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A Casual TV Fan's Guide

Wonderfalls: The Complete Viewer Collection, part two
Rated: TV-PG :: Air dates: 2004

By Dan Toland
09 October 2008 What we have here is the dictionary definition of a cult show. Nobody watched this. Well, that's not strictly true. A few people did. And the ones who did started "Save Wonderfalls" websites about 20 minutes into the first episode. This is one of those shows, like Firefly, where you can cut through the press kit bullshit and tell that everyone involved really dug the show and was upset when it ended. Some of the most notable contributors to the "Save Wonderfalls" forums were, in fact, cast members and production crew.

Most of the very small number of people who watched this loved it; however, the first few episodes were aggressively quirky and somewhat abrasive in parts, and some people were immediately turned off. One notable website that had a visceral negative reaction to Wonderfalls was a pre-"we're owned by NBC" Television Without Pity, which at the time was a very influential arbiter of what was worth watching. And while I disagree vehemently with most of their qualms, I can understand why they felt them, and as the episodes we're gonna look at this week progress, this show really finds its voice and the oddness is dialed down considerably. And, in fact, Jaye really begins to grow as a character.

Disc Two (continued)
Barrel Bear
Writers: Tim Minear and Bryan Fuller
Guest starring: Rue McClanahan as Millie Marcus, Louise Fletcher as Vivian Caldwell

The Plot: There's an old lady (Louise Fletcher, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) who was the first American woman to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, and another old lady (Rue McClanahan, The Golden Girls) who took credit for it. They fight. Jaye is on Nurse Ratched's side, Mahandra's with Blanche.

Good Stuff: This is the first time Tracie Thoms (Cold Case, Death Proof) has really had anything to do as Jaye's best friend Mahandra. Until now, I really had no use for this character. She's actually pretty funny.

I said it last week and I'll say it again this week: Katie Finneran absolutely steals every scene she's in.

Tyron Leitso is kinda bland, and may one day be able to grow an actual beard, but he's likable and gets a lot of good lines here.

Not So Good Stuff: Did you read the plot?

There's a scene where Jaye is driving on a dirt road arguing with Nurse Ratched about the direction her life is going in. Ratched says Jaye's stuck and going nowhere, leading to "I'm not stuck!" "You're stuck!" "I'm not stuck!" back and forth a few times. When this happened, a neighborhood dog wandered into my office, watched this scene and then turned to me and said in straightforward, perfect English, "That truck is going to hit a mud pit and get stuck." The dog wasn't wrong.

Random Observations: The incidental music in this one is incredibly 90s. (Not that I'm complaining.)

The pilot had this thing where people threw giant quarters into a wishing well, reflecting the sun directly into Jaye's eyes. This somehow led to Jaye doing what she needed to do. That was totally ignored after the pilot until now. Blanche opens thing up by searing Jaye's retinas with a quarter toss. (I assume the script by Fuller, who wrote the pilot, has something to do with that.)

Overall: I was really not looking forward to this one. I remembered the totally hammer-headed plot. However, the script is clever, the guest cast is excellent (an Oscar, an Emmy and a Golden Globe between the two of them) and some of the lesser-used regulars have something to do as well: 7.5 out of 10.

Lovesick Ass
Writers: Dan E. Fesman and Harry Victor

The Plot: Jaye helps a Russian mail order bride when it turns out her new husband is 13 years old.

Good Stuff: Mahandra makes the brass monkey and the wax lion kiss. They don't enjoy it.

Jaye yells at the lovesick ass (basically a stuffed Eeyore with a little heart sewn on it), and his eyes quiver for a second like he's trying not to cry. The animators went all-out in giving these animals a lot of personality.

Spencer Breslin (The Kid, The Cat in the Hat) is a riot as Peter, the little kid with the soul of a 45 year old who bought himself a wife. ("If only I had cashed in a bond and not used my dad's credit card, I'd be married now instead of grounded!") At the time, he was an up-and-coming child actor. Today, he's mostly famous for being Abigail Breslin's older brother.

Finally they're doing something with the Jaye / Eric relationship.

Not So Good Stuff: It's shorts-and-flip-flops hot in the trailer park, but cool enough for jackets at the store?

There are far too many "little Peter" jokes. The first one wasn't funny and the fifth certainly wasn't any cleverer.

I call bullshit. No way does a kid know how to drive a stick.

Random Observations: It's actually summer here. Up to now it's been winter or just barely not winter anymore. (The greater Buffalo area is pretty bleak.)

The writing team of Fesman and Victor went on to write for Eureka.

Overall: This is fantastic. A very funny episode that manages to let the guest cast do most of the heavy lifting while progressing the romantic subplot after eight weeks of no movement at all: 9 out of 10.

Okay, so that takes us to the end of disc two. Overall, it's pretty strong. "Crime Dog" and "Lovesick Ass" are excellent.

Disc Three
Safety Canary
Writers: Liz W. Garcia and Alexander Woo

The Plot: Jaye is told to "save the lovebirds." As this could apply to herself and Eric, or Eric and his ex-wife, or Sharon and Beth, or a couple of random people at the zoo, or two actual lovebirds, this is not terribly helpful.

Good Stuff: The late Kellie Waymire (Six Feet Under, Enterprise) is adorable as Penelope, the bird lady who, even for a bird lady, is really into birds.

After Jaye and her gang have been caught on security tape stealing birds from the zoo, Sharon goes into lawyer mode: "Hi. I'm Sharon Tyler. I'm an attorney, and I fully understand the magnitude of what's happened here. Review the tape... and you will see that I am not on it. Excuse me. I have someplace else to be."

Aaron, on being told he's not going to be allowed to watch the lovebirds have sex: "But I want to see an engorged cloaca."

Kari Matchett (Invasion, 24, Studio 60) puts in a good performance as Beth, Sharon's lover, who has begun to have about enough of Sharon's endless irrational neediness.

Not So Good Stuff: While it's actually played off really well, Aaron and Mahandra's attraction to each other comes out of nowhere.

Random Observations: Aaron and Mahandra begin a romantic subplot here. Lee Pace and Tracie Thoms, according to the episode's commentary, were classmates at Julliard and very close friends in real life, and the obvious awkwardness and discomfort were quite real.

This episode sees the introduction of Jewel Staite (Firefly, Stargate Atlantis) as Heidi, Eric's estranged wife.

Overall: There's a lot happening, and if the series had lasted this would probably have been a turning point. There are no less than four romantic relationships in various stages. Even without that, this is a good episode; the guest cast is one of the better ones on this series, and it's another one where the siblings get a spotlight shone on them as well. Plus, poo-flinging monkeys: 8.5 out of 10.

Lying Pig
Writers: Krista Vernoff and Abby Gewanter

The Plot: Eric's wife is back in town to repair things, and when the bass on the wall tells Jaye to "mend what was broken" instead of singing Bobby McFerrin like it's supposed to, she has a bit of a meltdown.

Good Stuff: In desperation, Jaye finally sits Aaron down and tells him everything. He's actually really supportive and is at least open to the idea she might not be a lunatic.

In the subplot, Karen makes her inattentive husband jealous by going out with another man. (It's not as hackneyed as it sounds.) Here, Bill "you really want to get your hands off me" Sadler displays that Jaye's not so different from her parents after all.

Jaye, in a cab, in a snit, sees an air freshener in the shape of a Chihuahua. As she yanks it from the mirror and throws it out the window, it screams, "But I didn't say anything!" I had to pause the DVD to rewatch it a couple of times.

Not So Good Stuff: Eric throws a glass at Heidi. I don't care if he missed on purpose and had the shittiest night in human history (which is the excuse he uses), that is wildly out of character.

So, it never occurred to Jaye to not have a bazillion animal things in her trailer? It seriously takes Aaron to say, "Hey, maybe you should get rid of all this stuff"?

Random Observations: Jewel Staite did not play Heidi in the first episode flashbacks to Eric and Heidi's honeymoon; although, to be fair, Heidi was only on screen for about eight seconds there. (Well, the back of her head was on for a little longer.)

Overall: What we have here is an incredibly worthy episode. Every single member of the cast is featured, and they all have something to do. Jaye has been maturing over the course of the series, and as this episode really puts her through the ringer, she comes out as a full-blown, responsible adult. It's called character growth, people, and it gets your episode a 10.

Cocktail Bunny
Writer: Bryan Fuller

The Plot: As Jaye flies completely apart after helping Eric get back together with Heidi, she becomes convinced that the animals are going out of their way to cause her pain when they now demand that she "save him from her" because "she's going to kill him."

Good Stuff: Dhavernas is heartbreaking in the opening scene where she melts the wax lion in her anger and hurt over the outcome of the last episode.

Aaron is very concerned about Jaye. According to Karen, "He's started praying, and you know how he feels about that sort of thing."

After several episodes away, we actually have some scenes in the store.

Todd Holland's direction is outstanding in this. This episode looks fantastic and the pacing is terrific.

The monkey, after fucking with Jaye a little more, finally tells her why the animals are speaking to her. It's a very simple answer, but it actually explains a lot.

Not So Good Stuff: The wax lion scene is very powerful, but Aaron took the lion away from Jaye last week.

Heidi is borderline evil. That's way too easy.

Random Observations: The wonderful Scotch Ellis Loring, who plays Doctor Ron, the psychiatrist Jaye manages to get sent to when she freaks out in the store, is the real-life partner of Wonderfalls creator / director Todd Holland.

I can't imagine this would have made it to air if the series had lasted, but Heidi rubs Eric's crotch in one scene.

Overall: Flowing directly from the previous episode, this is another incredibly strong story with a spectacular turn from Dhavernas. It's not the emotional ride "Lying Pig" was, but it's a truly excellent episode nonetheless: 9.5 out of 10.

Totem Mole
Writers: Harry Victor and Dan Fesman

The Plot: After a totem pole on a Satsuma Reservation wheedles Jaye into entering a tent, she has a conversation with a woman who turns out to be dead. Spooooooky! Anyway, while she tries to convince the dead lady's dorky accountant grandson to be the tribe's next seer, Sharon goes up against a rival from law school, who's now the tribe's mayor or something. I don't know.

Good Stuff: The totem pole (which I guess is supposed to be a mole, but looks like a big lizard-dragon-bear-thing), which is not authentic and was erected for tourists, has a Liverpudlian accent.

Billy Merasty, as a shop owner and town leader, is pretty awesome.

Not So Good Stuff: The old Native American woman in the tent is about as Native American as I am. Which is to say, not very. Or, in fact, at all.

After several episodes of genuine growth and maturation, Jaye is back to being lazy and unwilling to do much of anything.

Have you ever been to a mall where the mall cops were allowed to carry real firearms? Me neither.

Overall: If this had aired three episodes ago, it would have been a lot better. It's very slow to get moving, but once it does, it's amusing. However, as noted, it undoes a lot of the growth Jaye had gone through over the past several shows. It's not a bad episode, though: 7.5 out of 10.

Caged Bird
Writer: Krista Vernoff

The Plot: A bank robber (Glenn Fitzgerald, Dirty Sexy Money) is holding Jaye, Sharon, the Mouth Breather and a security guard hostage at Wonderfalls while Eric, preparing to leave for new Jersey with Heidi, waits to say goodbye to Jaye.

Good Stuff: Although we're meant to sympathize with Jaye, and we do, this episode spells out more than any other that Eric is, in fact, a married man who, although no uglies were bumped, was cheating on his wife with Jaye and doesn't let either of them off the hook for it.

There's a scene of an escape attempt that effectively uses split screens, lighting and music to set the mood. It's pretty exciting.

Darrin and Karen get freaky in the laundry room. "Washer or dryer?" "Washer! Washer!"

The karma chameleon, finally frustrated with Jaye for not being able to pick up on the admittedly extremely vague clues the animals keep feeding her, actually tells her what to do in a totally straightforward manner:

Chameleon: Let him go.
Jaye: I can't! Oh, my God!
Chameleon: Sigh. Look. There's a hidden door in the bathroom. Let him go.

He even rolls his eyes and talks to Jaye like she's a child.

Not So Good Stuff: Nothing, actually. Leitso's performance is a little stiff, but it's no stiffer than it was for the rest of the series.

Random Observations: Creator Bryan Fuller is the voice of the caged bird. And it's actually kinda adorable.

Overall: The series ends with a very good episode that ties most everything up. The Jaye / Eric / Heidi triangle is resolved, as is the Aaron / Mahandra relationship. And in a totally different way, the Jaye / Sharon relationship is as well. Jaye begins to accept the role of the animals in her life, and everyone gets a chance to shine: 8.5 out of 10.

Disc three is phenomenal. There's one episode that doesn't really fit, but the rest of it is essentially one long story that sees Jaye grow from a lazy, self-interested slacker to a fully rounded character.

Final Verdict: While there are great episodes on every disc, disc three is an absolute must-see. If the show hadn't taken as long as it did to get ramped up, it might not have been cancelled so quickly. Of course, Citizen Kane would have been yanked off the air after 14 minutes if it aired on Fox in the Friday Night Death Slot. Seriously, has anything lasted in that slot since X-Files? The Sons of Murdoch claim another victim. Anyway, this is a show that never got any kind of a chance. If it hadn't been so aggressively quirky to start, it might still be on now, but either way, this is absolutely worth your time.

: : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : :

Part One: discs one through two
Part Two: discs two (continued) through three

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