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Jaye Tyler is a loner living in Niagara Falls who, after graduating college, has fallen into a care-free comfortable rut living in a trailer park and working as a retail clerk in the Falls souvenir shop of Wonderfalls - that is until the souvenirs, and anything in the world with an anamorphic face, starts talking to her, insisting she do things in cryptic single sentence messages or there will be dire consequences (or at least lack of sleep). When followed, the resulting ping-pong effect appears to be the work of a divine plan, but soon Jaye becomes smitten with a local bartender and the figurines are telling her to do things that go against every fiber of her being. A reluctant savior, Jaye's hand is forced into the lives of others and befuddles her family in a fight that may not just cost her comfortable life and a budding romance - but her sanity. Written by
Lick the Lightswitch: "Wonderfalls" is a delightful, if short-lived, romp and the most unpredictable show in recent memory
Network: Fox; Genre: Comedy, Fantasy; Content Rating: TV-14 (for strong language and strong sexual content); Available: on DVD; Classification: Contemporary (star range: 1 - 4);
Season Reviewed: Complete Series (1 season)
Jaye Tyler is a loner living in Niagara Falls who, after graduating college, has fallen into a care-free comfortable rut living in a trailer park and working as a retail clerk in the Falls souvenir shop of Wonderfalls that is until the souvenirs, and anything in the world with an anamorphic face, starts talking to her, insisting she do things in cryptic single sentence messages or there will be dire consequences (or at least lack of sleep). When followed, the resulting ping-pong effect appears to be the work of a divine plan, but soon Jaye becomes smitten with a local bartender and the figurines are telling her to do things that go against every fiber of her being. A reluctant savior, Jaye's hand is forced into the lives of others and befuddles her family in a fight that may not just cost her comfortable life and a budding romance - but her sanity.
Byran Fuller just may be the most talented and most unlucky writer in the business today. After getting hosed by Showtime and MGM in an ownership dispute with his modern masterwork "Dead Like Me", Fuller now teams up with Todd Holland ("Malcolm in the Middle") for "Wonderfalls". Being on Fox it was naturally canceled after 4 episodes (another blip in Entertainment President Gail Berman's holocaust on scripted television). Don't look at it as a short-live series, look at it as a failed pilot that mistakenly got on the air somehow; because cute, quirky, completely insane TV shows like this rarely get made in the first place. The network gatekeepers usually make sure of that.
What is so fresh and invigorating about "Wonderfalls" is that it plays like a catalog of things that everyone (and common sense) says that you aren't supposed to even try in a TV show - only done extremely well. Plot points feature an exorcism (which I lambasted in Fox's disaster "The Pitts"), psychotic female stalkers, lengthy film homages and an on-paper unlikable, increasingly morally ambiguous heroine. Even gutsier, the tone and visual style fluctuates with each episode as the show plays with different genres. The episode themes vary from a non-linear crime & mystery, a psycho thriller, a "Scooby Doo" caper, a classic romantic comedy and a high school drama. The shows are paced brilliantly, filling the hour full and throwing one creative twist after another at the audience ever few minutes. The show is giddy over itself, eager to get to the next wacky twist. If nothing else, "Wonderfalls" certainly takes the prize as the most unpredictable show in memory.
Fuller's talent, aside from writing some hysterical dialog banter, is giving real weight to each character. A product of the medium, the amount of detail put into Jaye's family and friends here simply could not be done as well in the time span of a movie. That is what keeps the show grounded in reality as the plot lines unapologetically sling-shot out of orbit and into the realm of the surreal, absurd and impossible. The "Wonderfalls" show-runners also re-create the sleek, speed-up visual style that "Dead" used so effectively.
Fuller keeps in the tradition of Georgia Lass giving us complex and cliché-resistant heroines. The affect and credibility of the entire series rests on the back of Caroline Dhavernas' Jaye, who picks up this monumental task effortlessly. She wears the many varied emotions of the series across her face and jumps through the script's many required hoops. She juggles the show's dramatic weight, the fear and confusion of Jaye's power, the giddy joy of playing a girl not afraid to anger the audience and a gift for physical comedy. Jaye is cartoonish but never over the top. Like Linda Cardallini in "Freaks and Geeks", a joy in "Wonderfalls" is just watching Dhavernas hilarious expressions. It is a terrific performance.
The entire cast is note-perfect in ways to numerous to mention. But to only pick one, Katie Finneran stands out, delightful and consistently hilarious as Jaye's in-the-closet, cut-throat lawyer sister Sharon.
"Wonderfalls" also could be an answer to CBS's similarly themed drama "Joan of Arcadia". While I like "Joan" quite a bit, "Wonderfalls" magnifies its tiny flaws while taking everything about it to the next level. Where "Joan" drifts off into side stories about Joan's family, "Wonderfalls" remains crisp and focused. Where "Joan" is dark, brooding and melodramatic, "Wonderfalls" is light, colorful and vibrant. The dramatic moments are played subtly, but with a heart firmly on its sleeve.
"Wonderfalls" works within the parameters of network television and transforms everything that is so often botched into something beautiful. As the show drives toward its all-to-short ending (all the episodes seeing the light of day on DVD), the series' final act evolves into an arresting "will-they-or-won't-they" love story set-up in the first half (as a dead-on Tracey/Hepburn quick-banter relationship). While the notion of getting the audience to root for two characters getting together by the end is as old as dirt and "Friends", it is rarely done as well and as honest as this one. It is satisfying and touching in a way I did not expect.
"Wonderfalls" may be the best show you've never seen. I will not soon forget it. And simply hearing a description won't do it justice. It is a delightful, candy coated television treat. An authentic expression of generation-Y looking for its place in the world and not ready when it finds them. "Wonderfalls" is another triumph for the ingeniously creative Fuller, who seems to be the only person in the world trying to put a spark in TV. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.
* * * * / 4
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