Wonderfalls aired for just four weeks in spring 2004. So clever, so misunderstood; much like the show’s heroine. It was created by Bryan Fuller, the man behind Dead Like Me.
We open with the legend of the “Maid of the Mist,” a Native American Princess who sacrificed herself to Niagara Falls to satisfy an angry god. This tale of destiny will become a theme of sorts. The story is recounted by protagonist Jaye (Caroline Dhavernas), an apathetic, 24-year-old sales clerk at a gift shop at the falls.
Next, we have the convenient plot device of an old high school classmate dropping by. This gives the audience the chance to learn that Jaye was uncool in high school, majored in Philosophy in college, and has wound up “over-educated and unemployable.”
We get to the show’s premise when a tiny wax lion figurine come to life and talks to Jaye. She faints, and soon her WASPy family swoops in to shunt her off to a shrink. At the shrink’s office, a monkey-shaped bookend follows suit with the lion figure.
And, we’re off. Inanimate objects talk to this chick. We’re never told exactly why—in the pilot or ever. Is she crazy? Gifted? A modern version of the Maid of the Mist? Dr. Dolittle meets Joan of Arc? Do these talking things want her to commit good or evil? We keep watching to figure it out. It’s all so weird, and coupled with the snarky dialogue, this makes for engaging viewing.
The love interest character, Eric (Tyron Leito, lately of Being Erica), has an intriguing back story, too. He has run away from his cheating new wife to hide behind a bar in Niagara Falls. Will he go home? Will his wife track him down? Will he fall for Jaye? More importantly, will she fall for him, or will she be too distracted by her newfound powers/psychosis?
The look of this show is great. Shot on location, it feels very real and unglamorized. You can practically feel the damp, cold weather. The grey backdrop makes the animated figures and shlocky, colorful souvenir shop pop.
By the end of the pilot, Jaye loses a promotion to a mouth-breathing dork, gets yelled at by a customer, makes a UPS guy cry and later, almost kills him, gets arrested for disorderly conduct, is busted stealing from the shrink, and has her mother advise her to “do something” with her hair. It’s a pretty shitty week. Some good comes out of it; Jaye has a bonding moment with her polar opposite sister, and begins to accept was is apparently her destiny.
People love an underdog. Especially one with smarts and a matching smart mouth. It all makes Jaye a great character and her journey a fun one. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. The premise was probably too far-fetched to be sustainable beyond one season, anyway.
Here’s the UNAIRED pilot.