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A Wonderland Gamble

In December of 2009, some friends started gushing about a miniseries called Alice on SyFy. I spent a few weeks smiling and nodding as they told me about it before I actually sat down and gave it a try myself. Believe me, I regret not watching it sooner.

To be honest, I’ve never liked Alice in Wonderland. As a kid, I read the book and saw the Disney animated movie but they never impressed me. I didn’t understand why the story was such a big deal, and I preferred Lewis Carroll’s poetry to his novels. This SyFy miniseries is the only incarnation of Alice in Wonderland that I’ve ever enjoyed and I think part of the reason why is because the story is so unexpected.

Alice Hamilton is a twenty-something brunette judo sensei, who has searched for her missing father ever since he disappeared when she was ten. The miniseries doesn’t pretend to be the Alice you knew as a child: this Alice is tough and not flighty or prone to daydreams in the least. When her boyfriend Jack Chase proposes to her with a jeweled ring, she effectively shuts down the relationship, but not before Jack leaves the ring in her pocket.

This ring is the Stone of Wonderland, necessary to power the Looking Glass, which sends Alice on an unbelievable journey to the “children’s story” she–and the audience–thought she knew.

Hatter is one of the first Wonderlanders that she meets and her one of her two friends in the miniseries. Andrew Lee-Potts is a charming Hatter, not quite the goofy Disney character and not at all like the creepy Johnny Depp version either. He’s the first actor to bring a sense of danger to the character, as though he constantly has to keep his passions in check. The tension between Alice and Hatter is palpable from their first scene in Hatter’s tea shop and reminds the audience that this is no children’s story: these are real people, adults who are both trying to figure out how they fit into the world around them.

Alice and Hatter both have trust issues which unfold as they try to unravel the Queen of Heart’s sadistic use of humans, or Oysters, to harvest emotions for the Wonderlanders who crave instant gratification. As they make their way through Wonderland, they meet the characters that populated Lewis Carroll’s story, though never in the manner expected. Dodo is an underground resistance leader, the Caterpillar is a wise old man and the White Knight steals every scene he’s in with dialogue that delights and confuses everyone he meets.

While I won’t lie and say that the surprise romance that develops between Alice and Hatter wasn’t a big part of why I liked this miniseries, it goes beyond that to a real aesthetic appreciation. The storyline was crafted brilliantly, with a revelation that will make you wonder how you missed the clues. Each set is gorgeously rendered, especially in the Hearts Casino. Lastly, the actors all bring their A-game to the floor, with Caterina Scorsone and Andrew Lee-Potts using the tiniest facial movements to tell a story.

Alice is a reinterpretation worth experiencing and this Wonderland only gets better with each rewatch. “Finally,” Hatter says and I have to agree with him: it’s about time.


1 reply »

  1. I agree with all of this, it’s like you read my mind! I’m not a big fan of the other versions of Alice in Wonderland but this version stole my heart. While a big part of that was due to the amazing chemistry between Andrew Lee-Potts (OMG he’s so cute!!!!) and Caterina Scorsone I also fell in love with all the little unexpected details that SyFy threw in and loved the twists in this modern day version of wonderland.

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