Caroline Dhavernas might have been my first celebrity crush. You guys in the US just fell in love with her in 2004 during the short, spectacularly botched “Wonderfalls” run on Fox, but I’ve been pining for the gorgeous French Canadian actress since the early 1990s, when she starred in local teen soap “Zap”. I was excited to learn she would star in her own primetime series and caught what few episodes I could, but before I was even able to get used to its airing schedule (who watches TV on Friday nights?), it was gone. Fortunately, thanks to TV-on-DVD, we can now watch the whole series.
1.1 – Wax Lion
“Why did you steal that monkey?”
“He told me to.”
Being overeducated and unemployable is one thing. You got a degree in philosophy at Brown, but you’re working in a gift shop in Niagara Falls and living in a trailer park… That’s cool, really. Even if your family is always on your case, you can deal with it. Then again, if inanimate objects like a smooshed-face wax lion or a brass monkey start talking to you, maybe you should begin to worry! This is an original, wonderfully quirky premise for a TV show, and it’s backed by witty writing and very energetic visuals. And then of course there’s Caroline Dhavernas, more adorable than ever as Jaye Tyler. Beside being absolutely gorgeous, she’s got perfect comic timing and she fills her character with the bittersweet pathos of being 24 and working in retail. Jaye might be clinically insane, but I wouldn’t change a thing about her. I’m in love.
1.2 – Karma Chameleon
“What are your feelings on beer?”
This is the first ‘sode I saw and loved on TV, and it’s still a hoot the second time. In a nod to “Single White Female”, Jaye helps out a young girl who in turn begins to use her as a role model… Or she may be investigating a story on Generation Y “non-winners”. There are scenes here are that are too brilliant for words, where every line kills and every expression on Dhavernas’ face makes it even better.
1.3 – Wound-up Penguin
“Well, smell me. Better than I thought I was.”
Jaye and the cute barman try to find a mysterious blonde woman before an Irish Johnny Cash-type does, but only wind up creating a lot of confusion and making her the subject of an exorcism! This episode is lighter on laughs, but it’s got some interesting things to say about religion and faith which tie into the general premise of the series.
1.4 – Pink Flamingos
A mounted fish talks Jaye into helping a girl she hates organize their 6 ½ years (!) high school reunion. Jaye’s a little freaked because she feels she needed those 3 ½ extra years to suddenly, like, invent something and become somebody. Again, this episode attempts a balancing act between amusing and touching. Jaye both kicks ass and makes you feel sorry for her. In Dhavernas’ own words: “She loves that people have low expectations of her because it gives her freedom to be lazy. She’s created this expectation-free zone around her and then all of a sudden she can’t be in that comfort zone any more because these (talking figurines) are forcing her to help people. That disgusts her.”
1.5 – Crime Dog
“I barely tapped him. Old people go down easy.”
This first unaired ‘sode opens with a bang, as Jaye is at the police station being interrogated about why her parents’ housekeeper was found in the trunk of her car! We then flashback to the day before, of course, and find out that it had more than a little to do with talking animal-shaped junk… Of course. It feels like this is the one where the show finds its gears, as Jaye’s well-meaning but overbearing parents, her disapproving lesbian sister and her brother, who lives at home but is still considered more successful than her, become more integral to the storytelling.
1.6 – Muffin Buffalo
“And now everybody’s gonna think I’m a baby-saver.”
Whoaaaaa… This is evolving into something. Jaye hates people, but she’s influenced to interact with and help them. Her brother, an atheist theologian, supposes his sister could be talking to God, but would rather believe she’s delusional. So yeah, this is a funny show about a grumpy chick hearing voices, but there’s this whole extra layer that’s revealing itself. Interesting.
1.7 – Barrel Bear
“And I’d rather be a nobody that’s a somebody than a somebody that’s a nobody. Or something. The point is, you suck!”
Jaye helps the first woman who went down Niagara Falls in a barrel (and lived!) get her groove back, only to find out that she’s a fraud. Meanwhile, Jaye comes to terms (sort of) with the fact that she may be “stuck”, we see more of her friend Mahandra and the cute barman is getting to feel like a true romantic interest.
1.8 – Lovesick Ass
“Uh, no boyfriend. Not boyfriend. Just boy, just friend. Not a couple.”
Another layer is coming off! The show’s still funny and clever and subtly spiritual, but now romance is coming into the foreground as well. It’s quite extraordinary how rich a character study this is turning out to be. At first there was a sense that I was mostly responding to the glory of Caroline Dhavernas, but with every passing episode we’re learning more about who Jaye is and what made her that way. We knew already that she was a slacker reluctant to take part in the world, but it’s becoming clear that this applies to her love life as well. She obviously cares for Cute Barman and can’t miss that he cares for her too, but she’s unable or unwilling to go with it. Fear of commitment? Fear of getting hurt? This all sounds very serious, but these developments actually occur while Jaye and Cute Barman are trying to console a Russian mail-order bride, heartbroken after discovering that her prospective husband is a thirteen-year-old boy!
1.9 – Safety Canary
“You’re like a total mack daddy bird pimp.”
While Jaye and Cute Barman try to “save the lovebirds”, i.e. endangered birds from the zoo who need to be encouraged to mate, their own not-love-yet thing is threatened to never be because Jaye is scared she will only break Cute Barman’s heart. This is pretty unusual and great, isn’t it? How often do you see a girl who likes a guy but who won’t give him a chance to make them happy because she isn’t sure it will work? I mean, this has happened in my life way too many times, but it’s nice to see it happen on screen. I’ve had this crush on this Caroline Dhavernas-type who supposedly cares for me but won’t take the chance to make this into something more and… Never mind. “Wonderfalls”, good. My love life, meh.
1.10 – Lying Pig
“Faking amnesia? How Days of Our Lives can you get?”
Cute Barman’s cheating wife is back in the picture and the talking cartoon animals and Jaye’s own conflicted feelings drive her to try to “mend what was broken”. Oh, this is so hard to watch! First, there’s the general feeling that the cast is hitting cruise control, with every supporting player (the parents, the lesbian sister, the atheist theologian brother, the Black best girl friend) showing new shades and interacting in increasingly entertaining ways, but I know there’s only three ‘sodes left before the end of the series. How sad! Then there’s the totally heartbreaking sight of Jaye still not capable of telling Cute Barman how she feels. She LOVES him, we know it, he knows it, she knows it too, but she just. can’t. say. it. And so she watches with her mouth shut as he goes back to Heidi-Ho… Aaaargh!
1.11 – Cocktail Bunny
“Lick the light switch.”
The plot thickens as Jaye, Cute Barman, his manipulative whore wife, Jaye’s therapist and his monkey get entangled in a potential murder mystery. I love how Dhavernas gets to be truly batshit crazy in this one, trying to save the man she loves but only making herself look like a paranoid freak in the process… Wish I could just give her a big hug, poor girl!
1.12 – Totem Mole
“What do you want me to do? Like, litter and get ‘em to chase me?”
Again, it sucks to know this is almost the end. If this was still a continuing series, I wouldn’t mind this inevitable road trip episode, where the characters take their issues to a different setting –in this case an Indian reserve- to shake up the formula. But considering this is the next-to-last we’ll ever have of “Wonderfalls”, anything but the resolution to the muse mystery and the love story makes me antsy.
1.13 – Caged Bird
“We’re all fate’s bitch. You might as well go ahead and bend over for destiny now.”
Aww, crap. Of COURSE this last ‘sode is the best, just to make it hurt more to know that the series’ been cancelled. Oh well. As Jaye and Cute Barman are about to say their final goodbyes, she finds herself taken hostage by an armed robber. And then… Well, I won’t spoil the ending, but I’ll say that it made me cry quite a bit… In a good way, kinda like the last shot of Melora Walters in “Magnolia”.
“Wonderfalls” was a wonderful, wonderful show. It really sucks that we won’t get more seasons with all these great characters. Hopefully, the DVD set will be a big hit and Caroline Dhavernas will finally become the superstar she deserves to be.