“The Late and Much Lamented “Wonderfalls””

“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)

Do not confuse Wonderfalls with Joan of Arcadia. True, this show does seem to be part of the trend of young women singled our, chosen, by a higher power to help people. Joan of Arcadia. Tru Calling. Wonderfalls. Tru Calling, the worst of the lot, was not renewed for next year. Joan of Arcadia, the middling show, has long since been picked up for next season. Wonderfalls, the best of the lot (along with Arrested Development), is one of the best shows that no one is watching. In fact, it was canceled after four episodes. Our nation in a nutshell: not too great, not too bad, aiming for the safest fare.

Allow me to digress within this review with a not-so-random rail against the system. Since I’m not privy to review copies of a show, I have to wait week by week to get a few episodes under my belt before I write a review. Sometimes I’ll even wait until the season is over before I write a review, just so that I know I have given a show a fair shot.

But it’s hard to write a review for a show that gets canceled before it gets going.

First, Fox orders the show as a mid-season replacement, which means it doesn’t get the fanfare and push of a Fall launch. Second, Fox moves the show after an episode or two. Third, they move the show to the Friday night death slot. If TV executives want to know the reason for the erosion of their audience, they need look no further than moving shows around and long gaps between new episodes. Viewers don’t have the patience to hunt for their shows.

Back to my review.

Wonderfalls is going to suffer by comparison to both Joan of Arcadia and Tru Calling, mostly because it is the last to show up to the party. It’s premise looks to be a combination of the other two shows. Just like it would be equally easy to say that this is what Joan of Arcadia would look like if they took out God. On the surface, that’s all true, but maybe the show decides to work the same territory without using the same language.

Our protagonist, Jane (another reason for comparison with Joan of Arcadia: Jane is what Adam calls Joan on her show), played by Caroline Dhavernas, isn’t an especially nice person. This invites another comparison with Arrested Development: audiences aren’t necessarily quick to embrace characters that aren’t especially nice, if they are meant to be laughed at. Jane’s life is out of control. She works, and “works” is a strong word, at a souvenir shop for Niagara Falls. She has a “mouth-breathing” assistant manager, once her equal, who now lords over her. Her sister hates her. Her mother is a neurotic mess. So naturally, the Universe begins to talk to her. The Universe (God) animates inanimate objects to tell her what she needs to do. After all, the show says, it is the vessel (us) that facilitates the Karma (the will of God).

Wonderfalls is rife with religious ideas, and from the outset lets us know that religious belief is its subtext. The souvenir shop where Jane works has a display called “I Surrender to Destiny”, centered around a video that tells the Native American story of the Maid in the Mist. You see, the god of Niagara Falls randomly killed people. The people wanted to appease him with gifts. One might think that this story attempts to highlight the arbitrary nature of god and the silliness of myth and religion, but actually points to the silliness of man’s interpretation of what a god wants. Anyway, the tribe decides that the god wants virgin girls in sacrifice. The chief’s daughter decides that she should be the one to surrender to destiny. Even after the chief has a change of heart, she refuses to turn around. Well, the god spares her and asks her to live with him. She does and he blesses the land. Jane has a Jewish friend whom she wants to talk to about the idea of God, but her friend apparently converted for love and doesn’t truly believe. Jane is forced, by her parents, to turn to the religion of our culture, the psychologist.

Her therapist: “When was the last time you told [her sister] that you love her?”
Jane: “I don’t know how you did things in your family, but we don’t do that.”

Once the Universe begins conversing with her, her first assumption is that it’s Satan (then God, then insanity). It is her other friend, Mahandra McGinty (Tracie Thoms), who understands/proffers the shows premise. “I think it’s natural to embody the world around us with consciousness. It’s all that tree hugging crap. Like when the Native Americans say that everything has a soul.” Basically, she goes on to say that what Jane is experiencing may be a repressed psychological response to the fact that we repress the idea that everything has a soul. So Jane has to face the reality that the Universe, all creation is conspiring to make her into the person she was meant to be. In doing so, the Universe reveals itself, a “cosmo-phany” for lack of a better term, that her friend sums up by saying “So why struggle with Fate? Life can be sort of peaceful when you stop struggling with Fate.”

Here’s all you need to know about the Joan of Arcadia vs. Wonderfalls similarities. Joan is more earnest. Though it has moments of whimsy, it is a very self-aware show. Wonderfalls is played straight for laughs. The show is witty, funny, and different. It’s not safe or nice fare, and has quite the vulgar streak to it. I can only hope that this show, with its unaired episodes, finds a place on DVD.