No one could be blamed for chuckling the first time a character in Tin Man unironically refers to his bizarre homeland, the Outer Zone, as “the O.Z.” Fortunately, opportunities for unintended laughter are few and far between in the latest of the big-budget miniseries that have become a holiday tradition on Sci Fi. The Wizard of Oz is the last story in the world that needs a postmodern face-lift, and the screenwriters are smart enough to know it. Instead of just filing off the serial numbers, they introduce enough gothic nastiness and clever twists to make Tin Man compulsively watchable despite its occasionally formidable cheesiness.
Our heroine is D.G. (Zooey Deschanel), a rural waitress plagued by dreams in which she’s told a storm is coming. The dreams vex D.G.’s folks considerably—not because they think she’s nuts, but because they’re all actually refugees from the extradimensional Outer Zone who sought sanctuary on Earth when D.G. was a baby. The “storm,” a portal, brings goons dispatched by Azkadelia (Kathleen Robertson), the ruler of the Zone. When D.G. winds up in the O.Z., familiar patterns emerge: She soon meets three companions, Glitch (Alan Cumming), Wyatt Cain (Neal McDonough) and the animalistic Raw (Raoul Trujillo), as well as a once “great and terrible” cabaret psychic (Richard Dreyfuss), now a drug-addled wreck.
The unhurried pace and lavish production design (half Great Depression, half City of Lost Children) make the Zone an uncommonly original-looking and believable fantasy world, and Deschanel and McDonough hold the center with a casual authority that dispels pretension. But none of it would fly without Robertson, who unflinchingly handles clunky dialog about “Othersiders in the Outer Zone” and makes it seem perfectly natural when her cleavage tattoo turns into an airborne monster. Hollywood’s next great villain may be here at last. See also “The Hot Seat,” page 176.