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Television Review

'10th Kingdom' a Jumbled Fairy-Tale World

February 26, 2000|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

A wolf looks like a human and a human looks like a dog in a 10-hour miniseries thatlooks like what it is.

A turkey.

That would be NBC's "The 10th Kingdom," too juvenile for adults, too violent for children, and at five nights, likely too obese and sluggish for just about everyone other than hard-core fairy-tale fanatics and disciples of the Brothers Grimm.

There's something appealing and even inspired about writer Simon Moore's concept of Cinderella, Snow White and Red Riding Hood overlapping in a contemporary tale, just as these storybook heroines and their overcoming of adversity tend to merge in childhood memories.

What works in theory, though, in this case does not come close to succeeding on the screen, where "The 10th Kingdom," in addition to being hopelessly convoluted, is a beanstalk with no end in sight.

This is another ambitious fantasy from the Family Halmi, veteran TV impresario Robert Halmi Sr.'s recent NBC pedigree ranging from the admirable "Gulliver's Travels" to the boneheaded "Noah's Ark" and barely admissible "The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns."

These were mini miniseries, however, making inexplicable NBC's decision to lavish 10 hours on "The 10th Kingdom." The last time a network miniseries ran this long was during ABC's "War and Remembrance" in 1988-89.

But six months of filming in England, Austria, France and Germany for "The 10th Kingdom"?

To be fair, this review is based only on the first four hours, which were all yours truly could endure. Perhaps the wonderful stuff is loaded into the last six hours. Perhaps not.

The story's 10th Kingdom turns out to be New York, by the way, the other nine kingdoms in Moore's Balkanized universe having been established by followers of Cinderella, Snow White and Red Riding Hood. You get here a bit of the Dwarf and Troll Kingdoms, for example, as well as the Fourth Kingdom, where much of this story occurs.

*

The catalysts, a pair of New Yorkers, are a waitress named Virginia (Kimberly Williams) and her janitor father, Tony (John Larroquette). They are somehow transported to this alternate dimension with a dog (who turns out to be a prince) before being joined by a humanlike wolf (Scott Cohen).

All of them are on the lam from a trio of warty trolls with shoe fetishes on orders from the Troll King (Ed O'Neill), and from a deadeye huntsman (Rutger Hauer) dispatched by a wicked queen (Dianne Wiest), who's escaped from Snow White Memorial Prison.

Got that now?

There's much less magic here than mayhem under directors Herbert Wise and David Carson, and attempts at humor are mostly botched. When not pseudo-hip, with these Keystone Trolls swinging to the Bee Gees, for example, the gags are broad and all over the place.

Meanwhile, the dog, who is really a prince, searches for his human body while the queen teaches the prince, who is really a dog, how to eat with utensils instead of his tongue.

You keep waiting for the Three Bears to ride in on unicycles.

There are other problems here in unexpected places, with that fine actress Wiest never summoning the menace fairy-tale followers would expect from such a vile queen, and Cohen (who also has a key role in the competing "Perfect Murder, Perfect Town" on CBS) not showing much as the clowning wolf.

Even a $45-million budget hasn't stopped this miniseries from making occasional production gaffes, moreover. On one occasion, the dog prince emerges dry from a dip in water. And "The 10th Kingdom" also answers the question: Do female trolls wear bras? Yes, as proved by those straps visible through a troll shirt. Evidence that even a flawed story can be uplifting.

*

* "The 10th Kingdom" can be seen beginning Sunday at 9 p.m. on NBC. Subsequent episodes air Monday and Wednesday at 8 p.m., March 5 at 9 p.m. and March 6 at 8 p.m. The network has rated it TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children).

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