10/07/2013 02:47 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

<em>Once Upon A Time In Wonderland</em> Review: Stay A While


Once upon a time, there was a a show that had a great debut year, and a crappy first half to its second season, but managed to change directions and transform itself so it ended with a bang. That's right, Once Upon a Time is a fantastic series once again, and its first two episodes thus far in Season 3 have proved that. So is it really a good time for it to spawn a spinoff? Or too early? Shouldn't OUAT focus on its own greatness rather than share the wealth with one in Wonderland?

If you thought Once Upon a Time in Wonderland is, well, Once Upon a Time, just set in a bewitching, fantastical land that looks nothing like Storybrooke -- think again. I wasn't sure what to expect from a cast of virtual unknowns (aside from Naveen Andrews and John Lithgow's voice, and I have never seen Being Human, which Michael Socha appeared in for two seasons), but after watching it, I have to admit that while I love OUAT, Wonderland managed to grip me wholly from start to finish (at least in the sneak peek I saw).

If you've never seen OUAT, that's OK. Wonderland is so different from its predecessor that it stands on its own. I wasn't sure what to expect going in. I mean, why create a spinoff of a show that already balances so many characters? OUAT is essentially built around Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs but has since branched out to include so many other fairy tale stars (aside from Snow White, Prince Charming, the Evil Queen and Grumpy and his little pals, we've met other princesses one would find on a nightgown from the Disney store: Rumpelstiltskin, Pinocchio, Red Riding Hood, Captain Hook and Peter Pan, among many, many others). Why not just add the gang from Wonderland into the mix?

But after watching Wonderland, I realized just how expansive it is down the rabbit hole, and there simply isn't enough room in Storybrooke (or Neverland, as the case may be) for Alice, the Knave of Hearts, the White Rabbit, the Red Queen, the Cheshire Cat, a hookah-smoking caterpillar, the genie in the lamp and Jafar. But what about the Mad Hatter, the first of Alice's friends to set foot in Storybrooke? Will we see him in Wonderland anytime soon?

We met Hatter/Jefferson in the first season of OUAT, and he knew, before nearly everyone else, of the Dark Curse used by the Evil Queen, and Emma's role in destroying it. Emma, having thought she had killed the Mad Hatter, learned he has simply vanished. We later saw that he was in Wonderland, sewing hat after hat, basically going bat-poop crazy but he shows up again, in Season 2, where he is reunited with his daughter after the curse is broken. Sebastian Stan was wonderful as the Mad Hatter and would fit in seamlessly with the current cast of Wonderland. I just don't know if his reappearance makes sense, but what's Wonderland without the Mad Hatter?

As for the rest of the cast, Sophie Lowe as Alice is an incredible find. She looks fragile and vulnerable and capably plays all those beats, but she's tough as nails, hardened by what she thought was the loss of her true love. Once she gets a twinkle in her eye, though, watch out. The Knave of Hearts (I think I heard Alice refer to him as Will at one point), played by Socha, is equally mischievious. I hope they maintain the through line of his role as Alice's sidekick/partner-in-crime/big brother-type, and not a romantic interest whose feelings will get in the way of their return to Wonderland as they search for the genie, Cyrus (Peter Gadiot), Alice's aforementioned lost love.

The White Rabbit (voiced by Lithgow) gets some great lines and in the 20 minutes released by ABC and City, we saw a little bit of the Red Queen (Emma Rigby). She seems as cold and calculating as one would expect, as well as quite a bit boobier, but I wouldn't mind seeing her bump heads (no, not chests) with Regina one day. As for Andrews, well, Lost fans have seen his dark side as Sayid Jarrah, a reluctant hero battling his demons, but he will take on a whole new kind of villainy with Jafar. Does that mean Aladdin and Jasmine will arrive in Wonderland before Storybrooke or Neverland? Only time will tell, I guess.

Wonderland is ultimately inspired by Lewis Carroll's classic tale, but unlike the original fairy tale, where Alice's lesson is learning about what really matters, the television version is all about love. And, really, that's what fairy tales are all about, right? That's why the words "happily ever after" are almost always linked to them. Dark and evil, good and light, love, hate and hope -- it looks like Once Upon a Time in Wonderland will get the best of all those things.

"Once Upon A Time in Wonderland" premieres Thursday, Oct. 10 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC in the U.S. and City in Canada.

CTV/CTV 2 Fall 2013-14