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'Once Upon a Time in Wonderland' review: Stay dark, Alice

By Curt Wagner, @ShowPatrol

RedEye

5:54 PM CDT, October 9, 2013

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I've been ruined by "American Horror Story: Asylum." There is simply no other way to explain my unfair belief that "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland" (7 p.m. CT Oct. 10, ABC; 2.5 stars out of 4) ewill disappoint me.

A spinoff of ABC's popular fairy-tale drama "Once Upon a Time," "Wonderland" puts a now grown Alice (Sophie Lowe) in a scary Victorian England asylum. A panel of doubting doctors interrogates Alice, who was institutionalized after telling her father stories of her frequent adventures in the strange, wonderful land where she met a hookah-smoking caterpillar and a rabbit who talks.

"We have a procedure that can take away your pain ... and make you forget," says one especially creepy doctor, offering to "fix" her but sounding more like he wants to break her.

Her pain comes from her last visit down the rabbit hole, when the evil Red Queen (Emma Rigby) separated Alice from her true love, a genie named Cyrus (Peter Gadiot). Given hope that he's still alive, Alice escapes her cell with the help of the Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha) and the White Rabbit (voiced by John Lithgow) to find him.

The pilot is gorgeously filmed with a strong performance from Lowe, whose Alice is a butt-kicking, headstrong gal nothing like Lewis Carroll's character. Socha, who appeared in the British version of "Being Human," makes the knave both loyal and undependable. There's sadness behind his eyes, too, that has me hoping his journey will be as treacherous as Alice's.

While scenes in the mental institution are ominous, the mood of "Wonderland" doesn't compare to that of "Asylum." "Wonderland" airs at 7 p.m., so I wouldn't expect it to get too disturbing. Still, I can't help but believe that if this new series focused on the dark, foreboding tone in its asylum scenes, it could become a powerful, trippy 9 p.m. drama.

We see Alice eating mushrooms and shrinking, for Pete's sake! Just think of the possibilities if series creators Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz and Zack Estrin were inspired by Jefferson Airplane's hallucinogenic anthem "White Rabbit" instead of the original "OUAT."

Yet with the wizard Jafar (Naveen Andrews) from Disney's "Aladdin" becoming a major player in "Wonderland," I fear the trio has created a variation on "OUAT's" family-friendly fairy-tale mashup.



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