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So, here we have another impressive, interesting show, that's thankfully
interesting and not some sort of godawful reality mess...but it's on Fox.
You know Fox, right? That network renowned for giving amazing shows a
chance, then never advertising them, airing them out of order or
them for some tripe like American Idle, changing their place int he
from week to week and finally cancelling them cuz "Gee Wally, these
aren't so good."
I can only conclude that there are two seperate entities at work over at Fox. One likes to take these new shows and give them a place to live and grow, to go beyond the normal, dare I say crap, we see on TV. And the other entity is the one who gets to control the show once it's signed on. It's the thing that says "You're on here, opposite Monday Night Football...no wait, at 3AM on Tuesdays...no wait, Fridays at 9!" This entity is of substandard intelligence and may very well be Rupert Murdoch. But I digress.
Wonderfalls is another rare hit for Fox, if only they take the time to promote it, give it a good timeslot and keep it around long enough for it to develop a fanbase. Failing that, brace yourself for more godawful and pointless reality TV. We shall see.
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
Fresh, intelligent, insightful and hysterically funny, Wonderfalls is a
show you'll come back to time and again.
The series has oft been criticised as a cheap Joan of Arcadia carbon copy, but Wonderfalls is by far the superior of the two.
Whereas JoA has a painful tendency of falling into a soppy family drama -- tears and revelations and tight embraces and fluffy bunnies -- Wonderfalls is constantly slick and on top of it. It, too, has its share of emotional moments, but never dwells on the soap; rather, biting back with its trademark humour.
To give an example -- Jaye and Eric share a lovely moment standing at the top of the falls, where Jaye has the chance to scatter a deceased character's ashes (very cutely, in a souvenir barrel). It's a sweet moment, and as the barrel plummets into the foam, Jaye turns -- to find herself face-to-face with a cop, who promptly fines her $250 for littering.
Caroline Dhavernas is perfect for the starring role of Jaye Tyler, an underachiever whose expectation-free reputation belies her true intelligence. Jaye doesn't like people in general, revels in the role of the bitch, when suddenly she's forced to do good by the nagging of toy animals. In following these cryptic messages and helping others, Jaye herself begins to develop a warmer sense of compassion and a sharper understanding of those around her, while still retaining her delightfully badass attitude.
Dhavernas steals our hearts in a way Joan of Arcadia's Amber Tamblyn has never been able to manage.
It is sad that Wonderfalls -- by far the better of the two shows in every aspect -- was the one to get the axe, but at least we can console ourselves with the promised DVD release later this year/early 2005.
I have not laughed so hard at a TV show in weeks. Especially since I didn't
expect this to be a comedy. I figured at best it would be a slightly
quirkier version of TRU CALLING and JOAN OF ARCADIA, but I had no idea how
This is not the life-or-death struggle of TRU or the adolescent angst meets philosophical growth of JOAN. It's definitely more light-hearted. But then, Jaye isn't dealing with a god, just a headstrong Indian maiden who's shacking up with a god under Niagara / Horseshoe Falls.
The dialogue is hysterical. As I'm typing, I'm rewatching the pilot. Discussing Jaye's suddenly odd behavior, her sister suggests "I think we should put her down." Her brother agrees "It is just like going to sleep."
Or when she notices the bartender's cell phone is ringing in his back pocket--- "Your ass is ringing." Bartender: "My ass rings a lot." Jaye: "Have you ever thought of setting it on vibrate? Bartender: "I'm not sure I'm secure enough with my manhood to do that." Jaye: "So, why do you have an ass if you don't answer it?"
Caroline Dhavernas is great. She's got the subtle comic skills to pull off a role that could so easily have been a burlesque. Her reactions to the inanimate objects' demands are priceless, as is her portrayal of Jaye's incredible boredom at her mind-numbing job.
The rest of the cast-- well, we haven't seen much of them but I'm impressed. William Sadler was great and he only had five or so lines. And Diana Scarwid as Mom is great at casually tossing off lines like "I don't want her talking to my therapist. She might give him ideas!" Katie Finneran as sister Sharon is much more engaging than Dru's sister or Joan's brothers.
The visuals are neatly done. The animated lampshade, the flashbacks, the talking knicknacks.... I love the use of a 3D Viewmaster as a motif for changing scenes!
One odd note-- this seems to be hiding it's Canadian setting. Jaye mentions in the narration "the greater Buffalo New York area." And of course American quarters get extreme closeups a few times. But the Wonderfalls shop is definitely on the Canadian side. You can't see Horseshoe Falls from the NY side.
This series caught my imagination with the very first episode and I was
hooked. It quickly
moved to #1 on my TiVo and I became emotionally invested in the characters.
But FOX struck its evil axe again and killed another great series. Now what are we left with? Repeats of their latest reality brain drain "The Swan". Fantastic. JUST what I wanted.
I can only hope some other channel sees the potential of this show - if nothing else, just to see the rest of the season.
RIP Wonderfalls, Firefly, Dark Angel, John Doe ....
I first caught "Wonderfalls" on March 18th, with the encore showing of the
pilot, and was immediately hooked. The next three episodes were Must-See TV
for me. Great show! Great cast (especially the lead, Caroline Dhavernas)!
Great writing! However, like other great shows on FOX (notably BRIMSTONE
and KEEN EDDIE), "Wonderfalls" was doomed. They air it in impossible
timeslots (Friday night slot of death, or across from "C.S.I." and "The
Apprentice"), and then wonder why it doesn't get great ratings.
Well, like others have said before me, FOX can go to Hell. Producers, PLEASE do not take cool, new shows to FOX. I sure as Hell won't be watching there.
Okay, so you're saying to yourself, there's nothing good on TV. Well,
there was something - Wonderfalls. And it got canceled by the dark
forces known as Fox. Fortunately, it's now available on DVD! Jaye Tyler
is your not-so-average girl next door. She holds a degree from Brown
University, but instead decided to work at a souvenir shop at
picturesque Niagara Falls. Her reason? She wanted to live an
expectation-free life. She's rude to the customers, a total bitch to
her lesbian sister and frowns at everything good about the world, and
yet, she's the most likable character you'll ever meet. Her 'sodes
started when inanimate objects started talking to her, telling her in
cryptic messages to do spontaneous things without a reason. She has no
choice but do as they say or they'll bug the hell out of her by singing
her ears off.
One simple act will lead to a series events that at the end makes sense to her and the person she's unknowingly helped.
This show had the rare combination of great writing, acting and directing. This is evident by the great on screen chemistry. Watch just one episode and I guarantee you'll be hooked and wanting more.
This show is actually TV worth watching. If you get a chance, either
rent or buy the series and watch it closely. It's intelligent, witty,
and emotional with a touch of the mysterious and unexplained.
It's amazing how lame reality TV shows continue to get ratings when a show like this that's really worth something can get canceled after only 4 episodes. This demonstrates what is truly wrong with television and the media today.
Just watch the show! If you're not impressed with it you can always go back to your bug-eating, worm-slurping, jump-out-of-a-helicopter-into-a-pile-of-manure reality show. If you are impressed with it, them join the club and help get this show back on TV.
Thank you for your support.
Witty, whimsical and wonderful!! These are some of the words that best describe this show. I absolutely love it!! Caroline Dhavernas is just perfect for the part of the slacker reluctant protagonist. Her character is sarcastic yet adorable at the same time. The supporting cast is equally great as well. Katie Finneran's character seems straight-laced but at the same time so unexpectedly hilarious. Tyron Leitso is just so charming. It is such a pity that this series was canceled so soon. Anyway, I am savoring every minute of every episode as they are being shown here. My favorite episode is 'Cocktail Bunny'. The 'licking the light switch' scene was just the best!!
I love TV, if you can make me laugh and think at the same time, that's even better. This show did that. The great (timeless) story of a modern day Joan Of Ark. The use of fairly unknown stars. The perfect social commentary on the young adults of today. The awesome comedic timing made this show one of my favs (I bought the DVD the day hit hit the shelf). And I'd never thought that I would say this, but I have never related to a character as much as I did to Jaye. I too am a twenty-something, who happens to be a proud card carrying member of Gen Why? I too have been educated, but I work at a dead end job with no real need to excel or stand out. I too have been known to be a little cold towards the general public. But once again, Fox canned it, and took away another comedy that was to smart to be a comedy (Arrested Development). Upside is, there are the DVD's. If you have never seen it, check it out, and if you have, watch it again.
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