Revisiting Wonderfalls Episodes 1-2: More Timely Now Than Ever

Wonderfalls S01E01 & S01E02: "Wax Lion" & "Pink Flamingoes"

Is it any *ahem* wonder that Fox's Wonderfalls lasted for only a few episodes? Viewfinders, talking inanimate objects, tracheotomies, lesbians, kamikaze shots, and one surly protagonist do not a hit show make. Thankfully, as television's track record proves, "best" shows and "hit" shows don't always run in the same crowd. Wonderfalls never stood a chance at a second season because it made pretzels out of the normal rules of television (it lasted just four episodes on Fox in 2004), but those same twists are what made it one of the most unique shows of the last decade.

The dramedy was created by Todd Holland (Malcolm in the Middle) and Bryan Fuller (Dead Like Me at the time, Pushing Daisies later on), two vets with unique visions that were often eccentric and frantic, and that's certainly evident in Wonderfalls. "Whimsy" is typically a spinning pinwheel in a field of daisies or cupcakes in the shape of old-fashioned bicycles with oversized front tires. And just on the other side of whimsy is where Wonderfalls stands, with one foot planted firmly in a garden of rainbow-eating unicorns and the other in a scary closet full of monsters, mental illness, and day-glo potables. For every nine steps it doodles through the dandelions, it takes a giant stomp on top of them, often traveling to a dark place that few quirky dramedies dare to visit. Wonderfalls is the television equivalent of a kitten with rabies.

The pilot, "Wax Lion," isn't perfect—few are—but it's damn close. The episode is outstanding in the way it conveys the beating, yearning heart of the series by the time it's over, not an easy task. The story darts and dashes with characters full of life, tracking zooms and "whooshes" and a whole lotta zingers before settling into an anti-procedural, a case-of-the-week in which the detective doesn't know she's working a case.

At the center is 24-year-old Jaye Tyler, one of television's greatest lost souls, played with all the facial dexterity of a silent-film actress by the wonderfully expressive Caroline Davhernas, a Canadian actress who is doing none of us Statesiders favors by keeping the bulk of her filmography confined to the Great White North (we'll just pretend Off the Map never happened). What makes Jaye and her voyage so fascinating is that she's reluctantly intertwined with these ideas of fate and destiny that classic storytelling is so hooked on, but the good things that happen because of her actions are limited to everyone else. She often looks like a dope while rearranging the universe to fit a best-possible-outcomes course, getting very little in return except for free shots and batted eyelashes from Eric the bartender. (Whatever happened to Tyron Leitso? And don't say Being Erica because that doesn't count.) Jaye's got the cosmic connection of the kid from Touch and the fortune of Mr. Bean.

The fun part, for me anyway, is how Jaye is pushed into her path. Talking inanimate animal toys? I love talking inanimate animal toys! We don't know if Jaye is a vessel for God, the corporeal tool of the misty apparition of Niagara Falls, or just some psycho hot chick inadvertently blessing the town with random permutations of the Butterfly Effect. The most interesting do-gooders are the ones who have no interest in being a do-gooder, and Jaye is an accidental philanthropist who can't stand the people she helps (although somewhere deep down there's a hint that the results do please her). But this curmudgeon comes in the packaging of a 24-year-old blue-eyed brunette graduate of Brown who's had enough idealism and is content with early onset middle-agedness. While everyone else wishes the universe would converge on them, Jaye wants to push it away, lock her arms, and scream "La la la la la la la la la" until the voices in her head stop.

But silly Jaye, they won't stop. Not as long as there are broken people who need fixing in the magical land of Niagara Falls or Fox cancels you. Jaye may be in her post-college meandering haze, going through life purposefully without purpose, but the other residents of Niagara Falls are all looking for something: a purse, a partner to give them sponge baths, or a lesbian lover. And it's up to Jaye to be the conduit that unites people and their happy endings (quite literally, in the Thai massage parlor sense, for the EPS delivery man). This is convincingly established by the time the pilot ends, as Jaye runs after the woman who flipped a coin into the fountain.

If the pilot establishes the series' tone, Episode 2 (according to the DVD set and the producers, not Fox's bungling of the correct episode order), "Pink Flamingoes," cements it and adds even more character to the series. The pilot focuses on Jaye's new role as world-fixer with several smaller problems to solve, but "Pink Flamingoes" focuses on one "case": her old high-school nemesis Gretchen. Forced into helping Gretchen through a mixture of guilt (over breaking her dad's leg) and fear (that more bad things will happen if she doesn't listen to the talking mounted fish in the bar and "get off her ass"), Jaye sets out to do what she doesn't know she's supposed to do, which is to save Gretchen from her "perfect" marriage. And in typical twisted Wonderfalls fashion, the wise Rooster on the back of Gretchen's hair clip has it right: The only way to free Gretchen was to "Destroy Gretchen." It's a thankless job, Jaye.

But the real kicker here is the way the episode ends. Even though a dashing young man in uniform approaches Gretchen and professes his love for her—the same kind of love she gave to her husband but that her husband didn't reciprocate—she doesn't leave with him. That would have been the cliché exit, the kind of crowd-pleaser that's supposed to work because we as an audience aren't concerned with anything that happens to these characters once the credits roll. Let us leave on a high point and falsely believe that the newly happy couple didn't succumb to the 50-percent divorce rate, that's normal television.

Instead, Wonderfalls gives its characters what they really need. And what Gretchen needed wasn't another man to latch onto, she needed to put on some heels, snap her fingers, and declare herself a single lady! You go girl! Compare that ending to Gretchen being whisked away by Man in Uniform with rose petals and slow jamz and fireworks, and you'll see that though Wonderfalls is clearly off its rocker; it's primarily concerned with grounding itself in finding what people really need instead of giving us more of the storybook endings that have been pounded into our brains. Most television series start off in reality before handing us some fairy-tale solution, but in its first two episodes Wonderfalls swam against that current by starting in hyper-reality and ending with a very believable human touch.

2004 was the year that Lost debuted. It was the year that Google went public. It was three years after the iPod and before the iPhone. It was the year the big decision on everyone's mind was how to move their digital lives from MySpace to some new site called Facebook. We weren't enamored with eccentricity or outsiders because these were the years of technological conformity and belonging and "live together die alone." 2004 was also the year that Wonderfalls slipped under the radar and into cult status. Wonderfalls was the pre-backlash to the self-importance of the era, a show so far ahead of its time that it feels pretty punctual right about now. Surrender to destiny and re-watch this gem!



Bonus Viewfinder Slides

– We'll settle into more of an episodic-review tone next week, but I always like to take more of a "first impression" angle when we're still early in a series. Wonderfalls is a charmer, and the pilot episode is one of my favorite pilots because of how much it's able to juggle. A good pilot, to me, really gets to the heart of what a show is about, and Wonderfalls is all about Jaye. There are also good foundations set for supporting characters, but they're all done through the eyes of Jaye.

– Not gonna lie: I hate the theme song. It's just a mess.

– Those of you who are watching along for the first time: What are your early impressions? Those of you who are watching again: How do you think Wonderfalls has held up? I think it's a pretty timeless show, but with the "me" generation slowly passing (we're beginning to come out of the reality-show haze and the online world is more focused on the social than the individual), it seems more fitting with the today's mood than that of the last decade.


Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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French Canadian here, from Montral.

Thank you Tim for reviewing these. You're one of the highest reason why I come here everyday, and after a show we both watch...

Wonderfalls was a great show. One of these shows that shouldn't have been cancelled after not even one season.

I "fell in love" with Caroline Dhavernas in Zap(1993) and Urgences (1996). I'm about the same age as her.
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tim you can hate the theme song, but don't hate Andy Partridge, please! :)
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there are not enough women who are funny 'with their faces'
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French canadian girl here (actually Quebecer or Qubcoise as we prefer to be refered to). I had never seen Wonderfalls before and I have to thank you Tim for reviewing it, Caroline Dhavernas is just so amazing in this, she makes me proud to be a Quebecer. I'm also rewatching Veronica Mars right now (thanks to Price) and I taught it was so funny when the theme song from Veronica Mars kept playing in episode 2...was it the only available song for teenagers back in 2004?
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Just watched the first episode for the first time and I loved it, now I'm going to spend the rest of the day watching the whole series instead of doing my work.
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This dude is ahead of his time. Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies...Dead Like Me? I think he did Dead Like Me as well.
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Staff
Yes he did. A little worried about his next projects though: the Munsters remake and the Hannibal prequel. We'll see how he does adding his own twist to pre-existing franchises.
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You're batting 1000 with Terriers 1-2 and Wonderfalls 1-2. Both were far from usual TV (which is excellent), both feature fine acting and characterization, and - unfortunately - both are in the "WTF is this about?" category, and we know how US audiences react to those. Good to see they are not being forgotten, though... Let's see what we get next :-)
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You can rehash these episodes all you want, but I WON'T watch them again. They were boring enough the first time I saw them.
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I found out Bryan Fuller had created this along with shows I already loved like Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies, so I bought it online a couple of years ago. So good!
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I saw the first 2 eps on tv and was immediately in love. When it was move around on the schedule and then thrown out all together I was heart broken. When it came out on video I got it right away and loved the whole season.

One of my favorite parts of the series is her relationship to her brother.

I re-watched it again last summer, and hadn't realized her co-worker now plays Fargo on Eureka.
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Me neither!
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Curious observation: Jaye's trailer has no toilet. Just check it out.
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Staff
Hmmm. That kind of changes my perception of her. I guess she just goes right off the edge of the Falls?
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Didnh't know Lee Pace was in this too, either. Nice to see he was in another Fuller show.
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Great review, Tim. I started watching along wqith you since I've been a fan of Bryan Fuller for some time because of Pushing Daisies and Dead Like Me.

Wonderfalls obviously has the same kind of style as these shows, but it seems more similar to Dead Like Me for me since they both have a surly, sarcastic female protagonist and is more morbid than Pushing Daisies IMO.

Really liked the first two episodes. The themes of giving in to fate aare cool, and the characters are really growing on me. Havent picked a favorite yet, though.

I really liked the part with the guy in uniform at the end too,. I was thinking through the whole episode that they'd just pair Gretchen up with that dude, but it was nice to actually point out the stalkerish ways of the typical savior prince and promote the theme of being independent and not using a man to find your own way.

Can't wait for next week
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I think that poor guy in the uniform dodged a bullet there, if you ask me. That Gretchen chick was nasty!
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By the way, recently I saw the French film "Come Tout le Monde" and I found it so strange to hear Caroline speaking French all the time. I know, it's her native language after all, but after Wonderfalls, I got so used to her speaking English, that I didn't quite realize she has been in movies and shows in French as well.
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I discovered this show like 2 years ago because I was looking for more stuff with Lee Pace in it, and then I fell in love with it. The show is beautiful, quirky and fun all the things I love in a tv show. Brian is just a Tv genius!
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Thank you for bringing us a review of Wonderfalls, Tim. As usual, you have incredible taste. I've seen the show more than once (the first time being a few episodes aired on Fox Brasil) but you raise several issues in your column that I have never even considered.



As for the tone and today's society, I notice that today there are many protagonists that go way over in the business of being anti-heroes, and end being quite unlikable. Jaye, on the other hand, perhaps initially was meant to be unlikable, but soon becomes quite captivating, I've seen all of Bryan Fuller's shows, and she's the prettiest of the Fuller girls.



I also loved the plastic animals' male gruff voices. They sound creepy and hilarious.



Basically one of those fun, surreal TV shows with elements to please audiences of all ages, the kind of show we don't normally see on network TV.
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Staff
Thanks!
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You're welcome!
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I really liked this show, too. Not as much as Pushing Daisies, but it had a unique, quirky tone and a protagonist who I relate to a lot more now than when it premiered.



Sometimes, I think Bryan Fuller is better off doing miniseries than actual TV shows. He's just not as appreciated as other creators and that's such a total shame.
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It's probably been about 5 years, at least, since I last saw Wonderfalls. I remember really liking it a lot then, but rewatching it again now made me realize I loved it more than I remembered. Or, you know, I just love it now more than I did before.



It was also this show that, uh, pushed me to watch Pushing Daisies when that first came out, and I'm very thankful for that.
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I loved this show. I saw it on cable on Chile, in a time where torrents and similar things were inexistents for me, so it was totally sad to know that shows like Jhon Doe, Tru Calling, Dark Angel or Wonderfalls didn't have proper endings.

I was so in love with Jaye...that I remember :D
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Annoying my gf saying she was having a "sode" today. Ironic. Love this program. Sharon steals every scene! Can't believe it was cancelled! Such a shame
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Also annoyingly hampered by being beat out of the box by the supremely inferior but more commercially viable other show tangentially inspired by the same historical figure, Joan of Arcadia. that wasn't a horrible show at all but sometimes I wonder if Wonderfalls would have been more easily accepted if it hadn't existed.



And at the risk of being a fanboy. that is a perfect opening themesong by the supremely talented pop songwriting master, Andy Partridge (of XTC). They just asked him for a short theme (and he did write a couple middling unfinished rough sketches- available on his Fuzzy Warbles demo series) but ended up being inspired to write an entire song instead, and the theme ended up being the edited version of the full song.
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I should listen to the whole song, I love XTC. It's just the "I wonder wonder wonder wonder wonder wonder wonder wonder..." that gets me.
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That was quite possibly one of the greatest premiers I have ever seen. Uniqueness and originality blended with hilarity, whimsy and an inspirited sense of genuineness.



Oh, and Tim, you can keep the money for my (il)legal download. I didn't think it was possible to be so enamored with a fictional character after one episode, but Jaye has proved to be the exception. And she's Canadian, baby!
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Hey, Fanatic, do you shop in the same "legalish" store I do? Anyways, here's my humble tribute to Canadian girls. Like her, are you French Canadian too?
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Man, with all due respect, I believe canadian women are the most beautiful women in the planet. Elishe Cuthbert, Jaye Tyler, Evangeline Lily, Diane Vandervoort, Kristen Kreuk and Robin Scherbatsky (I can't recall her real name). I'm so going to your country to find a wife! Hahaha :D I love your comments by the way.
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I suppose this would be a good time to admit that I am half French-Canadian? A few generations removed, but still. Nova Scotia, baby!
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Wow, c'est uncroyable! Even though a last name like Surette might've given that away earlier.
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you should listen to the whole song. it's andy fucking partridge! it was the first thing i loved about this show and, if i remember correctly, the reason why i started watching the show.



i remember watching the episodes over and over again on fox brasil and wondering where the hell were the other ones?? also with pushing daisies. very, very sad.
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This show was one of the most unique series to come along in a LONG while. It was risky, it was bold, and it was awesome. Ergo, it was cancelled by Fox. Loved it then, love it now.
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-Jaye's a great protagonist. Got her own problems, but not unlikeable.

-Theme songs are almost always very hit or very miss. Here, I agree. Miss. By miles.

-COMPLETELY forgot that this is where I first saw Fargo from "Eureka". And of course Lee Pace held up "Pushing Daisies" quite nicely. And, though I can't quite put into words exactly why, I do agree that it seems to fit today's mood more than it did back when I was in high school.
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I watched it like a year or two ago, let's be honest, because of Lee Pace. and I LOVED it. the fact that it's made by the creators of such great shows as Malcolm in the Middle and Pushing Daisies explains a lot - it's quality television for people who like an abstract sense of humour and enjoy doing some thinking time to time. and the protagonist - a philosophy major ending up in a souvenir shop - that's always good, especially for other philosophy majors who have not the slightest idea what to do with their lives.
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