I watched Emerald City, NBC’s lush epic fantasy series, all the way through to the finale of Season One. I doubt there is going to be a Season Two. The show was beautiful and ambitious, but fell short in many ways, and I don’t think the viewer share would justify the expense of a second season, unless they moved to Vancouver and filmed in a warehouse.
Emerald City was never a retelling of Frank L. Baum’s children’s books. It was always meant to be darker and stranger, a sort of deconstruction. Still, the director and producer were good about hauling in bits and scraps from the books and the 1930s movie; including the dog that accompanies Dorothy Gale into the land of Oz. In Emerald City, Toto is a dog transformed, and criminally under-utilized.
I read here that there were five dogs used to play Toto. I hope those dogs have good agents, because they got a bad deal in this show.
In the first episode of Emerald City, we meet a twenty-year-old Dorothy Gale who is a nurse’s aide. She steals a bottle of painkillers from a patient to give to her chronically ill uncle/foster father. This scene is meant to show us that “she’s not your grandmother’s Dorothy,” that this character’s limits are different from what we expect. That foreshadowing is important as the story continues. Similarly, the character of Toto is meant to tell us that “it’s not your grandmother’s Oz.” Instead of being a cute, yappy Cairn terrier, Toto is a German Shepherd, actually a canine cop who bonds with Dorothy after she takes refuge, during a tornado, in his cop car.
Once Toto and Dorothy get to Oz, Toto becomes unintentionally magical. He becomes the Amazing Disappearing Dog.
He disappears from scene after scene. Seriously, there were so many scenes without Toto that it started distracting me from the plot, because I’d be thinking, “Where’s Toto?” He is left outside during almost any interior scene, and in at least one this seems to imply that if Dorothy finds a magical way back to Kansas she will leave him behind without a thought. (Oh, spoiler alert…) He disappears from a lot of the exterior shots too though, vanishing for three of four scenes, only to show up when someone needs a hug or a lick from a big wet tongue. He appears when someone needs protection or comfort, and the rest of the time he’s gone.
I did decide that since nobody ever fed Toto, maybe he’d gone off to forage; to chase down a juicy rabbit or scarf down a few field mice. Except, you know what we never saw in Emerald City? A rabbit or a field mouse. Or a cow, a sheep, a goat, a cat, a chicken or another dog. We did see horses. We have evidence of lions. I wonder what the lions are eating.
Then I thought that maybe, since Oz is magical, nobody had to eat. It is true that for at least the first six or seven episodes I don’t remember seeing anyone eat. There is even the end-of-a-banquet scene that had no food, but later in the season, Sylvie eats some porridge while she is in Glinda’s Convent from Hell, so apparently people do eat, which makes failing to feed Toto even more mean.
Toto is a woefully underutilized and underfed character (although in the second or third episode when Dorothy, Toto and Lucas are walking on the yellow brick road, Toto’s upright ears and nose pointed straight at Adria Arjona’s hands –she has her back to the camera—are the characteristics of a dog who knows there’s a dog treat). I know five dogs played the role. I hope each dog had a good agent, and that their contracts specified unlimited tennis balls and a dedicated human assistant for each, just to throw those tennis balls. I hope the players of Toto got to take long walking tours and pee on light poles, adding their opinions and information to the canine community forums in the various locations where Emerald City filmed. And off screen, I hope they got lots of treats, scritches and belly-rubs, because onscreen, they were sadly relegated to the role of the amazing disappearing dog.