There is a timeless irreverent quality to Brian Fuller’s Wonderfalls. The series hits all the right notes, making us feel and wonder in equal measure, with eccentric and relatable characters suffering a number of real problems.
Sadly, the series was cancelled after only four episodes (which were aired out of the intended order and at different times and days). The full series of 13 episodes went on to appear on cable channel Logo in the US and Sky1 in the UK before being released on DVD. Is anyone surprised to know it was the same network that screwed the pooch with series like Firefly and Enlisted – yep, it was FOX. Honestly, why does anyone bother working with them anymore?
Despite a devoted and still active (after ten years!) fan community, I had never even heard of Wonderfalls before joining tumblr, where the series began popping up all over my dashboard. Eventually I did what anyone of my generation would do – I googled it. The premise of the show sounded completely mad and it featured several actors I’m already big fans of: Lee Pace (who blew me away in Guardians of the Galaxy), Joss Whedon favourite Jewel Staite, and one of my favourites from Eureka, Neil Grayston. So, I decided to track down a copy of the series.
Even though the show was cancelled and there are only 13 episodes in its full run, the final episode, ‘Caged Bird’ does give viewers some kind of closure, making for a nice stand-alone series. If you think of it going in as a mini-series, you might not feel so heartbroken when it’s all over. The series makes for excellent binge watching. Trust me, once you start, you’ll find yourself racing to the end and wishing it would go on forever.
Jaye Tyler (Caroline Dhavernas) is like many of us at 24 – a university graduate not using her degree at all, and instead wasting away at a tourist retail shop in Niagra Falls, New York. While at work one day, a deformed wax lion speaks to her.
From then on, Jaye finds herself receiving cryptic orders from various inanimate animals (statues, stuffed and mounted fish, stuffed animals, animal company logos, knitted animals on jumpers, and so on). The animals’ instruction often lead Jaye into the path of others in need, while confusing and worrying those who care about her. At first, Jaye rails against what she believes are clear signs that she’s losing her ming, but eventually she resigns herself to being ‘fate’s bitch’.
Her often overbearing but well-meaning parents (William Sadler and Diana Scarwid) try to help Jaye find her path in life while her siblings (Lee Pace and Katie Finneran) and best friend (Tracie Thoms) struggle to help Jaye without getting pulled into her crazy themselves.
New to Niagra Falls is bartender Eric (Tyron Leitso). He came to the city on his honeymoon only to walk in on his wife (Jewel Staite) giving the hotel bellman a blowjob. In the process of trying to heal his own heart, he gets tangle up in Jaye’s, leading to an intense will-they-won’t-they tale.
Why you should (binge) watch Wonderfalls
Wonderfalls has a lot going for it: dramedy, brilliant protagonist, fantastic character relationships, and an endearing quirkiness.
The trouble with many TV shows is that they are either one thing or another – either too serious or straight up comedy. I’m not saying that I have a problem with drama or comedy, but sometimes drama is too intense after a hard day at work, while pure comedy doesn’t allow for the same amount of emotional investment in the characters (or character growth). Wonderfalls, on the other hand, has a perfect balance of the two, with a good measure of philosophical life wisdom thrown in for good measure.
Jaye’s ennui is so completely relatable, especially for that early twenties time in our lives, that she is instantly both likable, flawed, and a little tragic. Her cynical, caustic approach to life is refreshing in a female protagonist in television, especially when she brushes off the advances of a (very cute) boy in favour of figuring out/looking after her mental state. Her character growth over the series feels very realistic (despite the unusual/fantastical circumstances she is thrown into), with a fraught, indecisive relationship with almost everything around her, especially the ‘voices’ talking to her. While it is obvious that the show’s creators are going the route of ‘the chosen one’, Jaye never appears in any danger of developing an infuriating hero complex.
The relationships in the series are what make it exceptional viewing. The family somehow manages to be both dysfunctional and functional. They are good people, trying to do their best, while often being led astray or going about it in the wrong way. The sibling relationships switch between rivalries and exasperation with each other to caring and supportive, as real siblings will do.
Meanwhile, Jaye’s relationship with Eric is refreshing for a love interest/almost will-they-won’t-they (they most definitely will…) storyline. Their attraction is immediately evident and not denied by either of them (though Jaye does initially brush off Eric’s advances). The fact that they both acknowledge their baggage and wait before getting together helps the audience to be right there with them when it finally happens and yet unsurprised when things quickly turn south. Both of them are flawed, with heavy baggage, and it is obvious to everyone (bar themselves) that they would be good for each other.
The wacky premise of having Jaye’s actions dictated to her by talking inanimate animals is exactly the kind of mad hat stuff that does so well in the ‘cult’ fan base. How many of us have felt we were going crazy at one point or another? Ok, so Jaye’s psychosis is a little more extreme than most, but the idea that something completely bizarre like that could happen to her without her being crazy, is a fun idea. Thankfully, the show doesn’t try to go into something too religious, actually taking the opposite approach with her brother Aaron holding a PhD in comparative religion and being a staunch atheist. He is truly confused by Jaye’s experiences and comes to something of an existential crisis about the entire thing.
If you do track down a copy of the series, make sure you watch it in the correct order (aka the order the episodes were intended to be seen and not the order they were aired in). The correct order is as follows:
- Wax Lion
- Pink Flamingos
- Karma Chameleon
- Wound-up Penguin
- Crime Dog
- Muffin Buffalo
- Barrel Bear
- Lovesick Ass
- Safety Canary
- Lying Pig
- Cocktail Bunny
- Totem Mole
- Caged Bird