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"The 10th Kingdom"

NBC modestly bills its through-the-looking-glass fantasy as "The Epic Event of the Millennium."

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The 10th Kingdom (Sunday, February 27, 9 to 11 p.m.; Monday, February 28, 8 to 10 p.m.; Wednesday, March 1, 8 to 10 p.m.; Sunday, March 5, 9 to 11 p.m.; and Monday, March 6, 8 to 10 p.m.; NBC) is not as inane as you may have heard, although the idea of spending ten hours with John Larroquette and a triad of trolls named Burly, Bluebell, and Blabberwort is enough to flatline the most resolute EKG. Fortunately, we also spend this time with Kimberly Williams, the winsome waif from Relativity and Father of the Bride. And besides the leather-fetish trolls, we also get Dianne Wiest as the Evil Queen; Daniel LaPaine as a Dog Prince; Scott Cohen as a Wolf; Rutger Hauer as an infanticidal Huntsman; Camryn Manheim as a zaftig Snow White; Ann-Margret as (both) a Cinderella with gas and, if I'm not mistaken, Dr. Rose Franzblau on lysergic acid; tooth fairies; swamp witches; a poisoned apple; poisoned combs; a magic ax; a magic crossbow; and many magic mirrors, one of which speaks only in rhymed couplets.

Briefly, Larroquette plays Tony, a glum janitor in a luxury apartment house bordering Central Park. Kimberly is his nubile waitress-daughter Virginia, as in "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!" They've long since been abandoned by his wife and her mother, who is seen in a Brothers Grimm flashback trying to drown a younger Virginia in a bathtub, as if she were Hans Christian Andersen's Ugly Duckling. But one day, pedaling to work on her bike in the park, Virginia runs down a stray dog that turns out to be an enchanted prince who has escaped via a magic mirror from another dimension, pursued by trolldom's own Three Stooges in slapstick service to King Relish (Ed O'Neill), who's cut a bounty-hunter deal with the Queen of Mean.

Never mind how, but Tony and Virginia and the dog all end up stranded in the squabbling principalities of Fairytale Land. Thus -- on the usual trail of breadcrumbs; in dreamscapes that are half Dalí and half Disney; in Red Riding Hood Forest or the Ice Palace where Snow White has been cryogenically stashed or the cave inside the mouth of a dragon that leads to an underground factory where dwarves smelt magic mirrors; among blind woodsmen, talking engagement rings, solid-gold Midas fish, hallucinogenic mushrooms, shoes that make you invisible, hedgehog-eating gypsies, and Little Bo Peeps as concupiscent as Lolita -- Tony, like the Cowardly Lion, must prove himself worthy of fatherhood, and Virginia, like Dorothy from Kansas, Alice in Wonderland, Rapunzel in her hairy tower, and absolutely everybody who ever went into Stephen Sondheim's woods, discovers sex. Not for naught has Scott Cohen so wolfishly consumed so many self-help books, and far too much is made of his bushy tail.

This is, perhaps, an elephantiasis of whimsy. And it peters out in the course of a nine-day week, especially for those adults who know, as writer-producer Simon Moore also surely knows, that many of Grimm's fairy tales were coded descriptions of child abuse. But if you have a single night to spare, make it Wednesday, March 1, which is when a wondrous Kimberly/Virginia wins the Little Lamb Chop-Chop competition and leads all the sheepish Bo Peeps in a rousing ballpark foot-stomp rendition of "We will . . . We will . . . We will -- shear you!"


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