Oh, no! I don’t want to see this: Zooey Deschanel hobbled? She is just about the coolest chick ever, like something out of a 1940s screwball comedy come down to us via punk rock. She’s smart and cheeky and funny and has so far refused, as far as I can see, to play the typical arm-candy girl sidekick. So what the heck is she doing in Tin Man? Or not doing, in last night’s Part One?
In a modern update of The Wizard of Oz — no matter how grim and bitter it is, and man, this is some dark stuff — I’d expect Dorothy to be even spunkier and stronger than she was in 1939. But Deschanel’s DG is rather startlingly inert. That’s not Deschanel’s fault — her eagerness for DG to be proactive is palpable; she grabs with gusto the few opportunities she has to do something — but her character is getting dragged along by events rather than making them happen herself. Maybe that’s to be expected from the particular bent of this reimagining, from TV screenwriters Steven Long Mitchell and Craig W. Van Sickle (they’re vets of The Pretender and She Spies, among other series): it’s called Tin Man, after all, not DG, so Neal McDonough’s Cain, a former cop — or “tin man” — is dominating, at least in the first episode
The tin men are fascist thugs — Callum Keith Rennie is the best thing about Tin Man so far, as Zero, the head thug. The “scarecrow,” Glitch (played Alan Cumming, also surprisingly subdued), is a dissident who’s been lobotomized into meek compliance. And the wicked witch is an evil queen, Azkadellia (Kathleen Robertson), who rules the O.Z. — or “Outer Zone” — with an iron fist. She’s tortured the lion, Raw (Raoul Trujillo), into cowardice — his people are psychics whose power she has systematically abused; and she’s intimidated the wizard (Richard Dreyfuss) into irrelevance: he’s a drug addict working as a nightclub act.
It’s all taking place in a pseudo-retro WWII-era alternate world where jackboots are the height of fashion and repression is the order of the day … which seems to be the reason Tin Man exists in the first place: to turn The Wizard of Oz into something as bleak as commercial cable TV can get away with. That wouldn’t be an issue if what was happening in the foreground was as meaty as the backdrop. But no one who’s seen, say, Star Wars, could have failed to guess, from the opening moments of Part One, that DG was a Luke Skywalker, a powerful child with the potential to threaten a ruling authority being raised in obscurity, being prepared (though she didn’t know it) for her return to her homeland and a battle to save it.
Which leaves just one matter open for suspense: Just how graphic and disturbing will Azkadellia’s torture get?
[Get a recap or watch all of Part One at the official site. Part Two debuts tonight, and it all wraps up tomorrow night with Part Three. I’ll keep watching…]