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must-see dvd tv: dead like me, wonderfalls by Yee-Fan Sun | 1 2 3
continued from page 2

Starring: Caroline Dhavernas, Katie Finneran, Tyron Leitso, Lee Pace, Diana Scarwid, William Sadler, Tracie Thoms
The Complete Series

Jaye Tyler is the youngest child in a very accomplished family. Dad Darren is a successful doctor, Mom Karen is a bestselling travel writer, sister Sharon is one of the city's top lawyers, and even brother Aaron, though he still lives at home, is well on his ways towards attaining his Ph.D in comparative religion. Twenty-four-year-old Jaye, meanwhile, with her bachelor's in philosophy from Brown, has opted out of all that. Back in her hometown of Niagara Falls, New York, she lives alone in her vintage Airstream trailer, hangs out at the bar where her long-time best friend Mahandra waitresses, and works at a tacky souvenir shop shilling Maid of the Mist videos and teddy bears in wooden barrels. Jaye's pretty much embraced the slacker existence with open arms, to the dismay of her family, who wish she'd find a more meaningful way to apply her talents. Though the official word is that they're happy as long as she's happy, they're convinced she can't possibly be. To some extent they're right, but Jaye figures that since everyone she knows seems dissatisfied, she might as well put in as little effort as possible to achieve the same result.

But on the same day that she suffers the incredible humiliation of getting passed over as store manager in favor of her bowlcut-sporting idiot coworker Alec, Jaye's going-nowhere life takes an unexpected turn for the bizarre. A kitschy souvenir toy -- a plastic lion, to be exact -- starts talking to her, enigmatically commanding her without offering any reason why. Don't give her the money back, the lion advises Jaye about a customer -- and when she defies the crazy talking animal, it turns out that the customer's purse gets stolen immediately after Jaye hands over the refund. Later, after being dragged to her mother's shrink because her parents are concerned Jaye's depressed, a bronze monkey on the doctor's desk starts musing aloud to her as well. And then there's the pushy fake fish hanging on the wall at the bar, who starts belting "Ninety-nine bottles of beer" when Jaye tries to ignore its admonitions. Jaye's been getting along just fine without a mission in her life thus far, but the animals are driving her nuts. To shut them up, she finally resigns herself to just doing what she's told. As it turns out, each effort seems to help someone around her. Soon, despite her best efforts to avoid commitment and responsibility, Jaye finds herself a (deeply) reluctant do-gooder.

It's amazing how many of my favorite shows never even made it to the end of the first season (see Freaks and Geeks and Firefly). So I suppose Wonderfalls is in good company. Still, you have to wonder what the network could possibly have been thinking in axing this show a mere four episodes into its young life. Especially when the show has this much potential. Wonderfalls is funny and charmingly offbeat, featuring a very pretty and appealingly acerbic lead actress (Caroline Dhavernas), an absolutely crush-worthy love interest (the oh-so-cute Tyron Leitso), and a cast replete with memorable, hilarious side characters (every member of the Tyler clan is just the best kind of wacky). The show's pacing has a great funky-jazzy rhythm to it, that sucks you in and makes you surrender to its surreal world, and the dialogue is sparkly witty fabulous. Occasionally, the show does get a little too whimsical for its own good, but for the most part, it leaves you feeling pleasantly off-kilter, the absurdist elements providing just the right balance of levity to keep Jaye's all-too-familiar twenty-something angst from getting too full of itself. You probably missed this show during its brief appearance on network television; now that it's out on DVD, catch the whole series -- all 13 episodes, including 9 that never aired -- in all its weird, wonderful glory.


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