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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Wonderfalls: The Complete Viewer Collection (2004)

"Oh, yeah, this is a laugh riot. This is where I would most like to be, standing in the freezing cold being called a liar by a nun and coerced by a wax lion to commit crime. It's so much fun!"
- Jaye Tyler (Caroline Dhavernas)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: February 07, 2005

Stars: Caroline Dhavernas
Other Stars: Tyron Leitso, Katie Finneran, Lee Pace, William Sadler, Diana Scarwid, Tracie Thoms, Jewel Staite
Director: Todd Holland, Marita Grabiak, Jamie Babbit, Allan Kroeker, Peter Lauer, Michael Lehmann, Peter O'Fallon, Jeremy Podeswa, Craig Zisk

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 09h:50m:00s
Release Date: February 01, 2005
UPC: 024543148043
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-B-B B

DVD Review

One would think that a television series involving the talents of writer/director Todd Holland (Eerie, Indiana, Twin Peaks, Malcolm in the Middle) and writer/producers Tim Minear (Firefly, Angel) and Bryan Fuller (Dead Like Me) would merit slightly more loving care by the network heads at Fox, but I guess it's all just big business after all.

Why indulge us with a witty, clever show about a philosophy major from Brown University working retail at a Niagara Falls gift shop who receives cryptic messages from inanimate objects like wax lions, lawn flamingos, and cocktail bunnies? Why give us something different when we can have yet another vapid, embarrassing reality show?

It just makes me wonder sometimes.

Whatever their reasoning, Fox harshly bitch-slapped Wonderfalls, the refreshingly off-balance series created by Holland and Fuller, by airing just four episodes on nearly as many different nights in the spring of 2004. It is usually the kiss of death when a network juggles a show too often (ahem, Futurama), and while few doubted Wonderfalls would last, it shocked many when it was axed so soon. And now, in one of those moves that can either be looked at as a network realizing the error of their ways or simply looking at a way to cash in, Fox has cut loose with a three-disc set of all 13 episodes.

The philosophy major working as a retail clerk, Jaye Tyler (Caroline Dhavernas), is lead of the series, a wonderfully caustic twenty-something with a cynical streak a mile wide, and a person that on the surface seems perfectly unnatural for a likeable main character. She's not particularly bubbly, she has deep-seated family issues, she's not even all that warm (mocking a stutterer at one point), and having a lead be so left-of-center was probably one of the bigger hurdles for Holland and Fuller to overcome. Jaye may seem initially unlikable (I think she's a peach, but that's my dark side showing), and though she eventually softens a bit around the edges, she remains a rather tough nut. Perhaps it's because Jaye is NOT like every other one-dimensional warm-and-cuddly chickie on television that she stands out so much, and Dhavernas plays her quite naturally on the down low, rather than as a shrieking caricature. She is a slighlty more approachable variation of Fuller's creation George from Dead Like Me, only with a cleaner mouth.

It's not enough that poor Jaye lives alone in a tiny trailer and has emotionally distanced herself from her family—including surgeon dad (William Sadler), socialite/author mom (Diana Scarwid), and two older siblings (Katie Finneran, Lee Pace)—it's that she suddenly begins to hear voices from the likes of stuffed animals and mounted fish, urging her to follow some intentionally vague path in order to help someone out. The fact that this is largely against Jaye's nature makes for some good comedy, and her unwillingness to want to help out is only aggravated by the incessant pestering of monkey statues or cow creamers that only she can hear.

The show, which Fuller refers to as being about a "modern day Joan of Arc", is filled with stylized moments of quirky visual whimsy, something that falls off slightly as the season wears on, but what the pilot episode is crammed with in just about every frame. There are sweeping camera shots and inventive effects sequences, such a Jaye chasing a rogue quarter or her retelling of an ancient Indian legend, that propel the show into a kind of way-cool hipness that seems too good for network television (and considering it only lasted four episodes, it apparently was, and my prediction about it was right for once).

So, how do the unaired episodes shake out?

For me, I'm just glad I no longer have to mess around trying to download them from file-sharing sites, and getting nine "new" installments in one fell swoop is good stuff, indeed. The writing largely holds up as the season progresses—the snappy dialogue is especially noteworthy—even if the whole premise seems built to realistically not last much beyond a season or two. Some of the supporting characters get a bit more fleshed out in subsequent enries, including Jaye's brother Aaron (Lee Pace) and the ex-wife of love interest/bartender Eric (Tyron Leitso), but it is Dhavernas who proves herself a consistently fine comic actor through it all, reacting to commands like "Save him from her" or "Silence the voices." She's a cynical wise-ass, and enormously fun to watch.

Fox has gained something of a reprieve by issuing Wonderfalls: The Complete Viewer Collection, so I suppose I shouldn't complain too much.

So, now, I'm waiting for that second season of Tru Calling. C'mon Fox! You owe me!

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The good news is that all 13 episodes are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, not the original 4:3 broadcast aspect ratio. The bad news is the constant grain the permeates nearly every episode, and though colors look fairly warm, it's not like the image quality is particularly strong. Interior scenes, most notably those in the bar, look awful more often than not, and the biggest distraction is the fluctuation between sequences that go in and out of graininess.

The anamorphic widescreen treatment alone kept this in the B- category.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is available in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, and though this set doesn't come close to abusing the option, a few eps do make use of the rear channels, though it is fairly infrequent. For the most part this is a clean, discernible, front-centric mix, with occasional directional pans, but hardly a showcase for the format.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 156 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
6 Feature/Episode commentaries by Caroline Dhavernas, Todd Holland, Bryan Fuller, Katie Finneran, Scotch Ellis Loring
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
3 Discs
3-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Fox has a done a fan-worthy job on the extras, considering the shoddy treatment it was given during its run, with the series presented on three discs housed in two thinline cases in a cardboard slipcase.

There are six slightly crowded commentary tracks, all featuring Caroline Dhavernas, Todd Holland, Bryan Fuller, and Katie Finneran (actor Scotch Ellis Loring joins the group on Cocktail Bunny). Holland and Fuller, especially on the pilot, Wax Lion, relay a wealth of great info (tidbits like the show's original title or casting changes), and have the most to say about the creation and direction of the show, including the plans for later seasons. Unfortunately, Dhavernas, as well as Finneran, don't get as much mike time as I might have hoped, but Holland and Fuller do manage carry the tracks.

Disc 1 contains Greetings from Wonderfalls (22m:58s) a moderately puffy featurette, with interviews from Holland, Fuller, and the cast. Disc 2 houses the ridiculously brief Fantastic Visual Effects (03m:03s), exploring the development of the talking inanimate objects, as well as the Andy Partridge music video for the show's theme song(03m:07s).

Each episode is cut into 12 chapters, with optional English or Spanish subtitles.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Wonderfalls was one of the oddball bright spots on network television in 2004, and since it was one of those rare programs that I loved, it was of course yanked off the air after just four episodes.

With the release of the entire 13-episode run, it is safe to say that my original emotional wounds have now officially scabbed over and healed, and I am filled with a sense of closure in finally getting to see those nine unaired episodes.

Reliving the show via DVD, I'm once again pissed off that it was dropped, because this is still enjoyably weird television, ungraciously dumped by a network that still thinks Paris Hilton is a viable talent.

Highly recommended.

 


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