Alibi V.13 No.11 • March 11-17, 2004 

Idiot Box

Touched by a Crazy Person

“Wonderfalls” on FOX

Bumped to mid-season due to a passing similarity to “Joan of Arcadia” (not to mention “Tru Calling”), FOX's “Wonderfalls” is finally seeing the light of day. It's about time, too. Among the many surprising aspects of the show is the fact that it's a delightful, quirk-filled stand-on-its-own comedy/drama.

Cute French-Canadian actress Caroline Dhavernas stars as Jaye Tyler, a cynical, morbidly unhappy young woman who returns to her hometown of Niagara Falls following a go-nowhere college career only to find herself working at a crummy tourist gift shop. Shacked up in a seedy trailer park and constantly badgered by her upscale parents (Diana Scarwid and William Sadler), Jaye knows her life is at an all-time low. One fateful day, however, a chintzy waxwork figure of a lion begins talking to her at work. In fact, a lot of inanimate objects start communicating with Jaye: stuffed animals, statues, coins. The universe, it seems, is trying very hard to tell her something. Though she's pretty sure she's cracking up, the universe proves to be rather persistent, and Jaye soon gives in to the rather bizarre demands of assorted tourist tchotchkes.

Each week, it would seem, Jaye is given a mission. The indirect object of the mission is to help someone with some sort of problem. The basic premise (young girl is given cryptic advice and ends up helping a stranger) is certainly reminiscent of “Joan of Arcadia,” but the mechanism (God versus random universal weirdness) is quite different—as is the outcome. “Wonderfalls” avoids the touchy feely moral of TV syrup like “Touched by an Angel” and even the more low-key “lesson learned” message of “Joan of Arcadia.” Jaye remains cynical, paranoid and rather resentful from start to finish. Her first adventure as a cosmic do-gooder involves her beating up a tourist, stabbing a guy with a pen and getting a lesbian a date. Let's see Joan pull that one off.

The show's Rube Goldberg plots unspool with a zippy, unpredictable energy. There's no telling where the show will end up each week, or whom our heroine is supposed to be helping exactly. “Wonderfalls” also has a fun visual style. Scenes slide one into the other, as if the entire show were filmed on a giant ViewMaster reel. (Nice touch for a show set largely in a Niagara Falls gift shop.) Having Jaye as our point of view fills the show with a welcome snarky sense of humor. The dialogue has got some of the same clever snap that “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” used to boast of. Clever, quirky and totally watchable, “Wonderfalls” is a Magical Realist miracle. Good TV? On a Friday? Sign me up!

“Wonderfalls” debuts on Friday, March 12, at 8 p.m. on KASA-2.