Created by Bryan Fuller and Todd Holland

Written by Bryan Fuller, Todd Holland, Tim Minear, Liz W Garcia, Krista Vernoff and others

Starring Caroline Dhavernas, Tracie Thoms, Tyron Leitso, Katie Finneran, Lee Pace, Diana Scarwid, William Sadler, Neil Grayston, Jewel Staite and Kari Matchett

“Just look at them. They all work really hard every day and they’re dissatisfied. I mean, I can be dissatisfied without hardly working at all.”

Jaye Tyler (Caroline Dhavernas) is a highly intelligent graduate of Brown University whose cynical view of life leads her to choose a path of least expectation, taking a dead end job in a souvenir shop next to Niagara Falls. While her older siblings Sharon (Katie Finneran) and Aaron (Lee Pace) still live at home, Jaye chooses to live in a trailer park, away from her parents. Her best friend Mahandra McGinty (Tracie Thoms) works in a local restaurant, and Eric Gotts (Tyron Leitso), who she falls in love with, ends up working behind the bar when his new marriage to Heidi (Jewel Staite) crumbles during their honeymoon. Jaye’s life become complicated and begins to take unexpected turns when inanimate objects start giving her instructions to help people around her, often people she doesn’t know or doesn’t like.

The basic premise of ‘Wonderfalls’ is noticeably similar to the slightly earlier and superior ‘Joan of Arcadia’, although without the religious overtone (Joan’s instructions come directly from God, while here there is no hint of divine intervention). There were even plans, had the show survived, to have Jaye sent for psychiatric evaluation and be diagnosed as suffering from “Joan of Arc Syndrome”, something explored in ‘Joan of Arcadia’ at the end of the first season.

‘Wonderfalls’ premiered on the Fox network in America on 12 March 2004, although it was originally intended to have premiered much earlier, at the start of the “fall” season in 2003. It survived for just four episodes before being cancelled by a network that seemed to be particularly trigger-happy at that time, although it does seem that the nature of American television means that most shows are condemned to an early death. A total of 13 episodes had been made and these were released on DVD in 2005.

Bryan Fuller, who co-created the show, first made a breakthrough writing episodes of ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’ and ‘Star Trek: Voyager’. He had previously created the acclaimed ‘Dead Like Me’, a show that ran for two seasons on Showtime before being cancelled. Todd Holland was previously associated with shows like ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ and ‘The Larry Sanders Show’. Tim Minear, the third executive producer, but not one of the creators of the show, had previously worked with Joss Whedon on ‘Angel’ and ‘Firefly’ – but not on Whedon’s signature show, ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’.

‘Wonderfalls’ is not as good as the wonderful ‘Dead Like Me’ and, as I have already mentioned, I do not think it is as good as ‘Joan of Arcadia’. I enjoyed watching it very much and I will watch it again, but it never quite managed to grip me the same way as my favourite American television shows of recent years, be it something like ‘Buffy’ or ‘Point Pleasant’. Equally, I am not sure I enjoyed it as much as shows like ‘Cold Case’, which I am happy to catch as and when, without becoming dedicated to watching them come what may.

The cast is very good. Some of the actors I was already familiar with, others were new to me. I had not previously come across the French-Canadian actress Caroline Dhavernas. Her performance is interesting. Jaye is a slightly brittle character, not particularly sympathetic, and Dhavernas certainly doesn’t seem to be doing anything to add warmth to her. In fact, the Tyler family in general, including the parents, Karin (Diana Scarwid) and Darrin (William Sadler), are not especially likeable, although I am rather fond of the constantly neurotic and put-upon Sharon, the lesbian lawyer older sister.

Most of the episodes are very good, although I don’t recall any that were exceptional – episodes that really stood out and made me take notice. On the other hand, one, ‘Totem Mole’, the penultimate episode, was noticeably disappointing. Despite some nice touches, I thought it was very trite. It was also one of the episodes that reminded me most of ‘Northern Exposure’, a show that ‘Wonderfalls’ in general put me in mind of.

Although it may not seem to be of any great importance, the most disappointing thing about ‘Wonderfalls’ proved to be the various objects that talked to Jaye. They had a purpose and I suppose they fulfilled that purpose, but there was nothing appealing or interesting about any of them. Instead of drawing me into the fantasy aspect of the show, they did the exact opposite, pulling me out of the story.

In the end, I would recommend the show, with a few minor reservations, to anyone who thinks the premise sounds interesting.

Bryan Fuller later worked on ‘Heroes’ and subsequently created ‘Pushing Daisies’, a show that has gone into a second season as I write this. Lee Pace, who plays Jaye’s brother in ‘Wonderfalls’, has the lead role in this new Bryan Fuller show.


whitelabcoat said...

I'd heard a lot of good things about this show, so checked it out. I'd agree with just about everything you have to say, although a second viewing (which I didn't expect to undertake, but nonetheless did) seemed to show the parents a little warmer than I'd remembered. The animals are probably the most annoying thing about it - whereas JofA's God-encounters were pretty consistently entertaining, I found myself groaning every time one of the modelled/stuffed/animated beasts drew a breath. The cast, I think, is probably its strongest point - I particularly liked Diana Scarwid, whom I hadn't seen in anything for ages; and Tracie Thoms was great. Sharon, however, is probably my favourite character - possibly the most likeable member of the family, and probably helped by a terrific performance from Katie Finneran (who I might have a soft spot for, since Poppy remains one of my all-time favourite guest characters on Frasier). Jewel Staite was a bit disappointing - I'm sure they could have done something better with the character, but, as it was, she comes across as a little bland. Overall, I think the show's maybe a tad too 'quirky' for me to get really invested in it (the same goes for Pushing Daisies, which I wanted to like, but found a bit grating), but it deserved better than its short-lived fate (I had no idea they'd shown only four episodes).

alienlanes said...

Oddly enough, or perhaps not so surprising, really, ever since I finished watching the series I have found myself missing it. I agree it deserved better than the quick deathblow it was dealt. I am half-planning to watch the episodes again. If I do, it will be interesting to find out if I enjoy them more, less, or whatever.

We are in agreement about Sharon. I also agree with you that Tracie Thoms was great in the role of Mahandra. I knew Thoms already from ‘Cold Case’, which might have made me slightly biased towards her. I also agree about Jewel Staite. Heidi proved to be a bit of a non-character in the end when, clearly, so much more could have been done with her, even in the limited screen time available. In some ways, Staite got to play a character of much more substance in a one-episode role in Bryan Fuller’s earlier show ‘Dead Like Me’.

I would have liked to see more of Kari Matchett as Beth, partly, of course, because I am a big fan of Matchett, but also because I think a lot more could have been done with the relationship between Sharon and Beth. It was a bit of a wasted opportunity.