Wonderfalls

I just finished watching the last episode of the TV show, Wonderfalls, which has been playing on LOGO for quite some time now. I’ve been completely enamored of the show ever since I discovered it airing, but I didn’t want to write up anything until I had seen the entire run. You know, some shows peter out after awhile and I didn’t want to sing its praises prematurely. Since it was cancelled by Fox after 13 episodes, I didn’t have to wait too long to contribute my paean.

Now that I’ve seen the whole thing, I’d like to sing its praises. Loud and to everyone. This show is simply the best show I’ve ever come across. Bar none. There you go.

Okay, there’s some people that aren’t going to cotton to such a bold statement. What about Firefly, what about Star Trek: The Next Generation, what about Get a Life!, and so on. All good shows; heck, all great shows. But one shows got to be the best and I think you couldn’t go wrong with Wonderfalls.

Now that I have your attention, allow me to attempt to explain its plot. The show centers around Jaye Tyler, played adroitly by Caroline Dhavernas, a twenty-something who works at a Niagra Falls gift shop as a cashier and lives in a trailer park. She’s got a philosophy degree from Brown, but she’s something of a slacker. Everything’s nice and boring, which she wants, until one day a deformed wax lion from one of those machines present at nearly all tourist traps tells her to return a quarter that a lady dropped. She complies—after questioning her sanity—and a chain of events takes place as a result of her action. This convinces her that something odd is afoot.

After being commanded to do several more things by other inanimate animal figures, she starts to believe she’s going crazy. Each thing she does at their behest ends up being exciting and unexpected. She tries to resist their urging at one point but relents after they drone a stereophonic version of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” She gives up any resistance after that and rarely questions the wisdom of their requests throughout the series.

There’s a variety of subplots that play out over the course of the series, but I couldn’t possibly do them justice. Suffice it to say that they do not detract one bit from the main plot line, which is artfully developed across the entire set of 13 episodes. The theme, if I had to pin it down, is that you should accept your destiny because it might lead you to something worthwhile that you’d never considered before. Okay, that’s a horrible theme—on account of there being no destiny—but it’s very well developed and presented. One could probably also make a convincing case that the animals’ talking is actually Jaye’s subconscious but that could just be reading into things.

The most amazing aspect of the show is the character development. There’s seven main characters and several regular ones. As the show progresses, you can really identify and empathize with the characters. In fact, I found myself predicting what a given character might do or how he might react to a situation. Further, their personalities are very nuanced and complex: Jaye and Eric, her romantic interest, for example, are individually complex and their relationship is fascinating to watch grow. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never encountered a show that had such a rich story and backstory.

It’s a shame that Fox cancelled the show when it did but I’m glad that I was able to see it this way instead of being restricted to the four episodes that they actually ran out of order. I would heartily recommend this show to anyone that likes intelligent comedy and interesting psychologies.

[UPDATE (1/17/2006): I just finished watching the entire series again—I bought the DVD set for Christmas—and I now think it’s even better than I remember. Watching a series sequentially instead of disjointedly allows one to appreciate the character development much better. Watching episodes with subtitles allows one to catch the very subtle and witty dialogue. My next viewing will be with commentary so I can get the full Wonderfalls experience. Sadly, I don’t see this coming to the big screen à la Firefly.]

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