The New Oz of NBC’s ‘Emerald City’

When I imagine the land of the Oz, I often think of the dreamy technicolor world of munchkins, wicked witches and ruby slippers.

L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz” is one of the most celebrated stories in American history, giving it countless re-imaginings on stage, in books or on screens. Among the more famous interpretations are Gregory Maguire’s “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West” and the musical “The Wiz.”

Also among them are lesser-known adaptations like “Tin Man,” a television mini-series featuring Zooey Deschanel, and the 2013 Disney film “Oz, the Great and Powerful.”

Clearly, many people see “The Wizard of Oz” as a winning storyline. How else could we stomach at least five dozen retakes of the original story?

NBC‘s “Emerald City” marks the latest attempt at one of those adaptations. The question is: Is it worth it?

This version of Oz is like many others. It features the cyclone that whisks Dorothy away to Oz, witches — a lot of them — and the man behind the curtain himself, the Wizard of Oz.

Like many adaptations, the key elements of the original story are in place.

However, what makes “Emerald City” different from other versions of the land-over-the-rainbow is its diversity of character backgrounds. For instance, this version of Dorothy Gale is Hispanic and is also a registered nurse. The Scarecrow is now an amnesiac and also appears to be a veteran of war and the Wicked Witch is a madam of a brothel in the Emerald City and an opium-addicted drug addict.

These differences are only the tip of the iceberg.

The more intriguing parts about this Oz is the complexity of its storyline. All throughout the pilot episode, political intrigue and maneuvering are taking place in a “Game of Thrones”-esque setting.

The Wizard is again a man of science, but this puts him in a unique position as Oz is a land of magic. He loathes magic, so much so that he actively tries to subdue its practitioners by outlawing it, much to the chagrin of the remaining witches in Oz.

It forms a curious sort of dichotomy with the witches trying to preserve Oz’s old roots that are steeped in magic, and the Wizard trying to move Oz into its own modern era with science at its forefront. The tension is almost at a boiling point between these two powers, with the Wizard poised to obliterate Oz’s past.

Some of the most prolific moments in “Emerald City” are with Dorothy. Instead of an innocent farm girl, the audience gets an RN who means business, even going so far as to steal medication from a geriatric patient in order to care for a sick relative. Dorothy is not the type of girl that you want to mess around with.

It is this departure from innocence that makes “Emerald City” so daring. Rather than having Dorothy scurrying away from lions, tigers and bears, the writers let her pull the trigger — and trick the Witch of the East into killing herself, I might add. She is the hero of the story.

What makes “Emerald City” different from other versions of Oz is its grit. It does not care if feelings get hurt. What matters is its brutal diversity. Although this may be a fallacy to assume, but it does signal that perhaps Hollywood is moving in a more diverse direction, being willing to let women into more leading roles, and not being afraid to show different but more realistic parallels to reality.

Whether this show will become the next hot topic remains to be seen. However, this writer believes that it should at least be given a chance.

The next episode of “Emerald City” can be viewed at 8:00 p.m. Friday on NBC.

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