The Good: Funny, Sweet, Well-Acted, Interesting plots, Strong concept
The Bad: Only 13 Episodes, Repetitive plot format for first few episodes.
The Basics: A clever show, Wonderfalls focuses on Jaye Tyler, a young woman who is plagued by inanimate objects that talk to her and get her to start changing the world.
The DVD-release era officially began with the resurrection of Family Guy on Fox and became rooted when Serenity was created after the television series Firefly was axed. I suppose that means Fox deserves some credit for killing shows, getting them released on DVD, earning boatloads of money in that market and then figuring out ways to make more money from the series' that it killed. Fox became convinced with Family Guy (read my review of the first boxed set by clicking here!) that it was economically more viable to make more episodes to sell more boxed sets than to kill the show and their business sense won out, allowing the series to continue.
Enter Wonderfalls, a brilliant "dramedy" stuck in Friday night's "death on toast" timeslot. Friday night is where shows go to die. In the last twenty years, the only successful network show to dominate and survive on Friday nights is The X-Files. Seriously. Check it out. Friday night is death on television. Anyone over fifteen is out on a date, anyone younger is doing whatever kids do now that there's no ABC TGIF crapfest on. The point is, outside The X-Files and Boy Meets World, nothing remotely worthwhile has been put on Friday nights for the last two decades and stayed there (the week I first wrote this review, for example, Men In Trees was moved from Friday to Thursdays).
So, Wonderfalls was doomed the moment its timeslot was announced and that has nothing to do with the DVD set. Buy it. Period. It's worth it.
Set in the underused setting of Niagara Falls, NY, Wonderfalls follows the adventures of Jaye Tyler. In the pilot, "Wax Lion," Jaye is touched in her indifference by a talking wax lion who sets her on a mission to help people. Fearing she is going mad, Jaye gets into counseling only to have a brass monkey begin talking to her, too. Desperate to get inanimate objects to stop talking with her, Jaye begins to do what the totems tell her to. And the results range from the bizarre to the touching to the absurd.
Jaye is accompanied on her adventures by her attorney sister, Sharon, her best friend Mahandra, her philosopher brother Aaron, and her new romantic interest Eric. While Sharon attempts to reconcile her past with her difficult sister with her newly not-quite-out lesbianism, Jaye tries to learn to trust her older sister. Eric works on getting to know Jaye, who expresses interest, then fear in a relationship with him.
The basic concept of Wonderfalls is brilliant and explained quite well in the behind-the-scenes featurette on the first disc. What if there were a Joan of Arc in today's world? Without god. That's the basic premise of the show. What is speaking through the animals? Who knows? We never get an answer, though Jaye does ask all the right questions. The characters are sharp and interesting, which is to be expected from the team of Bryan Fuller (Dead Like Me), Todd Holland and Tim Minnear (Angel).
The principles of Wonderfalls are:
Jaye Tyler - The focus of the show, a talented underachieving young woman with an impressive degree and no ambition to do anything more than clerk at a Niagara Falls gift shop until the Universe decides to give her quests to influence lives around her,
Sharon Tyler - Recently outed to her sister, she struggles to quit smoking and keep her sister out of jail when Jaye gets in over her head,
Aaron Tyler - Jaye's brother and an expert in religions who - despite his disbelief in god - begins to believe Jaye and becomes her closest confidant,
Mahandra McGinty - Jaye's tough best friend who tries to encourage her to explore her feelings for Eric and seems willing to accompany Jaye on any scheme her friend gets her into,
Darrin Tyler - Jaye's conservative doctor father who struggles to understand his daughter's abruptly strange behavior,
Karen Tyler - Jaye's socialite mother who fears that even counseling might not help her,
and Eric Gotts - Recently married in Niagara Falls, then cheated on by his wife Heidi, Eric ends up working at the bar Jaye frequents and becomes enamored with her, despite her crazy behavior.
What makes all the characters work and pop is the writing and the acting. The writing is a credit to the creators who have a very clear voice for each of the characters. The acting is, largely, the result of excellent casting combined with exceptional direction. Simply put, the casting was extraordinary and the directors understood how to get the best out of these talented individuals.
Tracie Thoms is energetic and flinty as Mahandra and she has great chemistry with Lee Pace, who plays Aaron. William Sadler and Diana Scarwid, similarly have great balance as actors which enables their characters to play off one another quite well. Katie Finneran is brilliant as Sharon. She exhibits an extraordinary sense of timing, being funny, being touching and playing each with such sincerity as to make her character feel quite real.
Tyron Leitso is given similar acting challenges, based mostly off playing off the show's lead. Leitso makes his character work by playing confused and oblivious with a strong sense of underriding goodness. So, while Jaye is an inactive person forced into action, Leitso plays Eric as a man who clearly was once functional and good who has ended up broken by loss and hurt and desirous of a fresh start. That whole layer of subtext is provided by Leitso's performance. And it helps that he has phenomenal on-screen chemistry with Caroline Dhavernas.
Caroline Dhavernas rules Wonderfalls. She is an impressive young actress, who is funny, quirky, and passionate. She plays her serious scenes with clarity and in one of the late episodes as she cries over one of the other characters, she is heart wrenching. And when she's funny, she's funny. Dhavernas has great timing, wonderful screen presence and it's hard to deny that she's very easy to watch.
Unfortunately, there is a formulaic evolution to several of the episodes and given how short the series is, that is accented somewhat in this boxed set.
All in all, Wonderfalls is a great show killed well before its prime. Hearing the commentary tracks with where the show was going (they knew up through the third season!) it's sad to see this show was never realized fully. What exists here, though, is a body of work its easy for the creators to be proud of. The show is smart, funny, and compelling. It is a must own for anyone who likes fast dialog, smart characters and a clever concept. People who want television spoon fed to them are probably the only people who won't like this show. And fans of TGIF.
For other, different, television on DVD, please check out my reviews of:
The Big Bang Theory - Season 3
V - The Complete First Season
For other television series reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2010, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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