The first great revisionist deconstruction of Alice in Wonderland was performed by mathematicians, who — noting that author Lewis Carroll was one of their own — proclaimed the book to be not a whimsical children’s fantasy but a biting satire on non-Euclidean geometry. (This was possibly the moment that the expression “Get a life!” was born.) The second was when Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane reimagined the book as an extended metaphor for 1960s drug culture, never mind that the dormouse never actually screamed, “Feed your head!”
Now ABC has joined the mob with an amusingly cockeyed reworking of Alice’s adventures, with the plucky heroine pursuing an imprisoned sweetheart through a land of wonders more murderous than mischievous. Imagine the toothy Cheshire cat as 25 feet tall and hungry, replying to Alice’s imploring question that he wouldn’t eat a friend with the pledge, “Certainly not without pepper!” and you’ve got the essence of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.
A spinoff of the network’s fractured fairy tale Once Upon a Time, the show stars Australian TV actress Sophie Lowe as a grown-up Alice returning to Wonderland in search of a genie boyfriend (Brit newcomer Peter Gadiot) who’s being held hostage by the voluptuously evil Red Queen (Emma Rigby, Ripper Street) and the mean-as-a-snake Jafar (Naveen Andrews, Lost), a villain borrowed from ABC corporate parent Disney’s Aladdin.
Alice’s battles with various computer-animated and live-action threats are entertaining and, usually, rather witty, though her traveling companions, the White Rabbit (voiced by John Lithgow) and the Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha, the proletarian werewolf in the later season’s of the BBC version of Being Human), get most of the best lines. The Knave’s plaintive cry as he sinks into a lake of liquid marshmallow: “I’m gonna die like a bloody s’more!”