Emerald City was in development for a while before being picked up by NBC. As the title suggests, it’s loosely inspired by the Oz book series written by L. Frank Baum. Eventually the series was directed by Tarsem Singh, one of the great cinematic stylists of the last 30 years, from R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” music video through to The Fall and The Cell. Singh is an excellent filmmaker, although his day job is making creative adverts for huge clients. His films are fantastical and beautiful, so his take on Oz should have been interesting—but unfortunately it does not work in any shape or form. If NBC thought they had a new Game of Thrones on its hands, which is what it looks like they were after, they were disappointed.
There are some issues with aspects of the Oz series copyright, but Warner Bros. has a hold on some part of it. This means there isn’t a Tin Man or Scarecrow here, but there are characters with aspects of them, or that combine characters—so the Lucas character is a combination of Scarecrow and Pumpkinhead from a later book. The character of Eamon, one of the Wizard’s right-hand men, is similar to the Cowardly Lion. Jack is made out of tin, but he isn’t exactly the Tin Man.
Emerald City promises a dark, gritty take on Oz, which is a fine idea, as it’s closer to the original source material. With Singh at the helm, it does have a lot of the startling images. But there are also times that it looks like a very flat TV show, not cinematic as you might expect. All told, it’s a very muddled mess, and you don’t really come to care for any of the characters—even the tonally “darker” Return to Oz managed that (as did the classic Warner Bros. version of The Wizard of Oz, which while lighter intone has its moments of darkness as well, with the Wicked Witch of the West and the flying monkeys). You get bored pretty quickly, and that’s a big problem when it’s a series of 40-minute episodes.
Also, the cast isn’t very good. The only exception is Vincent D’Onofrio as the Wizard, who is fine although he’s overacting heavily.
On paper, Emerald City should have worked—but the result is just not what it should have been. It’s a massive disappointment, because you have an interesting source and a director who should have been a great match. In the UK, the series only played on Channel 5’s digital channel, 5STAR.
The disc includes some deleted scenes and Oz Reimagined: The Making of Emerald City.