A Good Main Character Isn’t Everything: Once Upon A Time in Wonderland (TV Showcase #33)

In the last Showcase, I talked about how “Once Upon A Time” had strong morals and how dealing with light and dark was scarily applicable to real life. Pretty deep stuff, right? Well, forget all of that, because today we’re looking at the spinoff. And the spinoff was a one-season failure (I seem to watch alot of those, don’t I?). But why did it fail when the main show was and continues to do well? It isn’t anything so deep as light and dark, but it’s still worth talking about, so let’s do that with “Once Upon A Time in Wonderland”.

“Once Upon A Time in Wonderland” (OUTW for short) was created in 2013 by Edward Kitsis and Anthony Horowitz and ran for thirteen hour-long episodes, ending in 2014. The show focused on Alice, who is off to save a genie she fell in love with, while also escaping her home in Victorian England, where everyone believes her stories of Wonderland to be a sign of insanity. The villain in this story is Jafar, the evil genie from Aladdin, and he’s come from Agrabah to Wonderland to wreak havoc.

So aside from the odd mixture of the two stories, the plot sounds pretty generic. And the whole show focuses on Alice with her new traveling companion, who is also seeking his true love, and together they face villains and obstacles. To be honest, it was kind of like watching a TV show version of Pilgrim’s Progress. Being as the show took place in between seasons three and four of “Once Upon A Time”, there were some kind of interesting attempts to bridge the gaps in the continuity of the show, like what happened to Cora during the first part of her banishment in Wonderland, and how Robin fit into the picture. Additionally, the show introduced the Knave of Hearts, aka Will Scarlet, who went on to be in season four of the main show. However, this spinoff was still a failure, and here’s why.

First of all, our Storybrooke friends already went to Wonderland before the spinoff (twice, I think). Second, Cora returned to the main show at least two more times, in which case they could have easily flashed back to her time in Wonderland, given that the show is so fond of flashbacks. And Will Scarlet didn’t add much to season four of OUT, and he didn’t return for season five, so even that was a flop. But Kitsis and Horowitz aren’t stupid; on the contrary, “Once Upon A Time” isn’t their first well-planned show. So what did they think they had in OUTW?

The only redeeming factor of OUTW was that Alice was an incredible main character. So many filmmakers and showrunners these days are concerned with relatable heroes, good guys with flaws. That way the audience feels like they can be their own hero, even with their flaws. And while Alice wasn’t perfect, she was in control of her flaws and feelings; she owned them. She constantly did the smartest and most resourceful things while her companion was still crying for help. She nailed it when defeating the disappointing Jabberwocky and Jafar himself in the end. Yes, Alice was just about the best action/adventure main character I’ve seen in a very long time.

As good as Alice was, though, she couldn’t carry the show by herself, and that’s what the character had been burdened to do. With a generic plot, lackluster villains, and a rehashing of the dark, creepy side of Alice in Wonderland, there wasn’t much going for the show except that Alice was a great heroine. But at the end of the day, or rather, at the end of the season, it wasn’t enough.

In the end, then, “Once Upon A Time in Wonderland” presented a somewhat unique problem: the main character was fantastic, but it wasn’t enough to make the show last. But, I mean, Alice was awesome, long live Alice. What do you think?


One thought on “A Good Main Character Isn’t Everything: Once Upon A Time in Wonderland (TV Showcase #33)

  1. I loved this show. Alice really was the best part. Jafar was extremely disappointing as a villain; the Jafar in the animated Aladdin was a better villain than the Jafar in OUTW. I didn’t really like the Knave of Hearts character either. Another character you didn’t mention, the Red Queen, I found was kinda a weak villain also. The villains should have been more devious. I only other thing I liked was the plot of finding Cyrus, the genie Alice loved. I am a sucker for romance so I thoroughly enjoyed that plot. However, I do see how the show ended. Another show that it reminds me of in length is Pushing Daisies. Pushing Daisies was considerably better than OUTW though. I’d like to know what you think of Pushing Daisies. Your blog post was well written though, and I enjoyed it. 🙂


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