Pilot Error (NaBlo: Day 24)
I’ve got a packed day ahead of me, so I’m going to briefly touch on why I thought that Once Upon a Time in Wonderland is a bad pilot. It doesn’t mean it’ll be a bad show, but it’s definitely a bad pilot.
The important thing here is to understand what a pilot should do.
The pilot should: introduce us to the characters, introduce us to the conflicts and problems of the characters, introduce us to the world in which these characters live, and make us care about all these things.
I feel like Wonderland misstepped in all these.
I think their first error was assuming that because they had one show going well that the next would have that audience built-on. Did they learn nothing from Angel? Buffy was a success, but Angel still had to build an audience. Once Upon a Time is popular, but Wonderland can’t just ride its back into success. Why not, you ask? Even I, who don’t read boards and keep up with fandoms, have noticed here and there around the internet that people were lukewarm to the Wonderland pilot. That’s because it didn’t do what it was supposed to.
Obligation 1: Introduce us to the characters/make us care about them
In a world where the characters are taken from existing, beloved works, this seems like it would be a gimme, but Wonderland makes a huge mistake: we’re invested in Alice, of course, but who the hell is Cyrus? Other than looking imperious and having some magical ability, what’s the point of the Red Queen? We’re not introduced to anyone but Alice so much as they’re thrown at us–perhaps to intrigue us, but if we don’t get that instant connection, what’s the point? Many, many people know Alice in Wonderland but not Through the Looking Glass, and the Red Queen is NOT the same person as the Queen of Hearts–which doesn’t necessarily mean that the Queen of Hearts doesn’t take over for her in the future, thus bringing the timelines together.
My mistake was that I picked up somewhere–either on the internet or through my own stupidity–that Alice’s love was Jefferson, the Mad Hatter from Once Upon a Time. Now THERE’s a story for you. We’re instantly connected to Alice because she’s Alice. We’re connected to Jefferson because we’ll seen him before. Other than a weird time-dilation cameo by some OUAT characters, there’s no connecting character between the show. The Mad Hatter, our “in,” is already gone.
Of course, that relationship pairing would mean that Alice’s story would have to end at some point, and TV shows don’t DO that in America. Ugh.
There’s also the Knave of Hearts, who’s out of chronological time, which bugs me, but I love the actor. I hope they don’t make him as dim as he was in his last big show.
And then there’s the White Rabbit, which–John Lithgow!–but stupid, stupid glasses.
Obligation two: introduce us to the problems and the conflicts of the characters/make us care about them
Why does the Red Queen hate Cyrus and Alice? More importantly, why is the “insane Alice” conflict only a brief part of the pilot? Do you not understand you have a WHOLE DAMN SEASON RIGHT THERE?
Actually, you have the whole show.
By beginning with Alice’s reentry to Wonderland rather than her entry into it and exploration of it, you’ve given us a character that is already familiar with everything, which is the opposite of what Once Upon a Time does to draw us in. In OUAT, we’re basically told, “You don’t know the REAL story.” In Wonderland, we’re told “Here’s what comes next.” But the changing of the story is what makes OUAT interesting. Think you know Neverland? You sure don’t! Think the Evil Queen is just plain evil? Think again! With Alice, we’re seeing the aftermath, and yes, that gives them the ability to flash back like in OUAT, but not to the parts that WE know as readers/viewers.
It’s the nostalgia that makes us mourn a character introduced only a moment before, that makes us happy to see the introduction of Ariel, Tinker Bell, and the like. WE ALREADY CARE; WHY AREN’T THEY USING THAT??
Instead, we have a love story with all the high romance of the Mallow Marsh, or whatever it’s called. We’re told, “Here’s true love,” instead of watching the characters earn it, like we did with Snow and Charming.
Obligation three: Introduce us to the world in which these characters live/make us care about it
We already love Wonderland, of course. The Wonderland bits–and the attractiveness of the Mad Hatter–made me keep on with OUAT when my interest was staring to wane. So the pilot seems to skip over introducing us to Wonderland because we’ve seen it through Jefferson.
But we haven’t seen it THROUGH Alice’s eyes. In fact, she’s already done seeing it for the first time when we meet her as a kid, and she’s completely knowledgeable about it by the time we meet her as an adult.
Settings are important. The world in which our characters live is important, whether you’re talking about Wonderland, Twin Peaks, Sunnydale, or even New York City. In 21 Days to a Novel, Michael Stackpole’s great writing seminar/ebook, there’s a whole section on world-building, as there should be. Wonderland is a world that “pushes back,” as Stackpole would say, often, and it shouldn’t be backdrop, as it feels like in the pilot.
So..we care. Now let us know it as Alice knows it, or else the introduction will fail. Instead, it looks like we’re just going to see bits and pieces as the storyline necessitates. That’s not the kind of thing that makes for good writing sadly.
So, it was a bad pilot. But as I said, that doesn’t mean it will be a bad show. I like the actors, I’m happy to see Jafar (shouldn’t he be skeevier?), and of course nostalgia will take me at least a few episodes in. But if the pilot is an indication of what the show is going to give us–and sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t–then all I’m going to do is watch those few episodes, and then move on.