The three-night miniseries Tin Man deconstructs The Wizard of Oz and is best enjoyed if you’ve never seen the 1939 Judy Garland movie. But is there anyone out there who hasn’t? Everything good about Tin Man is the invention of scripters Steven Long Mitchell and Craig W. Van Sickle; everything bad in it is an attempt to nod or wink at L. Frank Baum’s first Oz tale, from 1900.
In Tin Man we are introduced to the ”O.Z.” — no, not a fairy-tale land where Adam Brody and emo bands cavort in bliss, but the ”Outer Zone,” an alternate universe under siege by the dark magic of the sorceress Azkadellia (Kathleen Robertson, the smooth face from the unfunny IFC sitcom The Business). Plopped via tornado into the O.Z. is DG — short for Dorothy Gale, the gingham-and-pigtails girl in The Wizard of Oz, but played here by Zooey Deschanel as a glowering tomboy.
DG soon meets Glitch (Alan Cumming), who has a zipper in his skull after a brain removal; Raw (Raoul Trujillo), a cowardly beastie; and Wyatt Cain (Boomtown’s Neal McDonough) as an ex-cop — they’re known in the O.Z. as ”tin men.” I don’t have to explain the Wizard of Oz parallels here, do I? And there’s a little dog named Toto — except in Tin Man he’s a shape-shifting human (Blu Mankuma), also known as Tutor.
This being Sci Fi Channel, the whole Oz template is darker and more, well, science-fiction-y. DG and her pals need to find the ”emerald of the eclipse,” a jewel whose power will free the O.Z. of the evil force embodied by Azkadellia. And whatta body: The kickiest innovation of writers Mitchell and Van Sickle is to have Robertson swan around in a succession of low-cut gowns revealing tattoo-like markings just above her breasts, drawings that come to life when she thrusts her chest forward. The figures soar off her skin to become the flying-monkey kind of creatures we know from the 1939 Oz.
Unfortunately, Robertson’s heaving bodice is her most expressive aspect; this miniseries needed a villain with a wicked sense of humor, but she and the rest of Tin Man are dour and punitive. There’s violence and torture courtesy of Azkadellia’s Nazi-like ”Longcoat” brigade. And there’s the overworked theme of abandonment (DG seeks her family back home; Cain the Tin Man mourns his family, long ago snatched up by the Longcoats).
The title is a bit of a puzzler, though: McDonough’s character isn’t the central one, Deschanel’s is — so why use Tin Man? Sci Fi Channel could have called it Stargate: DG and probably drawn more viewers. C+