Wonderfalls (2004)

This show is known to many, but there may still be people out there who have never heard of it, so I’ll include it in my blog.

Wonderfalls belongs to a surprisingly large fraternity of TV shows that have two things in common:
1) they were intelligent, fresh, entertaining, and critically acclaimed.
2) they were inexplicably cancelled by FOX (Firefly, anyone?).
That “Cancelled by Fox” has over the past decade become something of a badge of honour speaks volumes about the hapless and shambolic programming decisions of that network.

Of Wonderfalls there are therefore only 13 sixty-minute episodes in existence. And yet, the show does not end on a stark cliff-hanger, but signals partial closure for our protagonist.

The young female protagonist, Jaye, is a graduate without prospect and with even less ambition. She works in a dead-end job in a Niagara Falls souvenir-shop and lives in a trailer. And she is pretty much happy with that. Who is not happy, however, is her family, especially her mother, who has higher hopes for her. Her brother thankfully mostly leaves her alone, but the constant nagging of her mother (author), father (doctor), and sister (lawyer) – all highly successful – is the real bane of Jaye’s existence. Until, that is, the day that everything starts to go wrong: inanimate objects start talking to her, and only to her. And they challenge her in a consistently cryptic manner to fulfil certain tasks, mostly aimed at helping others. Although Jaye is not sure whether she is slowly going crazy or not, she (mostly) follows those orders.

It is Jaye’s character, the young female who does not really know what do with her life, and who is slightly cynical, grumpy and world-weary, that lead many people to compare Wonderfalls to shows like My So-Called Life, etc. And it is the mildly supernatural aspect within an entirely “natural” world, which has led to comparisons with Pushing Daisies, etc.

Refreshingly, there is no “mythology” to Jaye’s weird “episodes”, no supernatural back-story that is explained, no ancient witchcraft that is hinted at. There is no attempt to explain or justify what is happening – it just happens. It is reminiscent of Groundhog Day, where there is equally no attempt made at providing any kind of supernatural or scientific explanation of what is happening. Because it is unnecessary and because it would destroy the flow of the narrative.

Although more a comedy-drama series, and definitely not a sitcom, Wonderfalls is consistently funny throughout. The show’s even tone is one of its strengths, which include great writing and great performances by the whole cast.

Jaye is played by Caroline Dhavernas, who does a fantastic job. Each and every one of Jaye’s friends and relatives is portrayed perfectly, including her highly strung mother and sister, played by Diana Scarwid and Katie Finneran. Neil Grayston is great as Jaye’s obnoxious co-worker; and there are memorable guest appearances by a whole army of great actors, including Rue McClanahan, Jewel Staite, and Chelan Simmons.
The person I want to give special mention to here is William Sadler, who plays Jaye’s father. Not only does he a fantastic job in this role, it is also great and refreshing to see him play a warm-hearted, caring, and mild-mannered man. He seems to get usually cast exclusively in villainous or at least cold-hearted roles, so it must have been a nice change for him as well.

I will (again) use the high ratings on imdb as testimony to support my recommendation of this show. And Wonderfalls is not only funny and entertaining, it also has a significant “feel-good” factor.

Wonderfalls is available in Region 1 as well as in Region 2 DVD sets.

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