ve adapted the source material for a modern and older audience.
Dorothy isn’t an innocent farm girl from Kansas, but a strong 20 year old nurse. Toto isn’t a little black Westie dog, but a German Shepherd police dog. The poppy fields don’t just make you sleepy but get you high, and Dorothy ends up flying to Oz in a police car which runs down the Wicked Witch of the East.
Unlike the original story everyone knows, this show isn’t a happy musical skip along a yellow brick road with ditzy scarecrows and cowardly lions. The ‘scarecrow’ or Lucas (Oliver Jackson Cohen) is an amnesiac soldier Dorothy finds crucified and half dead on her journey home, and the ‘cowardly lion’ is a soldier of The Wizard’s army who killed the king and queen and their baby on the Wizard’s orders.
The acting on the show isn’t exactly Oscar-worthy, but one of the most impressive actors on the cast is Gerran Howell as Jack or the ‘tinman’ – a man who falls from a balcony and needs to be rebuilt like freaking Frankenstein’s monster. Definitely not a show for kids, so Dorothy won’t be finding anything over this rainbow – except for a damn sexy ‘scarecrow.’
Other noteworthy performances include Ana Ularu as drug-addicted West and Jordan Loughran as Princess Ozma. Loughran’s performance as Ozma is so intriguing as the character is initially introduced to us as a boy called Tip who needs daily medication. Plot twist: the medication has actually been keeping Ozma as a boy for her entire life, something Ozma herself was unaware of. This storyline also features in the original books, but in this instance it is clear that it is being used a metaphor for transgender identity.
Ozma has spent her entire life as a boy, but after becoming a girl again she still feels like a boy and says on more than one occasion that she no longer recognises her own reflection. Ozma then finds herself torn between being true to herself and becoming a boy, or staying as a girl which is what her kingdom expects – clearly a metaphor for being true to your own gender identity or just being who others expect you to be.
Although Dorothy (Arjona) is the main character on the show, it becomes clear by the final episode that the entire first series could possibly have existed without her. The character can sometimes be annoying and there are far more interesting characters, which is not what you want from a main character.
Sadly, NBC decided to throw a bucket of ice-cold water on this show and cancel it due to low viewings. But if you do fancy following the yellow brick road to Emerald City, the first series just finished airing on 5Star, with episodes available to watch online on My5.