So here we are in the enchanted land of Niagara Falls yada yada yada, whatever. We are immediately introduced to not only the legend of the falls, not only the main character and heroine, Jaye, 24, slacker supreme (“I’m dissatisfied without hardly working at all”) but also to many recurring themes and characters that will, erm, recur throughout this fabulous series, to wit: Native Americans (Jaye: “Indians!”) and surrendering to destiny, Dr Ron the psychiatrist, the love triangle of Sharon, Beth and Thomas, that Olsen girl, Gretchen Speck, Heidi and the bellboy, even the quarters thrown into the fountain – all these things will come back in later episodes. Part of Wonderfalls’s genius is making these signposts seem trivial, whereas full time viewers will see them as FATE.
So, first scene: a girl a boy. Unfortunately the girl is 24, retail clerk, the boy is 10, a customer, or at least a prospective one. Then the boy is replaced by Alex, Jaye’s co-worker in boredom – that is until the start of Jaye’s bad day when Alex is made assistant manager and instead becomes über-boss, forcing her to give money back to a pain-in-the-ass customer who presents her with a squash-faced wax lion. Previous to this, on her lunchbreak, Jaye had choked on a sandwich and been hit on the back of the head with a quarter. Can her day get any worse? Of course it can when the wax lion starts to talk to her, causing her to faint and her concerned annoying loveable intrusive family to stop by her trailer to bitch, argue and ask her when she last had an orgasm. Was it the near death experience that made her see and hear animals move and talk? Was it that the fountain gives out wishes and Jaye has to carry them out? At any rate, this strange turn of events leads her to take solace in beer and her as equally sarcastic, snarky and scrappy friend Mahandra - who thinks Jaye disappointing her family is “an extreme sport” and asks her why she was performing an act of kindness (“I just wanted to see what it was like”) - and the cute bar-tender Eric – bestubbled, kind and friendly and who hits on Jaye five minutes after telling her his life-story.
So we have the introduction, we have the major and minor characters, we have the premise. Now the story. On the surface, the story is about Thomas, the EPS guy finding love and the “Texan haus-frau” finding her handbag (one gets the impression that Jaye goes chasing after the quarter as an excuse to get out of work, rather than with a desire to obey the animals or help anyone). But it’s actually about sisterhood. Sharon and Jaye are opposites. One is blonde, the other brunette. One a high flier lawyer, the other a shop assistant. One drives an SUV, the other some beat-up old banger. One likes girls, the other boys. One is a larger lady and smokes, the other skinny and doesn’t. They bicker constantly. BUT, are they not two sides of the proverbial coin? They are both propositioned by ex-married men, they both seem to leave their work in the middle of the day – a lot. They both speak their mind. They both love their family – in their own way. By the end, they’re even admitting that they love each other. Jaye is also able to offer Sharon help (in a round about way), which seemingly makes a change from Sharon pulling Jaye out of scrapes.
All in all, this is an excellent opener: setting the scene, explaining the themes and not so much introducing, as forcing the characters into our collective consciousness. Some people have commented that the series is formulaic, but I think that the animals’ commands are suitably cryptic as to be entertaining and that there is enough of a story arc to sustain viewers’ interest, not just the Eric/Jaye romance but her relationships with her family and their relationships with each other and outsiders, the humour of Alex and the shop and the ultimate plan of the animals for Jaye.