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Wonderfalls: The Complete Viewer Collection DVD Review

Wonderfalls: The Complete Viewer Collection

August 15, 2005

Director: Todd Holland, Allan Kroeker, Peter Lauer, Michael Lehmann, Peter O'Fallon, Jeremy Podeswa,
Starring: Caroline Dhavernas, Katie Finneran, William Sadler, Diana Scarwid, Tyron Leitso, Tracie Thoms, Lee Pace, Neil Grayston, Jewel Staite, Scotch Ellis Loring, ,

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DVD Review

They say that the good die young and this certainly is true of network television. It used to be that a show was given time to find its audience. Cheers had poor ratings its first season but gradually developed an audience and became the beloved classic that we all know and love. Nowadays, if shows don’t get good ratings in the first couple of episodes sometimes they don’t even last a full season. Case in point: Wonderfalls (2004), an off-beat show that aired on Fox for only four episodes before being cancelled by the network despite overwhelmingly positive reviews. Now, this show has a chance to develop on its small cult following as the four episodes and nine that never saw the light of day are available on DVD.

Jaye (Dhavernas) is a cynical young woman who works in a tourist shop called Wonderfalls on the U.S. side of Niagara Falls. She lives in a trailer even though she graduated from Brown University. She represents a disaffected generation overly educated and yet with zero substantial job prospects or the desire to go after one. After almost choking to death and bouncing a coin off a statue of the legendary Maid of the Mist, she has a cheap wax lion talk to her and give advice. Pretty soon other inanimate objects start speaking to her, providing cryptic clues that are actually instructions to help others. Is she going crazy or is this some kind of higher calling? Understandably irked and then visibly annoyed at having animated objects talking to her, Jaye gives in and listens to what they have to say.

If this premise sounds vaguely familiar it should be as it resembles Joan of Arcadia, the show where a teenager girl speaks to God through various incarnations and is told to perform good deeds. Joan is a Gen-Y show written for Baby Boomers and mass appeal while Wonderfalls was written for and about Gen-Yers. It’s as if Joan of Arcadia was directed by Joss Whedon.

Right from the pilot episode it becomes obvious that this is a cleverly written show bursting with ideas and exists in a genre that defies specifics. It’s not a drama and not a full-out comedy either. Wonderfalls is as much of a novelty as the red wax lion that talks to Jaye. It is fiercely quirky in the best sense of this overused word. The show is set in Niagara Falls, a novel choice (can you think of another show set there?) that sets it apart and feeds into the off-kilter vibe by providing a wealth of oddball characters for Jaye to interact with. Other episodes deal with her helping a nun renew her faith and Jaye suffering from a lack of identity after her life is reduced to five words in a blurb in the back of her mom’s new book but finds her identity being stolen by a stuttering girl.

Jaye’s sometimes snooty but well-meaning affluent family doesn’t understand her. As her best friend says at one point, “Disappointing your family is an extreme sport to you.” Her family is deeply dysfunctional, much like the one in that other quirky Fox comedy, Arrested Development, but with a more fantastical spin. The objects that talk to Jaye are subtly animated. They work surprisingly well considering the limits of the budget for a TV show.

Special Features:

All the discs feature audio commentaries on select episodes with Caroline Dhavernas, Katie Finneran, and co-creators Todd Holland and Bryan Fuller. Everyone recounts production anecdotes and talk at length about the things that the network did not like and wanted to change (and probably resulted in their cancellation) because they didn’t understand or didn’t like it.

The first disc also includes “Greetings from Wonderfalls,” a nice little making of featurette. Todd Holland and Bryan Fuller talk about how they met and thought up the idea for the show. One gets the impression that from the get-go there was resistance from the network as they didn’t even like the title of the show. It’s a little sad when you hear about all the fantastic ideas the creators had for future seasons that will never be realized.

The second disc includes a “Fantastical Visual Effects” featurette that takes a brief look at the effects that animate the tacky objects that talk to Jaye in every episode.

Finally, there is a music video featuring the bouncy, whimsical and insanely catchy theme music by Andy Partridge and includes clips from the show mixed with the cast hamming it up.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 90%

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