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With: Caroline Dhavernas, Katie Finneran, Tyron Leitso, Lee Pace, William Sadler, Diana Scarwid, Tracie Thoms
Written by: Todd Holland, Bryan Fuller
Directed by: Jamie Babbit, Allan Kroeker, Peter Lauer, Michael Lehmann, Peter O'Fallon, Jeremy Podeswa
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 780
Date: 03/12/2004

Wonderfalls: The Complete Viewer Collection (2004)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Talk to the Animals

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Sometimes two people have the same idea and find very different ways to explore it, such as when the two talking pig movies came out in 1995. America ignored Gordy and embraced Babe. But in 2004, two television shows loosely based on "Joan of Arc" premiered, and the weaker of the two survived.

In "Joan of Arcadia," God himself begins appearing to a high school girl, asking her to do his bidding towards a greater end. In "Wonderfalls," inanimate animals begin talking to a cynical college graduate, forcing her to perform odd tasks, with the certainty that horrible things will happen if she doesn't. The shows were very similar, except that "Joan of Arcadia" was a little nicer, a little more vanilla, and featured a nice life lesson at the end of each episode. "Wonderfalls" is funnier, darker, more cynical, and more than just a little odd.

Not surprisingly, America turned "Joan of Arcadia" into a hit, and "Wonderfalls" was cancelled after four episodes. Also not surprisingly, "Wonderfalls" quickly developed a small and passionate cult following dedicated to saving it.

Now "Wonderfalls" has been released in a three-disc DVD collection, featuring the four aired episodes, plus nine more that would have rounded out the first season.

Caroline Dhavernas stars as Jaye Tyler, a college grad with a degree in philosophy who works in a tourist shop near Niagara Falls and lives in a trailer park, much to the chagrin of her wealthy and successful family. Like most smart young people, she has a very cynical view of life, and is armed with a funny wisecrack for nearly every situation.

One morning, a squish-faced wax lion begins talking to her, telling her to perform small tasks. These tasks invariably start a chain of events, leading to bigger and more important things. Jaye continually moans when her deeds turn her into a good Samaritan. She'd rather be left alone with a beer.

Fortunately, a new bartender has breezed into town, Eric (Tyron Leitso), an equally damaged soul who came to Niagara Falls on his honeymoon, only to lose his new bride to a hotel bellboy. Eric and Jaye begin a tantalizing Sam-and-Diane-like love dance that lasts all 13 episodes.

Created by Todd Holland, who has a full package of smart cult shows under his belt ("Amazing Stories," "Max Headroom," "Twin Peaks," "Eerie, Indiana," "My So-Called Life," "Maximum Bob," etc.) and Bryan Fuller (a longtime "Star Trek" writer), the show packs a bold, colorful and highly distinctive visual style with its snappy, snarky humor.

It's not clear how long the show could have gone on being this good, but that's part of the bonus with these outcast cult shows. Not only do we get the entire series in one box set, but we also go the extra distance to give it a little extra love.

DVD Details: This essential box comes with a mediocre making-of documentary, a featurette about the wonderful visual effects, and a music video for the catchy title song by Andy Partridge (formerly of XTC).

Note: San Francisco's Michael Lehmann (Heathers The Truth About Cats & Dogs), a cult director in his own right, directed one episode.

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