The channel formerly known as SciFi and now known as Syfy is delivering their latest miniseries this week. Entitled Alice, the four-hour adventure is something of a re-imagining of Lewis Carroll's classic Wonderland tales. Both fun and distinctly odd at times, the Halmi-produced event is a reminder of just how much the television landscape has changed over the course of the past decade. Ten years ago this sort of big budget, beautifully produced, all-star event would have aired on a major network during a ratings sweep. Now, it will air on the NBC-Universal owned and ever more and more popular Syfy.
Written and directed by Nick Willing (he also directed SciFi's Tin Man in 2007), this version of Alice stars Caterina Scorsone in the lead role. Alice is no longer a young girl in England, but rather a 20-something karate instructor in the States. Following her kidnapped boyfriend, Jack Chase (Philip Winchester), the story rapidly finds Alice herself falling through a mirror (or, looking-glass, if you will) and into Wonderland.
Still ruled by the evil Queen of Hearts (Kathy Bates), Alice finds herself learning all about this odd land which the Queen rules by bottling the emotions of "Oysters," which is their term for people from our world. The Queen's evil Suits led by the White Rabbit (Allan Gray) have been kidnapping humans for years and Alice rapidly finds herself on the wrong side of the law.
Through the course of her misadventures, our Alice meets up with the Hatter (Andrew-Lee Potts), White Knight (Matt Frewer), a resistance leader named Dodo (Tim Curry), Doctors Dee and Dum (Eugene Lipinski), Caterpillar (Harry Dean Stanton), Carpenter (Timothy Webber), and the King of Hearts (Colm Meaney) among others. Or, in other words, people at least similarly named to those who figure in Lewis Carroll's tales.
The story Willing has constructed here is an interesting one, and it is certainly well conceived, but its relationship to the Carroll stories is not always an easy one. In this Wonderland there is certainly the story of another Alice, a legendary Alice, but what exactly this Alice did is unclear. It would seem impossible – or highly improbable – that the Alice of legend had the sort of interactions in Wonderland that Carroll wrote of, particularly as a version of all those characters is present here.
Scorsone is good as Alice, making the famous role (or a version of it) hers. She makes the absurd seem believable and serves as the perfect fish-out-of-water to function as a proxy for the equally confused and unaware audience. The true standouts here are Potts and Frewer, both of whom are exceptionally funny and charismatic. The rest of the cast, while obviously quite capable, are never really given as much of a chance to shine as they deserve. There are so many characters presented, and they are all somewhat different than our previous understanding of them that it may have behooved Syfy to give the miniseries a third installment just so that we could get the opportunity to get a better feel for the characters and this new Wonderland.
That is not to say that Alice's tale is not completed by the end of the miniseries, it most certainly is, but there are so many other tales present here, so many other things that Willing has conceived of, that it seems a shame that the audience doesn't get more.
Perhaps though the most unfortunate part of the tale is that of Alice's father. As this story goes, Alice's father disappeared many years before. Once the audience is made aware that the inhabitants of Wonderland kidnap humans, it becomes all too obvious that Alice's dad is among the kidnapped. Oddly, it takes Alice significantly longer than the audience to work out that her father is in Wonderland. In a story which otherwise works, and with a character who otherwise seems intelligent, the tale of the father seems unnecessarily tacked on and it feels as though Alice has a rather large blind spot.
Pitfalls aside, there is certainly more good than bad to this Alice. Willing has conceived of and constructed a new and interesting take on a beloved classic. He is blessed with a strong cast and if one of the biggest complaints of the miniseries is that one is left wanting more tales about the characters who inhabit this version of the story then he has clearly been very successful. Maybe one day he will even get the opportunity to revisit his Wonderland and provide us more tales from within his looking-glass.
Alice airs December 6 and 7 at 9pm on Syfy.