Sunday, April 25, 2021

Wonderland, on MHz Choice

Sometimes, it isn't just the music. We miss the clubs themselves once they are gone, so we want to recreate them (and the memories they facilitated). We realize this only too well now in New York, after news of the Jazz Standard’s closing. Hopefully, they can successfully relaunch themselves in the future. Tony Beliani never lived to meet his son, but Beliani junior still tried to recreate his father’s swinging 1960 Biarritz nightclub in modern day Paris. Somehow, a luckless loser manages to travel back in time from the new club to the original in writer-director Herve Hadmar’s 6-episode time-travel fantasy Wonderland (a.k.a. Romance), which is now streaming on MHz Choice.

Jeremy has been underachieving since failing out of medical school. After his wife divorced him, he has been living with his sister and her kids. Frankly, getting a job at the rebooted Wonderland club is a step up for him. Beliani was skeptical, but he managed to talk himself into a job, through his knowledge of jazz and retro mixed drinks. On his first night, he is struck by a photo of a beautiful woman on the beach with her back turned to the camera. While cleaning up, he puts a vintage Odetta record on the turntable and finds himself transported back to the 1960 club.

The confused Jeremy wanders the beach, until he happens across a party, just in time to save a reveler from drowning. She is the younger sister of entitled Chris Desforges, who happens to be engaged to the mysterious Alice, the very woman in the photograph. The Desforges immediately welcomes him into their circle, but as Jeremy (assuming the identity of his old, cranky med school teacher) observes their group dynamics, he realizes he has been sent back in time to save the moody Alice from the ominous fate hanging over her. He also falls for her hard, which makes things increasingly awkward around her violently jealous fiancé.

is a terrific time-travel romance that incorporates strong mystery-thriller elements. It takes a decidedly dark turn when it reveals Alice’s secret, but it makes perfect sense in light of France’s 20th Century history. Admittedly, the ending does not make much sense (it probably should have concluded five or ten minutes sooner), but most of the time travel stuff is quite effective—especially the frequent reappearances of the fateful Odetta album. The selection of her haunting “Deep Blue Sea” is also tonally perfect.

Olga Kurylenko combines the appropriate balance of brittle fragility and femme fatale danger as Alice (she is sort of like Gene Tierney in
Laura, except Jeremy doesn’t even see her face in the picture). Pierre Deladonchamps can be cringy as Jeremy, but he displays great range and character growth over the run of the series. However, Simon Abkarian is by far the standout as the roguish but sensitive Belianis (both father and son). He also has terrific chemistry with Barbara Shulz, playing his lover Margaret Cadwell, a novelist who comes to learn and believe Jeremy’s time-traveling origins.

Wonderland, Hadmar uses music in really smart and evocative ways. He and the design team also really capture a sense of the groovy, sun-drenched time and place. Viewers will want to visit Beliani’s Biarritz, but it just won’t be the same anymore. That is the whole point of the show. It is wistfully sad, but enormously satisfying. Very highly recommended, Wonderland is now streaming on MHz Choice.