“Wonderland” premieres Thursday (Oct. 10) at 8/9c.
Like its sibling show, “Wonderland” brings together grown-up versions of characters from fairy tales and other children’s literature in unexpected ways. The premise here is that the adult Alice’s insistence that she spent time in a place called “Wonderland” as a child has landed her in a Victorian mental institution where cruel doctors want to take drastic measures to cure her of her delusions.
Fortunately, she is able to escape to Wonderland where she hopes to reunite with her true love. It is, to paraphrase the Cheshire Cat, a darker, stranger show than the original “Once Upon A Time.”
Says executive producer Edward Kitsis, “For us, ‘Wonderland’ is like a psychedelic romance, and it is trippy, and it is weird, and it is intense. But it also has some real characters and humor and romance.”
Here are five things you need to know about ‘Once Upon a Time in Wonderland”:
1) Alice is on a quest to rescue her (A)lad(din) in distress.
Alice (Sophie Lowe) returns to Wonderland because she learns that her true love Cyrus (Peter Gadiot), a genie who she mistakenly believed to have died, is alive.
The show upends the traditional fairy tale convention by sending the heroine on a quest to rescue the hero. She is more than up to the task. This Alice wields a sword with the skill of an Olympic fencer, and she’s strong enough to fight a group of men.
It’s a bold new take on the girl with a pinafore, though she still likes to wear puffy sleeves and pastels. Kitsis explained the impetus for the show’s take on the character. “We just love writing strong females. And we never wanted Alice to be a damsel in distress. We liked the idea that she is going to go back down that rabbit hole sword in hand and find her man.”
Added executive producer Adam Horowitz, “With ‘Once,’ there was the moment where we had Snow pull the sword in the pilot. That kind of crystallized it for us. And for us for this show, it’s when Alice breaks out of that asylum and she takes out all of the guards.”
2) The season tells a complete story.
ABC ordered 13 episodes of the show. The producers plan to tell a single, complete story this season, rather than emulate the long-term serialized arc of “Once Upon a Time.”
Says Kitsis, “What we’re planning to do is tell a … kind of a complete tale with a beginning, middle, and end, [then] finish it. If it does well, if people like it, then, hopefully, we come back and tell another adventure with this cast. The real idea for us is to tell a very focused, contained story about Alice. And that’s what the season will be.
3) There will not be continuity with “Once Upon a Time.”
Though Wonderland was introduced on “Once Upon a Time,” and the first minute of the premiere takes place in Storybrooke, the two shows will not share a timeline or feature crossovers.
Kitsis explains, “We really loved Wonderland, and we felt like we didn’t show you Alice in a lot of the world. So, for us, we think this show has its own mythology that is really not dependent upon the mother ship.”
Horowitz adds, “This show exists concurrently with ‘Once’ ‑‑ within the ‘Once’ universe, but it stands on its own, hopefully, in a way that if you’re not familiar with the mythology of ‘Once’ … you can come right in.”
Both shows do use some of the same storytelling devices. Horowitz says, “This show will work very similar to the other show in that we will tell flashbacks of these characters before the present‑day story that’s taking place in Wonderland.”
4) It’s a Lewis Carroll/”Aladdin” mash-up.
You read that right. Alice is in love with a genie. The show blends the universes of Wonderland and “Aladdin,” two distinct entities that might seem like they would go together about as well as chocolate and steak.
The producers see the mash-up as a natural fit. Said Edward Kitsis, “What we loved about the character of a genie is you serve at the pleasure of your master. You are somebody who watches lifetimes of people ruin their lives and the things they hold dearest because they wish it away. We loved the idea of a genie who thought, ‘If only one day I could get free, I would be able to live that life.’ And so, for us, our character of Alice had a really tough growing‑up process. And so when you see the pilot, you’ll see that they kind of complete each other in a way.”
Adds Gadiot, “I think his state is one of being a genie, but what he discovers with Alice is love, and that’s what he seeks and reaches for and, ultimately, he has to fight to maintain.”
One of the show’s major villains will be Jafar, played by “Lost” star Naveen Andrews, who described the show’s version of the character. “In the popular imagination I know he exists almost as an icon, a sort of incarnation of evil. But I think what we want to do is to present the audience with something they’ve never seen before. You know, there has to be ambiguity because everyone had a childhood.”
5) The show stars some very famous voices.
CGI is a big part of the show, giving Wonderland its distinctive look. The non-human residents of Wonderland are voiced by A-list stars. John Lithgow plays the White Rabbit, who plays a very important role in the series.
Horowitz explains, “This is a character that we are treating like any human character. There are layers to this character we want to reveal. There are twists and turns in his backstory that will be, hopefully, surprising. We couldn’t think of anyone better than John to bring it to life.”
One of music’s most famous names voices the Caterpillar. Kitsis reveals, “Roger Daltrey, who was the voice of the Hookah‑Smoking Caterpillar [on “Once Upon a Time”], is going to be continuing in that role, and we are very excited about that as long‑time Who fans.”
Voiceover king Keith David, who will also star in the midseason Fox comedy “Enlisted,” plays the Cheshire Cat.