Thursday, July 9, 2009

Wonderfalls, "I Wonder Why the Wonder Falls on Me."

I have always found comfort in my toys. Yes, I’m 19, and yes many of my childhood playthings have been casted to the shelves, sold in garage sales, or given to Good Will over the years, but there are those few that always have a place in my room. As a child stuffed animals can be your entire world. You spend your days being a princess locked away in a tower surrounded by fuzzy crocodiles or braving the rough waters with rubber ducks as your companions. The rubber and furry toys of our lives as children are both the enemies and the protectors. They protect us in a way that only a Teddy bear can do.

Bryan Fuller’s unique, imaginative, and short lived series “Wonderfalls” takes a teddy bear’s protection and turns it into the manifestation of G-d’s instructions to protect others. Instead of a child seeking guidance in her day-to-day activities, a 24-year-old underachieving college graduate becomes the victim of endless instructions given through the toys in a retail store. Spoilers for "Wonderfalls" after the jump.

What drew me to the story so quickly was that Jaye Tyler (Caroline Dhavernas) epitomized my so-called summer this year. She spends day after day in a job she clearly despises with a boss whom she dubs Mouthbreather. That should give you an idea about how much she respects him.

Despite the degree in philosophy from Brown and the supportive family Jaye has at her disposal, she lives in a trailer park and works as a sales clerk in a souvenir shop at Niagara Falls. A place where people are just visiting, never long enough for a sales clerk to get tangled in the lives of the people passing through. She achieved her goal of “over educated and unemployable,” just like she wrote in her high school yearbook.

That is, until one day a little Wax Lion warns her not give an angry customer money back. Then a Barrel Bear convinces her to help a writer get her words out, and Wind-Up Penguin leads Jaye down a path to reuniting a young girl with her father. Pink Flamingos convince Jaye to confront her past at a high school reunion where she unsuspectingly shows a past nemesis that the love of her life is not in fact the love of her life. Dogs on signs, embroidered buffalos, singing trout on walls, lovesick stuffed donkeys, plastic birds, and totem poles all enlist Jaye to unwillingly and resentfully take part in tasks to help the lives of others.

Are these voices a manifestation of Jaye’s internal thoughts? Do the toys represent the voice of G-d? Is she just plain crazy? I am inclined to believe that the toys are an inspiration from a higher being, whether it be destiny, G-d, or whatever you believe in. The fact that Jaye’s brother, a theologian, showed such interest in the speaking figures seemed to demonstrate that religion played a significant (while not overwhelming) role. However, I also believe that her decision to listen to these inanimate objects shows that despite her reluctance and displeasure at being chosen, she knows their instructions are for the better.

What I really found refreshing about this show was that it was completely original. I have never seen anything else with a similar premise yet so many aspects of the plot were relatable. Bryan Fuller and Todd Holland gave a little magic to the life of an underachiever living at the heart of one of the seven wonders of the natural world. The setting was different yet recognizable. The dialogue was fresh, fast, and clever. The actors had chemistry and charisma.

Jaye’s sarcasm and wit is portrayed brilliantly by Dhavernas alongside a talented cast. Lee Pace plays the over protective older brother whose theology major seems to make him the only one capable of buying Jaye’s experience as real as opposed to crazy. Mahandra McGinty (Tracie Thoms) provides the ever important best friend figure who supports Jaye without fault. Sharon Tyler (Katie Finneran), the lesbian-lawyer older sister, protects her family even in face of the law and wasn’t given enough time to develop what could have been an extremely interesting character. Jaye’s parents Darrin (William Sadler) and Karen (Diana Scarwid) embody parents who love yet misunderstand their children. Despite all of their differences, the Tyler family truly is a supportive unit. They may fight and misinterpret one another, but at the end of the day they are there for each other and that is what family is for.

At the heart of this little tale lies the romance between Jaye and Eric Gotts (Tyron Leitso), the adorably handsome bartender whose wife cheated on him the first night of their honeymoon in Niagra Falls. He’s damaged goods and she takes orders from toys. Perfect match. Usually in television a budding romance is indicated by a swell in music, a slow motion entrance, a close up of the two in a single frame, or a lingering look in the character’s eyes. “Wonderfalls” however used the ideal imagery of fireworks lighting up in Eric’s eyes after Jaye told his cheating wife that Eric was predisposed “pleasuring her sexually.” Young love at it’s best.

Wonderfalls was able to portray very complex ideas in a childish manner. Should we all surrender to destiny like the legendary maid of the mist? Or do we ignore the voices and signs and fight back? Can love conquer all? Or does logic and law take precedent? Should we be actively seeking out acts of kindness? Or does no good deed go unpunished? All this from a bunch of souvenir toys. I only wish that “Wonderfalls” had been given more than 14 episodes to more deeply explore these questions and the many more that may have arisen.

As a young girl I would take out my teddy bears and begin my adventures for the day. I never knew where they would take me whether it be to a magical palace or a rainforest in the jungle. But I did know that the journey with my furry friends would bring surprise and adventure. The toys of the Wonderfalls gift shop brought just this to Jaye Tyler. While her 24-year-old mind may have logically forgotten what it was like to willingly and happily accept the instruction of seemingly lifeless objects, subconsciously she knew that the steps she was taking would be for the better. In the end Jaye was able to understand that the pain she suffered due to a talking wax lion, was a necessary journey to reach her happily ever after.

1 comment:

mkr said...

nice review!