Thursday, August 9, 2007

From the Archives: "Wonderfalls" Review...

In January of 2004 I started my first website to vent on all things pop culture. I updated and ran this site for over 2 years posting occasional reviews and ramblings. After burning out on the website thing I took a 6 month break and did not renew my domain. Still needing some sort of outlet I started this blog in January of this year. Since I do not wish those reviews and posts to be lost, I thought I would begin posting them here. So this one is more for me than you, oh wait, this whole thing is more for me than you. Well, whatever the case, each week we shall take a look into the past, all the way back to (start Conan O'Brien impression here) the year 2000--uh--4.

In March 2004, I found myself invested already in a whimsical gem of a show that would eventually find itself littered on the FOX scrapheap of wasted genius. (Freaks and Geeks, Firefly, Arrested Development, Reunion, and this years Drive all live there.) It was nice to see star Caroline Dhavernas (pictured) is doing movies now (you may have seen her in Breach) but she was perfect for this show. Here is the full review, my first in the world of TV.

(By the way, you can add a third note at the beginning of the article, that they did indeed eventually release more episodes with a season 1 DVD, that I still think is worth renting if you missed the minuscule opportunity to see it on the air.)


Oh, How Wonderfalls
Wonderfalls (Fox - Friday - 9PM)

Note: Wonderfalls may be moving to Thursday's at 9PM (I have a great programming idea, let's put one of our best new shows up against CSI and The Apprentice, no one' s watching those!)

Note #2: Wonderfalls has been canceled, figures the first TV show I review is canceled less than a week after I review it! They are trying to get a DVD deal to release the rest of the season, we shall see.

Behold, the power of cheese. Sliced, shredded, melted, or ahem... cut, few foods match it's universal appeal. At home on your burger, taco, cracker, popcorn, apples, salad, or even in your cake (come on, you love cheese cake); next to peanut butter, it is possibly the most versatile topping around. In fact, I once dipped cheese in peanut butter to see what would happen and, surprisingly, when I took a bite there was no taste. I theorize they must be at opposite sides of the condiment spectrum and therefore cancel each other out. But that's a discussion for another time. Where was I? Oh yeah, cheese. So why is something so universal, so maligned? Why is something that is cliché and hammy (pork, the other maligned food) referred to as "cheesy".

Which brings us to Fox's Friday night quirk fest, "Wonderfalls".

Now before you get the idea that I think this show is "cheesy", I actually only mention it because cheese is a central plot point of this week's show (I said it was quirky, didn't I?). Only 3 episodes into it's existence, and all ready this show is exhibiting signs of greatness. Since this is "Siphonics", let's break down the MCQ (For those playing at home, that's Message, Content, Quality).

We will start with Quality:

This show is funny, really funny. Though Wonderfalls likely best fits the genre of "Dramedy", it's laugh-a-line pace makes it play out as more of an hour long comedy. Notice I say comedy not "sit-com", as the latter has become more associated with punch-lines than humor. This is the "sit-com" of the future, longer, no laugh track (I have my own sense of humor, you don't need to tell me where to laugh, thank you very much.), and most importantly, real characters and real issues. (Another Fox gem, Arrested Development, fits the same bill, though no one is watching, which of course is what happens when you put it on during the last half hour of Alias, but I digress) So who are these "real characters"? The centerpiece is Jaye. A "Generation Y" slacker, she struggles with identity and purpose. Though she has a philosophy degree, she lives in a trailer park, and earns her living in retail, shucking wares at a Niagra tourist trap shop named Wonderfalls. Her family swirls around her in a constant reminder of her inadequacy. Her father is a successful doctor; her mom, a best selling author. Big brother? He has his doctorate in Theology, while her sister is a lawyer. As if this weren't struggle enough, one day the souvenirs in her shop start talking to her. Each episode their guidance leads her to explore the world around her in a new way and help those around her. Before you begin calling it "Jaye of Wondercadia", there is one big difference between this and the other "messages from on high" Friday drama. Whereas Joan knows where her messages are coming from, Jaye is left to ponder the origin of her instructions. At this point she's pretty sure it's one of 3 things; God, Satan, or her own loss of sanity (My guess is they talk to her because it's a great plot device to push forward the story.) The writing in this show is smart and inventive, and the plots are detailed yet not contrived. High quality stuff, moving on.


Not much to discuss here, except to mention a few content issues you might want to be aware of. Drinking: Much of the story and conversation occurs over drinks at Jaye's favorite bar. As in most mainstream media, the drinking is portrayed as a social norm, and the best way to "hang out" with friends and family. Sexuality: We find out (with Jaye) in the first episode that her older sister is a Lesbian. Nothing explicit is shown or discussed, and the show has yet to center a storyline around it. Until then, we won't know how they will handle this hot button issue. Language: Consistent with most primetime TV. (Raymond, CSI, Survivor, etc.)


Television is perhaps the hardest medium to gauge overall message. Since it airs in episodic fashion, we are really only getting part of an unknown whole. Still, you can often figure out the heart of a show in a few short episodes (Disclaimer: Past performance is not indicative of future results.) I'll just briefly mention that Episodes 1 and 2 dealt primarily with the topics of reconciliation and finding purpose amidst mediocrity, respectively. So heading into Friday's episode, we had already established that this was a show with a point. So what was the point of this week's Wonderfalls? Primarily it's about finding real faith in a world of real pain.

A priest finds out he has a daughter from his life before the priesthood.

Jaye's bartender (and future boyfriend, methinks) deals with forgiving his newlywed wife (who had an affair on their honeymoon) and whether he should return to her and try and reconcile.

But the main plot involves a straying nun who has run away from her convent in search of a God who will talk to her out loud. (To this, of course, Jaye responds that it's not as freeing as you might think.) So, what leads this straying nun to doubt? Well, her love of cheese, of course. You see, while pondering a plate of Nachos, Sister Katrina, begins to wonder if her existence is no more important than the existence of Colby Jack. That something she loves so much could, in the end, be nothing more than a plate of properly processed bacteria, makes her wonder if indeed she is nothing more than properly processed bacteria, herself. Despite how it sounds, it truly is a wonderful exploration of faith in the real world. The only reason it doesn't score higher for message is that the show for the most part embraces the idea of relative truth. Then again, what did you expect in our post modern world.

So, if you want to check out a show where it's more about humor than a punch-line, where the characters are treated as people rather than parts, where you can think and laugh at the same time, and where you will agree with some points and disagree with others, than this is the show for you.

In the end, it's about finding the perfect combination of meat and cheese.

But then again, I love cheese.

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