When Lost in Oz premiered as a pilot, I said, “The very best thing I can say about Lost in Oz is that I really, really hope Amazon picks it up for a full season because I’m absolutely dying to find out what happens next.” Fortunately, someone was listening, since Lost in Oz was picked up for a full season, with the first 3 episodes packaged late last year as the “Extended Adventure” and all 13 episodes of the first season now available for streaming. The full season is enormously entertaining and worthwhile, even if the overall narrative suffers from a few flaws.
Dorothy Gale is a mechanically-minded pre-teen living in suburban Kansas with her mother Evelyn and her dog Toto. When she discovers a mysterious green notebook in the floorboards of her house, a giant green tornado soon rips the entire house off its foundations. Dorothy’s surprise is compounded by her mother’s last-minute instructions to seek out the Yellow Brick Line in Emerald City, which is where Dorothy finds herself stranded in the magical world of Oz. She soon learns that Oz is in the midst of a crisis: all the magic in Oz is slowly draining away and Oz’s benevolent guardian Glinda the Good Witch has gone missing. Before long, Dorothy has linked up with West, a sarcastic goth teenage witch, and Ojo, an unusually large munchkin, and starts unraveling the mysteries behind the magical drought while trying desperately to find her way home.
The series can be easily followed by those who are completely unfamiliar with Oz, with a lot of the references coming off as pre-series historical context in the same way as the offhand references to the Clone Wars in the first Star Wars movie. Those more familiar with the L. Frank Baum books or the classic Judy Garland movie will be nicely thrown by the way Lost in Oz keeps throwing curveballs at your expectations. This is a very, very different Oz that crafts a lot of magical equivalents to more modern technology ranging from cars to computers and mobile phones. Some characters get revamped, like the Cowardly Lion turning into Reigh, a teenaged conspiracy theorist who links up with Dorothy and her friends to solve the riddle of the magical drought. Other characters are left almost entirely unchanged from their more familiar incarnations, such as Glinda the Good and the Scarecrow (the latter of whom suffers from memory loss to parallel his quest for a brain in the original story, but which unfortunately makes him feel a little too derivative of Dory in the Finding Nemo movies).
All of which brings up a hazard of reviewing series that can be binge-watched: it’s challenging to know exactly how much one can or should mention without revealing spoilers, especially when the surprises (pleasant and otherwise) often yield a series’ greatest pleasures. Without revealing too much, I can say that most of the questions raised about this Oz and earlier versions of it are answered by a late-season revelation, which ties together a lot of the hanging plot threads quite nicely. It’s a wonderful way for the series to properly homage its forerunners while giving it room to build up a world of its own.
The hazards of reviewing a binge-watched season extend to other aspects of Lost in Oz as well. The first episode reveals the wicked teen wizard Fitz as the primary driver of the magical drought, even though he doesn’t seem competent enough to have come up with the plot on his own and certainly doesn’t seem capable of taking out someone as powerful as Glinda. Fitz ends up being one of the more frustrating characters in the series; subsequent episodes confirm that he isn’t the sole source of the problems in Oz, but once his role as the primary antagonist is supplanted, the series doesn’t really know what to do with him (a problem that somewhat afflicts Ojo as well). It flirts with a few different ideas without fully exploiting the potential in any of them before it finally just drops him on the floor. By then, that other threat has proven to be infinitely more dangerous than Fitz, which is another plot point I’m hesitant to spoil other than to say that Gina Gershon’s performance as this character is superb.
For that matter, all of the voice actors in the series do excellent work, with the standout being Nika Futterman’s performance as the scene-stealing West. I am somewhat ashamed to admit I didn’t figure out who her parallel was in the pilot episode until a specific visual beat me over the head with it. West’s ambiguous motives prove to be one of the most interesting elements of the season. In many ways, Lost in Oz is her hero’s journey as much as it is Dorothy’s, but Dorothy’s path is laid out for her while West has choices to make, which is why she ends up being so interesting. That ambiguity sets up high enough expectations that I ended up slightly disappointed when the third act of the season plays out more conventionally than I thought it would.
The CGI of Lost in Oz is still quite solid throughout the season, even if it occasionally seems to show the seams of its budget. Some of the action sequences don’t quite pop the way it feels like they should, and the show has the same problem as many CGI series of a populous city that seems mysteriously abandoned a little too often. But the character designs are distinctive and appealing, especially in little things like the way hairstyles communicate family relationships and how all the munchkins’ hair looks like it’s painted on. There are also quite a few dazzling set pieces, especially early in the season and in the show’s big climactic showdown in the final episode.
The modern entertainment landscape is offering up an embarrassment of riches, with Amazon and Netflix producing material as good or better than anything else produced through conventional studios. Lost in Oz is a perfect example of this: an engrossing and thoroughly enjoyable series that adds nicely to the problem of having too much good stuff to watch.