Wonderfalls
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Wonderfalls: The Complete Series

It seems that this situation is happening all too frequently in the last few years. I notice a series on television; get drawn in by the excellence in writing, direction, and acting, and the studios pull it just as the show begins to pick up momentum. The list of these series, killed off long before their time is unfortunately increasing. Among the dead are Carnivale, Deadwood, Freak & Geeks, Dead Like Me and now Wonderfalls. While most of the series listed managed to last at least a season or two before being pulled Wonderfalls lasted on the Fox network a mere four episodes. Thankfully, thirteen episodes were made, so the DVD of this incredibly imaginative series can go far beyond what the networks allowed. Perhaps the saddest note for Wonderfalls is the replacement was the ‘reality’ series, ‘the Swan.' It is a heartrending comment on the American public when they embrace a series of extreme makeovers instead of one with the actual talent involved. The fact is these so-called reality series are cheap, and the executives on most networks care more about the financial bottom line than providing quality programming. I hate to get on a Lewis Black like a rant, but I now have a whole bookcase full of DVDs containing television series that never received a chance to shine. Ultimately, the laugh is one the studio executives as more of us turn to our DVD collections instead of tuning in night after night to watch the sorry excuse for television they provide.

Jaye Tyler (Caroline Dhavernas) is a pretty, intelligent young woman. She is a recent graduate of the esteemed Brown University where she graduated with a degree in philosophy. Unfortunately, Jaye is not what we would call a highly-motivated person. In fact, most would call her a slacker. Typical of Generation Y she is bright but just lacks direction. She winds up taking a dead-end job working for a low-end gift shop, Wonderfalls, located in Niagara Falls. Among the various items on sale are a bunch of animal figures. You know the type; little playthings you buy for people you don’t want to get a gift. The only thing is these usually inanimate objects have the habit of speaking to Jaye. They give her advice and suggest things that must be done. As if talking figurines are not enough for our heroine she also must contend with her oddball family. There dad, Dr. Darrin Tyler (William Sadler) and her novelist mom, Karen (Diana Scarwid). They gave their daughter the best possible education only to watch as Jaye waste her life. There is also her brother, Aaron (Lee Pace) who is a perpetual post-grad student with a cerebral mindset but like his sister little direction in life. Jaye also has a sister, Sharon (Katie Finneran) who is single and also looking for something in life including her sexual orientation. Jaye does have some grounding in her strange world. Her best friend, Mahandra McGinty (Mahandra McGinty) is always there for Jaye, ready to tell her to stop acting crazy. There is also the bartender at the local restaurant/pub, Eric Gotts (Tyron Leitso) who if the series given half a chance might have wound up as a love interest for Jaye. Thankfully, some of this new relationship shown in the originally unaired episodes.

In the first episode, Jaye’s day is an awful as usual. A disgruntled customer complains that the lion that dropped out of the store’s wax toy machine was damaged. As the wax lion sits on the counter next to Jaye, it begins to speak to her, giving unwanted advice. It wants Jaye to help a stranger. She is pushed to chasing a runaway quarter and returns a lost pocketbook to a woman who thanks, Jaye with a punch in the face. In another episode, Jaye winds up getting a girl a job at Wonderfalls only to go from training her to becoming her role model. Bianca (Sarah Drew), better known as Binky, takes infatuation over the line when she starts to look and act like Jaye. For Jaye this is terrible, someone is stealing her life Jaye herself is not even sure about what that life is. In each episode, Jaye’s ‘muses’ just hint at what has to be done, It is part of her character development to figure out just what should be done and how. At the center of each story is the concept of causality. Jaye is given some instruction that she typically misunderstands. While trying to accomplish this, she initiates an innocent event such as a coin rolling down the street, or a broken car tail light leads to other incidents. Each one cascades to another until the true goal is achieved. Besides the theme of causality, one event resulting in a chain reaction, there is the overall effect on Jaye. She is not a catalyst for these developments. Each one brings her closer to others, especially Eric and her family. Jaye started out a complete misanthrope but slowly begins to care about others.

The series comes from the creative mind of Todd Holland. He appears to have drawn upon a couple of other series he worked on, ‘My So-Called Life’ and ‘Twin Peaks.' If you take Life’s Angela and stuck her in the Peaks, you would have someone that Jaye could relate. Executive producer Bryan Fuller also had a lot of creative impacts here. His last series, ‘Dead Like Me’ also was concerned with a slacker girl that has to learn to cope with something beyond ordinary experience and grow from it. Hopefully, Singer’s current contribution to intelligent television, ‘Heroes,' will fare better. On the uppermost level of this series, it is perfect for Generation Y. I have a daughter this age, and I see the dissatisfaction that those of her age group encounter. Like Jaye, most are well educated but all this education has taught them seems to be ‘what is the point.' For those with a few more decades under our belts, this series examines how we all need a little help now and then. Everyone in the audience is certain to identify with Jaye and her quest to understand the ultimate question, why?

It seems that almost every film or television series I review the best performance is provided by a Canadian. This is certainly the case with the lead actress here, Caroline Dhavernas. Hailing from Montréal, she is a person of unique ability, as undoubtedly her visa states. This actress may be petite is size, but her talent is immense. She nails the role of Jaye with an emotional performance that kept me watching. Normally, the function of the best friend is a minor one, but Mahandra McGinty has turned it into a joy to watch. She has a natural comic talent who knows how to deliver her role in a natural fashion.

When Fox dropped the ball with the cult classic ‘Firefly’ at least, they made some amends with the DVD box set. Once again, the mea culpa comes too late to save Wonderfalls, but at least we have all thirteen episodes. Most recently the series had a post-holiday marathon on the LOGO network. Yes, the network dedicated to gay and lesbian programming has outdone the staunchly conservative Fox in realizing the worth of this series. The technical specifications here are excellent. Fox has given us more here on the DVD then they did in the first run. The video is an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer. It is crisp, clear and possesses excellent color balance. The audio is presented in a full-bodied Dolby 5.1. Technically, most of the set can be considered an extra. The nine episodes unaired by Fox are all here in the correct presentation order. There is also a making-of documentary, and many episodes have a crew commentary. These commentaries are fun to listen. The cast and crew recall the technical details of the episodes as well as some of the behind the scenes fooling around. There is a better sweet aspect to some of the commentaries, especially the one for the last episode. They all knew that this was worthwhile series that the network canceled before it had a chance to catch on. In the last commentary cast and crew join in for a really bad but playful sing along with the theme song. There is also a music video of the theme song, "I Wonder Why the Wonder Falls" by Andy Partridge. Instead of watching someone trying to become the next top model or get some cash by eating pig rectums try something different, something that actual has talent.

Posted 12/26/06            04/20/2017

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