Saturday, June 15, 2013

Summer TV Rewind: Wonderfalls 1.01: "Wax Lion"

“Are you Satan? Are you God? Okay, if you don’t say something in the next five seconds, I’m going to assume you’re Satan.”

For my second TV Rewind of the summer, I’ll be covering one of my very favorite short-lived shows, Bryan Fuller’s “Wonderfalls.” One of two modern adaptations of Joan of Arc to premiere on television in 2004 (the other was the longer-lived “Joan of Arcadia”), “Wonderfalls” follows the adventures of Brown philosophy major turned tourist trap gift shop cashier Jaye Tyler (Caroline Dhavernas). Jaye has crafted herself a simple life of low expectations that she says is perfectly satisfying, but her family doesn’t quite believe it. She lives in a (pretty awesomely decorated) trailer at the High and Dry Trailer Park, and she works at Wonderfalls, the aforementioned Niagra Falls gift shop. Jaye’s family is rather intolerable at first but warms as the show progresses, and best friend Majandra and love interest Eric are wonderful partners in snark for Jaye. Jaye is rather (endearingly) prickly, and when an accident (we’ll get to that) makes her start hearing inanimate animal-shaped objects talking to her, paranoia that she’s gone crazy takes the prickliness to a new level. Worse yet, the animals (called Muses) are trying to make her be nice. It’s a crazy set-up that could only come from the mind of Bryan Fuller.

As I mentioned way back in the early days of the blog in 2009, Wonderfalls is a favorite show primarily because I identify so strongly with Jaye. She is an extremely well-drawn character. While Jaye appears to revel in her self-created life of laziness and low expectations, there’s a lack of self-confidence bubbling just under the surface. We’ll see this most starkly in the series finale when she cries to her sister, “Why can’t I have nice things?” For now, though, the story is just beginning. Jaye’s already low self-confidence is about to take another jolt, as she begins to believe she’s going crazy. The story begins with Jaye at work, staring at the “Maid of the Mist” video (yes, video…actual VHS…how awesome is that?). She tells a kid the Maid of the Mist story, which involves a Native American princess going over the falls to appease a god, and the god thinking she was hot and letting her stay in a cave.

The reason the Maid of the Mist story is important is because there is a statute of her right outside Wonderfalls that overlooks a fountain. One day while eating lunch, in a comical series of events that begins with chocking on a bit of her sandwich, Jaye comes across an especially shiny quarter. She throws it over her shoulder towards the Maid of the Mist fountain. It bounces off the statute, then off of Jaye’s head before landing in the water. The incident is the beginning of Jaye hearing the voices of the muses. Later that day, a customer complains that the wax lion machine made a smushed faced lion. Also, Jaye didn’t give her the hotel discount. Alec, the new mouthbreather high school student assistant manager (played by the awesome Neil Grayston, most recently of Syfy’s “Eureka” says Jaye has to give the woman her money back, but the wax lion disagrees. Jay disobeys the Wax Lion, and the woman’s purse is stolen. Later, Jaye follows additional instructions from the Wax Lion through a complex series of events and finds the woman’s purse in a trash can.

Much of this episode is devoted to meeting the cast of characters that populate Jaye’s life. Jaye’s parents are very straight edge and are extremely concerned both by her lifestyle and the “’sodes” she has started having. Jaye’s siblings, brother Aaron (the amazing Lee Pace) and sister Sharon (the also amazing Katie Finneran) area also high achieving, Aaron a religious studies grad student and Sharon an immigration lawyer. We don’t see Aaron much in this one, although we’ll see much more of him in the later episodes of the season. Sharon features much more heavily in this one. There’s a Muse-catalyzed sequence of events involving the package delivery guy, his ex-wife, and Sharon which leads to Jaye discovering that Sharon is a lesbian. The funniest part of this sequence of events is when Sharon tries to give the package delivery guy an emergency tracheotomy with a pen. Jaye had set them up on a date, and the package delivery guy had accidentally eaten peanuts (he’s allergic) in his salad.

We also meet the two non-family main players in Jaye’s life, both of whom work at the Barrel Bar (as in over the falls in a barrel). There’s Jaye’s best friend Mahandra, played by the amazing (are you sensing a theme here?) Tracie Thoms, who is a server at the Barrel Bar. Jaye, while she gets more to do down the line, spends most of this episode trying to convince Jaye that she’s not crazy, even after Jaye admits to hearing the voices of the Muses. Then there’s Eric, the hot new bartender. Oh Eric. So naïve and so pretty. Eric is from New Jersey, and he originally came to Niagra Falls for his wedding to a woman named Heidi, who will eventually be played by the (yes, again) awesome Jewel Staite, but there’s somebody else playing her in the pilot. Heidi cheated on Eric with the bellhop during their honeymoon, and thus ended their extremely short marriage. Eric hasn’t managed to work up the motivation to go back to New Jersey, so he found the job at the Barrel Bar. He’s intrigued by Jaye and asks if she’s interested in being his rebound, but Jaye declines, on account of she thinks she’s crazy.

By the end of the episode, Jaye’s following the often cryptic instructions of the Muses has brought two couples together, Sharon and delivery guy’s ex, and delivery guy and a nurse from his hospital stay. Jaye’s mother has made Jaye go see her therapist, Dr. Ron, but changed her mind once Jaye stole Dr. Ron’s monkey book prop. Dr. Ron won’t see Jaye’s mom again until the monkey is returned, and Jaye’s mom can have none of that. Anyway, Jaye gains some faith in the muses (and humanity in general) after seeing how everything worked out, and when she gets a new instruction at the end of the episode (involving a woman who walks by with toilet paper stuck to her shoe), Jaye rushes off, trying to help someone again.

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