14 April 2000 | codella
Wonderland: Too Good? ABC pulled the plug on a fine show.
Imagine my disappointment earlier: I sat down to watch Wonderland via the VCR, and rather than Wonderland, I had taped some slickly-produced canned news program.
Yes my fellow reviewers worries about Wonderland have, unfortunately come true. E! online reports that ABC has pulled the show, faced with a drop in the ratings, and an apparent campaign against the show by a group who felt that Wonderland unfairly stigmatized people afflicted with mental disorder.
Was this show too gory? There were some scenes depicting violence and its aftermath, e.g., The shooting of bystanders in Time's Square by an actively-psychotic man; later, a struggle that ends when a pregnant psychiatrist is stabbed with a hypodermic needle which may have impacted the unborn's cognitive functioning.
Any gore was incidental to the storyline which was intense and compelling throughout. Writing and directing were superb. The viewer is horrified by the atrocity of a killer, yet cannot help but identify with Dr. Banger's (Ted Levine of The Silence of the Lambs) guarded empathy for this man who is likely to be committed for many years to a secure psychiatric hospital.
The staff and the patients were subject to the same stressors in life, to varying degrees. Anger, impotence, fear, self-loathing --all are possible responses to stress. When slapped by the news that his unborn child would most probably be grossly impaired, Dr. Neil Harrison (Martin Donovan), the consummate professional, nearly strangled the perpetrator. He later thought he saw his wife exposing her abdomen to this same man.
This was the show at its most powerful. Dr. Bangor refers to this as the "dark side" of the human psyche. We all walk a line of "normalcy." At stressful times that path is narrow and razor-sharp. At such times it is our ability to adapt and to transcend that keeps us from falling off.
Sure the shooting in Time's Square was disturbing, but slasher flicks on TNT or TBS toss gore by the bucket load, rendering this violent act all but tasteful. Viewers are made to identify with the travails of "normal," even trained people who are nonetheless subject to the same experience as their patients. This casts "sanity" in a particularly fragile light.
This very exploration of fragility is what crystallizes Wonderland's greatness. It also may be alienating to a demographic that wants to be entertained rather than made anxious.
Then again maybe Wonderland's ratings would have been better had some numb programming executive (speaking of cognitive impairment) not have placed a program of this magnitude in a time slot opposite ER.