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Fall First Impressions: Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

By on July 20, 2013
(ABC/Jack Rowand)


ABC unveiled the pilot episode of upcoming fantasy drama Once Upon a Time in Wonderland at Comic Con this weekend (and thankfully also in screener form to journalists who didn’t make it to San Diego).

The Once Upon a Time spinoff is set to premiere on October and stars Sophie Lowe (Beautiful Kate) as Alice, the beautiful voice of John Lithgow (3rd Rock from the Sun, Dexter) as the dapper White Rabbit, the very British Michael Socha (This Is England) as the Knave of Hearts, Peter Gadiot (The Forbidden Girl) as handsome genie in a bottle Cyrus (we’re resisting jokes about rubbing him the right way, FYI) and Emma Rigby (Hollyoaks) as the glamorous and for some reason very scantily dressed Queen of Hearts. (She could put someone’s eye out with those things.)

Our pilot copy was given to us on a not for review basis, which means that all we can give you for now are our first impressions of the pilot. (We’re told details may change between now and the first air date in October.)

We can tell you that Once Upon a Time in Wonderland is certainly skewed towards a younger audience than its older sibling. Those hoping for a dark Victorian tale of asylums, insanity and dubious medical practices may be disappointed. The show might hint at some of these themes but the episode we saw largely opts for themes of love and hope with a dash of adventure and romance thrown in for good measure. If these are the elements you loved about Once Upon a Time, then chances are you’ll warm to Wonderland like a cuddly puppy begging at your doorstep.

Just like Once, Wonderland tells a tale of a great love separated by an evil and vengeful queen. But where Snow White was forcibly separated from her memories, Alice is deliberately trying to forget hers. Believing the love of her life – the genie Cyrus – has been killed by the Queen of Hearts in her last adventure down the rabbit hole, Alice agrees to a ‘slightly painful’ medical procedure which will help her forget her former adventures in Wonderland, according to her dubious doctor. Um, lobotomy anyone?

It’s up to the White Rabbit, and the reluctant Knave of Hearts (who kicks off the premiere in Storybrooke on the same night the Dementors cursed Fairytale land demons attempted to kill Regina, by the way) to convince Alice there is still hope that Cyrus is very much alive. “Nothing is impossible in Wonderland,” the Knave reminds Alice, before they both neatly evade some burly orderlies and plunge down a rabbit hole back to Wonderland where presumably Cyrus, the Queen of Hearts and great adventure awaits.

If we had to offer up any reservations at this point it would be to express a mild concern that Wonderland is so much like Once Upon a Time as to seem like an episode from the same show. Characters, motivations and themes from the pilot echo those from Once in many ways. Going forward, Wonderland will have to demonstrate an ability to step out from the shadow of his popular sibling and become something unique. Also, easy on the CGI guys. Sometimes less really is more.

On the whole, we’re totally willing to give it an opportunity to shine. Are you?

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland comes from Once creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz and premieres Thursday, October 10, 8:00-9:00 p.m., ET on ABC.