Ironically enough, this review is gonna be more gushing than Niagara Falls. If that bothers you, then just watch the show's DVDs instead of reading my review. Edit: I'm told that this review is too long. If you agree with that sentiment, go ahead and skip to the end where I rate everything numerically. That gives a decent summation of why I think you should buy this.Wonderfalls
is by far the finest television I have ever seen. It has everything: a unique twist, compelling characters, enthralling storylines, great special effects, terrific acting, and quirky humor. And those bastards at Fox canceled it, so in an act of catharsis, I will now rant and rave about how much I loath Fox for the next paragraph.
Fox sucks. Fox has done everything in its power to smother Wonderfalls. They:
A) had their meathooks in it at every step of the way (as the episode commentaries make clear), changing what they wished
B) debuted it in the middle of the season in a terrible time slot
C) then moved it suddenly and unexpectedly to an even worse
D) gave it very little publicity
E) gave up after 4 episodes
F) and needed a huge fan movement to release it on DVD (their one saving grace).
This was one of the very few unique things on television, and they ditched it to make room for reruns of crap. Grrrrr.......
Ok, I'm done. I'll try not to mention Fox (may they rot in hell) for the rest of the review, but I don't make any promises.
Let's start with a quick synopsis of premise: Jaye Tyler is a 24-year-old native of Niagara Falls, New York who gleaned a Philosophy degree from Brown and came back to her home town to live in a trailer, work at the Niagara Falls gift show (called Wonderfalls), and drink various forms of alcohol at the local tavern / eatery / gathering place, The Barrel. Her father Darren is a doctor with a very frank manner of communication and strong connections to the Republican party (he is friends with many politicians and, as we learn in the documentary and episode commentaries, a musical talent: he writes and performs inspirational Republican folk songs, although these sadly never made it into the show). Her mother Karren is a socialite who writes travel guides (and is a closet Democrat). Her sister Sharon is a successful immigration lawyer (and a closet lesbian). Her brother Aaron (yes, Darren Karren Sharon Aaron Jaye) is currently working on a doctorate in Comparative Religions (and, ironically, a "closet" atheist, although I'm not too sure about how secret it is). Jaye's best friend since forever is Mahandra McGinty (I hope to God I spelled that correctly), someone almost as selfish as Jaye herself. She works at the aforementioned barrel. And finally, the Requisite Love Interest: Eric Gotts. He married his college sweetheart Heidi, honeymooned at Niagara Falls, caught her fellating the bellman, went to the Barrel to get drunk, got a job there as bartender, and started getting over Heidi, all in the six days before he met Jaye. Following that? Good.
This cast of characters, while a bit quirky, would make for a fairly pedestrian show if not for that spice of life that makes the show stand out: the Muses, as the writers term them. If it's a man-made animal, such as the smoosh-faced wax lion or the creepy barrel bear, there's a good chance it's told Jaye to do something completely bizarre. That's right: inanimate objects tell a disaffected Gen Y narcissus to run around performing nonsensical acts which ultimately benefit everyone involved. Generally, these commands are cryptic (and can mean any of a number of things as the episode progresses) and have a very roundabout way of working out. Of course, Jaye's rather resistant to their commands (she resents being "Fate's bitch"), so they occasionally have to torture her into doing their bidding by incessantly singing a number of particularly annoying songs off key until she can't take it anymore and has no choice. Sometimes, it is her very resistance that causes the commands to come to pass.
I know that that sounds kinda tacky, but it's really not.
Jaye is a great lead character. Although very much an antihero who literally resents being thought of as selfless (although she doesn't mind it when Eric thinks of her that way), the holder of highly questionable morals, and a complete slacker, she is thoroughly likeable. We understand her well enough that what she does is, to some degree, expected, but she always seems to have a few more facets we haven't seen yet. She, like everyone, is a good person at her core, but her cynicism, selfishness, and wit all come together to form a certain charm that makes it very hard to wish her ill.
Character alignments in this show tend towards the complex, due in part to the actions of the muses. We like all the main characters for various reasons, but they are often in opposition to each other because of both completely mundane reasons and because they react naturally to Jaye when she does weird muse-induced things (which is usually to resist). That information level about why Jaye does what she does is constantly played on for humor and plot advancement and it only gets more complex as more people learn about her predicament. The series has no truly clear villains, although Eric's (semi-ex)wife Heidi comes close (there are twists in her character that make it hard to completely dislike her. No spoilers here).
Moving on. The acting in this series is top notch. Every single actor can just nail their lines perfectly, and the unspoken parts are just as good and believable. A reaction here, a gesticulation there, and a few smirks thrown in for good measure make these characters feel very real and vibrant. They can effortlessly switch between drama and comedy and back again without the slightest hitch. And the chemistry between every single character is both highly dynamic and completely believable. The casting directors are seers of the highest caliber.
The comedic aspects of this show are clearly integral to the show, but they aren't the end-all, be-all. As absolutely great as they are, they are merely a natural consequence of the drama as it unfolds, rather than some other shows that shall remain unmentioned that care for nothing but the asinine joke. Wonderfalls has sophisticated, intelligent, and very quirky comedy going for it, and it all works exceedingly well (although it admittedly requires a certain taste, there are bits and pieces of all types of humor in here). This show has me in stitches every time I watch it. There's just always something to laugh at, even amidst the highly emotional trials and tribulations of the Jaye-Eric relationship.
I want to take this opportunity to graciously thank the writers for knowing that Fox is headed by idiots (who wouldn't know gold if it was given to them as jewelry by rappers) and therefore ending all the major story lines in the season (series) finale. The story is itself extremely interesting and could probably stand alone without the comedy (it would be a lesser show, of course, but still superior to a *lot* of what's on TV now). In the interests of not spoiling anything, I'll shut up about it.
The cinemetography in this show is exquisite. The directors make great use of camera speed-ups and slow-downs: one moment, the camera is rapidly zooming from one point to another and the next, it slows down for a quick pan shot of something before zipping along to the main action. You really have to see it to know what I mean, but everything just comes together really really nicely. I also like how the episode commentaries walk us through what part of which shot was shot where (scenes around the Maid of the Mist fountain, for example, had to shot half on one side of the Falls and half on the other).
Sounds: fun and light, but perfect. Andy Partridge wrote the theme song "I wonder why the Wonderfalls" and it is just as quirky and off-beat as the show. Cute lyrics, catchy main tune, and lots of little side instruments make it very distinctive and fun to listen to. The other music is less distinctive, but this is a good thing: is supplements, not supplants, the jokes, character development, and action.
The special effects in this series kick ass. It's mostly the muses, but every minor effect is done very well and very realistically. Great care is taken to make each muse an actual character, giving them their own unique idiosyncrasies and mannerisms along with very funny "suggestions." If you read a short dialogue between Jaye and a nameless muse, someone who has seen the series could probably identify the muse being spoken to. It's hard to pick favorites, but the lovesick ass' reaction when Jaye lashed out at him is to die for, and I cracked up when the brass monkey commanded Jaye to "Lick the lightswitch."Acting:
5/5 killer ambulances (Extremely well-done. Every single actor deserves some sort of medal)
6/5 blurb words (The comedy in this series really goes above and beyond the call of duty. Unlike most TV and movie comedy, it is the flowing result of the plot and tends to advance said plot as well)
5/5 wedding chapels (The plot lines are really fun to follow, partially because we really care what happens to these characters and partially because the plots are so absurd that watching them tick along is very interesting)
5/5 Mold-a-Rama machines (The actors have this superhuman ability to channel true heart and soul to create very poignant scenes of drama amidst all sorts of zanniness)
5/5 Berreta 9-mm's (The theme song is worth tracking down, downloading, and listening again and again, and the rest of the music perfectly complements the action, but stays firmly in the background)
5/5 murder kits (Perfect muses, excellent cinemetography, and great misc. effects all populate the world of Wonderfalls)
.Special Features (DVD):
4/5 fig pancakes (Perhaps the one fault of the DVD, if a 4 can be called a fault. I really like the episode commentaries and the music video is very cute, but the documentary could have been longer and I would have paid at least another $5 for another disk full of deleted scenes, actor bios, and other such stuff)
.Overall (not necessarily determined by the above categories):
5/5 Russian Mail-Order Brides (You know how I award a lot of 4s and 5s to the individual categories but deny all those other things I've reviewed 5s? This series is why: they are inferior to it. It was a human rights violation for Fox to cancel this monumental show. I wish all the best to everyone involved in making this thing work, because it is absolutely deserving of admiration and exaltation. I give this series the highest possible recommendation)