Third-episode verdict: Emerald City 1×1-1×2 (US: NBC; UK: 5*)

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Fridays, 9/8c, NBC
In the UK: Acquired by 5*. Will air early 2017

Grimdark is one of those words that can stop you taking an entire genre seriously. In this case, it’s a mocking moniker for the prevalent idea that by making something dark and humourless, it’s not only more adult, it’s also better. 

That’s certainly been the approach of the producers of Emerald City, a beautifully directed but ultimately empty grimdark reimagining of The Wizard of Oz. It sees Dorothy a modern day Kansas nurse who gets whisked off by a tornado to the land of Oz, where she meets grimdark versions of familiar characters, ranging from the Munchkins (Icelandic speaking barbarians who paint themselves like they’re in Braveheart) through the Scarecrow (murderous former soldier who’s had his memories removed) to the Wizard of Oz (prostitute-visiting genocidal bully). The witches are there in varying degrees of drug-using, murderous, torturing depravity, too.

Oh so serious and important.

But grimdark. Tee hee. 

Tell you what grimdark never manages to do: it never makes you care about a character, just their situation. And that’s been consistent across all three episodes so far, with all manner of bad things happening, yet nothing ever making you care about the victims, beyond the fact they’ve been pushed to their doom by their gender-swapping childhood best friend or whatever miserable incident they’ve had to endure.

Other than the semi-decent cast assembled for the piece, what elevates the show from simple disgruntled teen’s fan fiction to the point where it’s almost watchable is the direction by Tarsem Singh, who makes the whole show genuinely beautiful to watch, something he’s helped in considerably by the Spanish location shooting. Even while someone’s emoting about some ancient prophecy concerning The Beast Beyond or dancing a ritual for dead witches, the viewer can simply drink in the mise-en-scène, admire a beautiful piece of Islamic architecture or Antoni Gaudí’s Park Güell, and ignore the tedious dialogue.

Emerald City is imaginative and good to look at, but despite its best efforts, unlike The Wizard of Oz, it fails to make you care about the protagonists, antagonists or anyone else.

Barrometer rating: 3
TMINE’s prediction: One season and one season only

Author

  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.