'Once Upon a Time in Wonderland': Third episode's the charm?

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Image Credit: Jeff Weddell/ABC

If you’re on the fence about a new TV series, it only seems fair to abide by the three-episode rule. Pilots are notoriously unreliable as quality barometers. Second episodes can be even trickier; they’re generally filmed long after those initial episodes have wrapped, and they’re tasked both with delivering additional exposition and giving a general roadmap for where a series is going.

By the time a show’s third episode airs, though, there should be enough evidence to judge whether it’s worth sticking with. At this point, main plot arcs, major characters’ personalities, and a series’ general tone should all be pretty well established. If they’re clicking, you may as well go ahead and get invested; if they’re not, it could be time to jump ship and free up some DVR space.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that Once Upon a Time in Wonderland doesn’t exactly pass the three-episode test. Much like its network-mate S.H.I.E.L.D., Wonderland isn’t a bad show, per se — but it’s also not great, or at least not as engaging as its parent show Once Upon a Time.

Though Wonderland‘s main duo (Sophie Lowe’s Alice and Michael Socha’s Knave) have good chemistry and general appeal, the series surrounding them is tonally confused: It’s too cartoony to be taken anywhere near seriously, but too earnest and predictable to veer into pure giddy camp. And then there’s that horrific CGI, which might be fun and whimsical if it didn’t look so dreadfully cheap. Lowe and Socha have a lot to offer; too bad they’re offering it against a backdrop ripped from a Windows 95 screensaver.

In tonight’s installment, Alice and the Knave go in search of another punny MacGuffin: the Forget-Me-Knot, a magical lasso that has the power to reveal the events of the recent past. Along the way, they must contend with the realm’s greedy Caterpillar (voiced by a gravelly, weirdly accented Iggy Pop), a lovelorn Grendel (though not his mother), and a frumious Bandersnatch, a.k.a. a computer-generated wild boar with spikes on its back and a bad attitude. As their quest proceeds, we’re also treated to a few scenes from the Knave’s past — which establish that he was once romantically involved with the duck-faced blonde who would eventually become Wonderland’s Red Queen.

If such an hour had aired in the mid-’90s, it would have seemed a natural fit for Xena-style syndication. As a major primetime series on a major network, though — leading into the decidedly adult Grey’s Anatomy, no less – Wonderland falls short. I may keep tuning in… but I’m not going to keep recapping it, unless there’s a dramatic upswing in quality. (Or, you know, people start actually watching it.)

Wonderland‘s next episode airs in two weeks. Think you’ll check it out — or have you gone down the rabbit hole for the last time?

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