A dark, disturbing take on a children’s classic.
For generations, The Wizard of Oz has been America’s quintessential children’s story. First published as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900, L. Frank Baum’s tale of a Kansas girl swept away by a tornado to the magical land of Oz became instantly popular. The book’s popularity led Baum to return again and again to Oz, ultimately writing no fewer than 20 Oz books – and that was before the franchise was taken over by other authors on Baum’s death. There have also been many film adaptations of the book, from multiple silent films, to several animated ones, to 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful; but the most famous and beloved film adaptation was 1939’s musical The Wizard of Oz, itself an indelible piece of Americana.
The movie is beloved for its songs and dance routine, its amazing characters (among them a walking, talking Scarecrow and a man made of tin), its deft wordplay and sly, satirical humor (Disney didn’t invent the practice of putting jokes for adults into stories for children), and its delightful sense of adventure…but perhaps most of all, for its innocence and appeal to children. It is for exploiting the Oz story’s reputation for innocence and childlike happiness that NBC’s dark, depressing, sexualized, and violent adaptation Emerald City (Fridays, 9:00 p.m. ET) has been named the Worst TV Show of the Week.
TV Guide describes Emerald City as “about as close to an HBO epic saga as you’ve seen on network TV, with sensual sex scenes and occasionally gory violence. We’re talking throats being slit, shootings, and quite a bit of blood.” In addition, the story bears so little similarity to the actual Oz books or spin-off movies that one wonders why its called Emerald City at all.
In short: Dorothy is 20 years old; the Scarecrow is a man named Lucas, whom Dorothy finds as a crucified amnesiac; Dorothy kills the Wicked Witch of the East by tricking her into shooting herself in the head with Dorothy’s gun (yes, Dorothy has a gun); Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the West (here called just “West”) are allies, and West is a madam who runs a brothel; the Tin Man is a normal human named Jack who, after being murdered, is turned into a cyborg; and the Wizard is actually a mad scientist who hates magic, and who has started a war with the witches.
There’s a lot more than this going on, since Emerald City mixes up (greatly altered) characters from a number of Baum’s books, and since the program seems incapable of maintaining a straightforward narrative, with subplots and new characters haphazardly sprouting like kudzu, and with as much beneficial effect.
But the real problem with the series is its specific sexual and violent content, alluded to above. In the series thus far, Dorothy is tied to a rack and tortured; men find a corpse that has been hacked to pieces, wrap it in a blanket, and dump the pieces at their boss’ feet; Lucas beats a witch to death with a metal object; three witches commit suicide, hanging themselves in front of a crowd; a woman kneels at Jack’s feet, while sexually stimulating him with her hand, as his facial reactions show his sexual arousal and climax; and a masked man wielding a sword slashes and kills the king and queen, blood splattering the camera – and these are only the most egregious examples of a series filled with violence and sex.
Obviously, none of this content is appropriate for children; yet the series is rated TV-14, and is aired at 9:00 p.m. ET (only 8:00 p.m. Central/Mountain), when millions of children are in the viewing audience.
Some will be quick to attack our objections, shrieking, “You want to reduce everything to kiddie pablum! You want everything squeaky-clean and fit for children! What’s wrong with an adult take on material?” The answer is: nothing. But it is hardly unreasonable to expect that a TV series airing on a major network which uses the publicly-owned airwaves, rated appropriate for children, airing at times with children in the audience, and based on a beloved children’s story, should actually be acceptable fare for children.
If Emerald City were airing on HBO, or even FX, or at a later hour, the PTC would have little objection. But deliberately filling a show based on concepts that have been child-friendly for over for a century with gore and graphic sex, then shoving it into every living room in America, and then saying, “oh, but do your job, parents! Don’t let your kids watch!” is an unfair burden to parents and children alike. It is not unfair to expect that a children’s property, airing at times and places with children in the audience, ought to be safe for children.
Sadly, this program isn’t. And for that reason, NBC’s Emerald City is the Worst TV Show of the Week.