“Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” is a spin-off of ABC’s hit “Once Upon A Time” featuring a revisionist tale on the classic “Alice in Wonderland” story. This version features a strong adult Alice, who begins the pilot in a mental hospital where she is being treated for her delusions about Wonderland. In this version, Alice (Sophie Lowe) is in love with a genie, Cyrus (Peter Gadiot). Other familiar wonderland characters include the White Rabbit (voiced by John Lithgow), The Red Queen (Emma Rigby) and Jafar (Naveen Andrews of “Lost“), who will be far more sophisticated than he was in Disney’s “Aladdin.” However, one Wonderland character who is not on the canvas is the Mad Hatter, who, as played by Sebastian Stan, was a break-out sensation on the original “Once Upon A Time.”
It was a decision that the show’s producers made out of necessity. Said executive producer Edward Kitsis, “[executive producer] Adam [Horowitz] and I are the biggest fans of Sebastian Stan. We literally run his fan club… I’m Mad Hatter Honey on the boards. But his schedule is so packed… We’d move heaven and earth to let him come back on either show.”
Kitsis made it clear that no one else can fill the hat. “We are never going to have a Mad Hatter that isn’t played by Sebastian. So we are not recasting him. We are just going to keep that seat empty until he’s able to come back.”
Horowitz added, “We’ve had to design this first season with the reality that he probably is not available. There is an open door if he is ever available and wants to do it. We would happily bring him in if the show continues on and he’s willing.”
There is some question whether or not the show will still be airing when Stan is free. “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” was originally conceived as a limited series. It is currently slated to run for 13 episodes in ABC’s tough Thursday at 8 p.m. timeslot. On January 2, 2014, the reality show “The Quest” will take over the time period. However, if the show proves popular, ABC will order more episodes. Explained Horowitz, “The plan would be to tell a whole string of episodes in the fall, “The Quest” comes on, and then we come back after that to finish out the story for the season.”
Regardless of the duration of the season, the producers promise that viewers will get to see a complete story. “However many we wind up doing this season, what we’re planning to do is tell a ‑‑ kind of a complete tale with a beginning, middle and end, finish it,” assured Horowitz. Should “Wonderland” return for the 2014-15 season, “If it does well, if people like it, then, hopefully, we come back and tell another adventure with this cast.”
Though the Mad Hatter will be missing, there will be plenty of other characters from the wonderland universe. “You will see that we have the Hookah‑Smoking Caterpillar. We have John Lithgow as the White Rabbit, and you will see the Cheshire Cat in the pilot,” promised Kitsis.
Though “Wonderland” and “Aladdin” seem like two completely unrelated stories, the producers are confident that they go together like chocolate and peanut butter. “What we loved about the character of a genie is you serve at the pleasure of your master. You are somebody who watches lifetimes of people ruin their lives and the things they hold dearest because they wish it away… We loved the idea of a genie who thought, ‘If only one day I could get free, I would be able to live that life,’” said Kitsis. “And so, for us, our character of Alice had a really tough growing‑up process. And so when you see the pilot, you’ll see that they kind of complete each other in a way.”
“Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” premieres Thursday, October 10, at 8/7c on ABC.