Premieres tonight on DirecTV
As "Friday Night Lights" finishes its third-season run on DirecTV tonight (and then begins replays on NBC on Friday), DirecTV launches a piece from the vault, "Wonderland." The show was created and produced by Peter Berg, who also brought "Friday Night Lights" to the movie screen and later TV, and aired very briefly on ABC in 2000. DirecTV will run all eight episodes that were produced, six of which never made it on ABC. ...
I remember watching the series before its premiere and being only intermittently impressed. Part of that, though, may have been the context of the time, when "Wonderland" was aiming to be bold and provocative, and emulated the messy look of "NYPD Blue," which was still on the air at the time. (There's even a reference to a character watching "Blue" in the "Wonderland" premiere.) These days, neither the look nor the provocation seems all that surprising, and I was more focused on the acting, which is quite good, and the basic stories, which are uneven but strong enough to make me want to see more than the two episodes DirecTV sent out for preview.
"Wonderland" is about the people working with mental patients in a New York hospital, and the complications of both their jobs and their personal lives. For example, the marvelous Ted Levine of "Monk" plays Dr. Robert Banger, who is not only the top guy dealing with the unbalanced but going through a divorce and a fight for a share of the custody of his two sons. (One of the sons, by the way, is played Erik Per Sullivan of "Malcolm in the Middle.") Another doctor, played by Martin Donovan, is married to a third, played by Michelle Forbes. In the pilot, the emotional elements of their marriage and their workplace collide.
The show tries for a natural look -- as does "FNL" -- with lots of moving cameras, gritty scenes and sometimes overlapping or noise-disrupted dialogue. The cases can also be harrowing, and there's a violent moment in the pilot that was as upsetting when I saw it recently as it was when I first saw it almost nine years ago.
After seeing the two episodes, I cannot say this is a great show. Certainly not on a par with "Friday Night Lights." But it's at least an interesting series, with occasional lovely moments. There's a scene with Levine where he's in the middle of a custody hearing, and trying to keep his kids under control, and trying to keep himself under control, and he's getting calls from the office -- a dizzy torrent of activity and different emotions, and Levine keeps hitting it just right again and again. I'd happily watch more.