How many of you out there have seen the TV show Wonderfalls
? Show of hands. Anybody? How about just heard of it? No?
I'm not really surprised.
I only heard about Wonderfalls
in passing, usually in some online discussion about how Fox manages to cancel great shows before they can even get on their feet. Firefly
got most of its first season before it saw the axe. Wonderfalls
aired four episodes. Fortunately, all thirteen of the show's produced episodes are available on DVD, and so I was able to check them out.
I'll admit, the premise is a tough sell. Twenty-something underachiever Jaye Tyler prefers to put her most apathetic face to the world, but when various animals start talking to her she is compelled to break out of her shell and help people. Oh, and did I mention? These aren't your typical zoo-dwelling animals. Think more the tacky-souvenir-at-a-Niagara-Falls-gift-shop variety.
A typical episode will go like this: Jaye finds herself in an uncomfortable or unusual situation. She's ready to close her eyes and go her own way when the animal of the day speaks up and gives her some enigmatic instruction that only she can hear. One way or another she ends up doing what the animal says, hijinks ensue, and somehow it all works out in some way that no one—least of all Jaye—expects.
Here's the thing: the animals don't matter. Oh, sure, they matter
, in the sense that they're what make the show unique, but they don't
matter because the show isn't about
them. It's about Jaye and the journey that she needs to make. The animals are just there because she'll never take the first step without some impossible external force to pack her bags for her and boot her out the door. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
Jaye isn't a very likable person, or at least she tries not to be. The actress who plays her, Caroline Dhavernas, was impeccably cast: she's cute, sure, but she doesn't come across as the classical Hollywood beauty. Her words, her attitude, even her facial expressions—everything is designed to drive people away. And yet it's evident, from the very first episode, that in many ways Jaye is a very broken and lonely soul. And so, despite everything she does, you can't help but love her.
And that's where the appeal of the show is. The plots from episode to episode may be outrageously over the top, ranging from the unlikely to the absurd, but the people
and the relationships
that grow over the course of the season are very real. The other characters—Jaye's family, dysfunctional in its own loving way, her friend Mahandra, and Eric, her latent love interest—each have a key place in the misadventure that is Jaye's life.
Of course, Wonderfalls
isn't a perfect show. A couple episodes just fall flat—but then, that's going to be true of any TV show. It's a comedy, and most of the humor is well executed—none better than Jaye's unparalleled snark—but it has its share of crass jokes too, and I might wince even if I'm laughing at the same time. The characterization of Jaye sets the bar pretty high, and I can't say that the rest of the ensemble ever quite equals it, though they do certainly grow over the course of the season. But overall, in my opinion, the faults are far outweighed by the places where the show shines.
And here's the best part: if you watch the thirteen episodes on the DVDs, you're getting a complete story. Unlike Firefly
, which was cut short with numerous plot threads hanging, Wonderfalls
ties up into a very satisfying ending. I'm sure it could have done great things with a second season, but if a first is all I get, I can be very happy with just that.