Deadshirt is Watching: We’re Off to See The Wizard!

Deadshirt Is Watching… is a weekly feature in which Deadshirt staff, contributors, and guests sound off on the television shows we’re tuned into, from intense dramas to clever sitcoms to the most insane reality shows. This week: Emerald City and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia!

Andrew Niemann is watching…
Emerald City
Season 1, Episode 1 “ The Beast Forever”

There’s no shortage of gritty revisions of L. Frank Baum’s public domain Oz books. NBC’s Emerald City seems unaware of this to an almost irritating degree. The pilot for this ill-advised series was supposed to air last year, but was postponed for various scheduling reasons (or perhaps utter embarrassment). Emerald City’s first hour of it’s two hour premiere (I refused to sit through the second) is a blistering fly-through of the first few chapters of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that practically saps everything whimsical out of the original novel and popular film adaptation.

Dorothy Gale here is re-invented as a depressed nurse with a mean German shepherd as her Toto. She’s whisked away to Oz where she is greeted by the Munchkins, who are not short but instead are, inexplicably, hefty white dudes dressed as Vikings mixed with Native Americans. The titular Emerald City shows up early in the show, centering mainly on the Wizard (Vincent D’Onofrio) who sports a bushy beard and even phones in a wacky accent this time around. It sounds like a cross between his Kingpin voice and Christoph Waltz. We meet some other blandly revised characters such as the Scarecrow (who is just a TV hunk in a brown vest) and the Wicked Witch of the West (who just mugs for the camera and chants incoherently a lot) but none of them really stick.

It’s a shame, becayse many of the real-life locations filmed in Croatia are absolutely stunning, if a little stark for the land of Oz. Florence Kasumba (better known as one of the Dora Milaje from Captain America: Civil War) has a brief but memorable role as the Wicked Witch of the East that had potential to be expanded into something interesting, but of course the character needs to die, and bafflingly not by Dorothy’s hand, either. Even notable style-over-substance director Tarsem Singh seems out of ideas, because this show’s budget seems worse than Once Upon a Time. Overall, Emerald City is a confusing mess and offers little substance for fans both old and new. You’re better off listening to Wicked or even watching Sam Raimi’s take on Oz. Or, you know, just rewatch the original film, which is honestly dark enough.

Episode Highlight: I was hard-pressed to find a moment in this show I really liked, but I didn’t hate that the Yellow Brick Road was just covered in powdered opium. In a better show, I think that premise could have been way more fun.

Joe Stando is watching…
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Season 12, Episode 1, “The Gang Turns Black”

Twelve years. Even in the halcyon days of network sitcoms, this kind of run would be impressive, but it’s almost unheard of now. What’s even more amazing is that rather than becoming a worn-out shadow of its heyday, Always Sunny consistently pushes the envelope, turning out at least one or two all-time gems every season, with a high level of average quality as well. Case in point: “The Gang Turns Black,” a lavish musical episode with more layers than a tiramisu.

“The Gang Turns Black” opens with a parody of the kind of premise sitcoms fall into in their later years: after their electric blanket and their VCR running The Wiz are struck by lightning, the gang immediately finds themselves body-swapped with five anonymous African Americans. The episode doesn’t shy away from the ridiculousness of the premise, nor from the episode’s other central conceit, that everyone constantly breaks into songs (with music and lyrics written by Charlie Day, for the record) in the style of The Wiz. Being surprisingly genre-savvy, the gang immediately begins comparing their situation to various body-swap comedies and looking for various “rules” and morals to learn before they can change back.

It’s very funny and often very cringey, but it keeps the key that’s allowed Always Sunny to broach this kind of stuff over the years: the protagonists are loathsome, but they’re also the butt of the joke. The show doesn’t shy away from depicting its characters as being awful, but they rarely succeed without learning some sort of lesson. The song “What Are The Rules?” transitions over the course of the episode from being about genre conceits to a musing on how contradictory and arbitrary the expectations for black people in America can be. It’s a strong message, and with the exception of one bit that maybe goes too far, I think it’s handled well.

It’s also a pretty expensive episode. There are a ton of really impressive shots in new locations, and the production values on the musical numbers are pretty nice for what are essentially sung scenes. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia continues to push the envelope twelve seasons in, and I couldn’t be happier.

Episode Highlight: Scott Bakula, hands down. With all the references to various body swaps and older shows, it’s natural that they’d get a bigger guest star. While there are plenty to choose from, Bakula’s pipes made him a great inclusion in this musical episode, and his willingness to play a sad, pathetic parody of himself was icing on the cake.

That’s what we’ve been watching this week. What are you tuned into? Let us know in the comments, post on our Facebook page, or tweet us @DeadshirtDotNet!

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