ABC's "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland" premieres tonight (Thurs., Oct. 10 at 8 p.m. ET), and if you're a fan of the whimsical world that "Lost" alums Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz have created on the original "Once Upon a Time," you'll find its spinoff thoroughly enchanting.
And if you're not a fan of the mothership, "Wonderland" still has the capacity to pull you down the rabbit hole. Unlike the sprawling, flashback-laden, dimension-hopping shenanigans that may make "OUAT" (now in its third season) a little daunting to newcomers, "Wonderland" aims to be a more self-contained effort -- Kitsis admitted that they were inspired by FX's "American Horror Story" in that each season has a beginning, middle and end.
Horowitz explained that with the show's initial 13-episode order, they aim to tell a "closed-ended story within this season. Should it work, we’ll hopefully move on to many more adventures with Alice [Sophie Lowe] and all these great characters."
The producers are adamant that there won't be crossovers with "Once Upon a Time" for the foreseeable future -- aside from an early scene that casually ties the universes together, "Wonderland" is described as a standalone tale. "You’re getting your own journey and we don’t want it to be this show where every week, you’re like, 'Oh, this is the time to go see Rumplestiltskin,'" Kitsis said. "It’s got to live on its own and that’s what we are the most proud of, because when you watch it, it feels like it's in the 'Once' family, but it feels like a different band."
With that in mind, here are seven reasons to watch "Wonderland" when it debuts on ABC tonight.
The Story You Never Heard
Our tale begins with Alice as a child, just as she's returning from her first, well-documented adventure in Wonderland. But the show isn't interested in retreading what we already know -- Alice's reappearance is simply the catalyst for her future journeys. Upon her return, her father refuses to believe her elaborate story, so Alice resolves to prove it to him by returning to Wonderland and bringing back proof. That mission, and what happens to Alice as a result of it, is the fable "Wonderland" aims to tell, and it's full of danger, mystery and, of course, romance.
A Whole New World
"OUAT" fans have seen glimpses of Wonderland before, but it's nothing compared to being immersed in the unpredictable land. Although the review copy of the pilot that was sent to critics still had unfinished visual effects, we saw enough to illustrate that Wonderland will be every bit as elaborate and detailed as the Enchanted Forest and Neverland on "OUAT." There are lakes made out of marshmallow, castles designed with giant chess pieces, and plenty of giant mushrooms to house disgruntled, hookah-smoking caterpillars.
The Strongest Magic Of All
"Once Upon a Time" taught us that true love is the strongest magic of all, and that theme beats through "Wonderland's" heart as well. The promos have previewed that Alice falls for a genie named Cyrus (Peter Gadiot), and her quest to reunite with him appears to be the driving force of the season. Thankfully, Alice and Cyrus have just as much chemistry as Snow White and Prince Charming on "OUAT," and despite only sharing a few scenes together, their love and longing is palpable throughout.
Kitsis and Horowitz excel at writing strong, yet realistically flawed, female characters -- Alice is no exception. "We never wanted Alice to be a damsel in distress. We liked the idea that she is going to go back down that rabbit hole, sword in hand, to find her man," Kitsis told HuffPost TV a few months ago, and we're happy to report that he wasn't kidding. Alice is not only handy with a sword, she's also proficient with her fists ... and a pair of shoes.
That's What Friends Are For
Alice isn't alone on her mission -- she's joined by the Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha), a Han Solo-esque type who manages to be both noble and kind of a scoundrel. He's got a dark past and no desire to stay in Wonderland a moment longer than he has to, but he's also an entertaining foil for our heroine. Also along for the ride is the White Rabbit (perfectly voiced by John Lithgow), who has the helpful ability to dig holes that become portals between worlds. They make an odd but endearing trio.
A Hive Of Scum And Villainy
You can't have heroes without villains, and "Wonderland" has two -- the icy Red Queen (Emma Rigby) -- who is not to be confused with Barbara Hershey's currently deceased Queen of Hearts, a completely different character -- and Jafar (Naveen Andrews), the sorcerer from "Aladdin" who hails from Agrabah, still rocking his iconic snake staff and now complete with a flowing perm that wouldn't look out of place in an '80s rock video.
The Road Less Traveled
While we've yet to see past the premiere, the idea of a self-contained, limited story is undeniably appealing. Shows and writers tend to get fatigued over the course of 22-episode seasons, with many episodes ending up as "filler" that fails to advance the plot. Since "Wonderland" is intending to tell its story in 13, already-mapped episodes, we're confident that the storytelling will feel tighter and more focused than shows with longer seasons, leaving us wanting more instead of wearing out its welcome. If it can emulate the addictive "American Horror Story" model of telling a standalone story every season whilst carrying over the characters we've grown to love, we think "Wonderland" will have found the recipe for success.
"Once Upon a Time in Wonderland" airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.