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'Wonderfalls' nostalgia recap: Surrender to destiny

Season 1 | Episode 1 | “Wax Lion” | Aired Mar 12, 2004

If you blinked back in 2004, you probably missed the entire existence of Wonderfalls. Fox only aired four episodes (out of order, in two different time slots) before canceling the show, but thanks to the loyalty of a small but persistent fan base, all 13 produced episodes were eventually released on DVD. Created by Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Hannibal) and Todd Holland, this wonderfully quirky dramedy follows Jaye Tyler (Caroline Dhavernas), a cynical, underachieving Niagara Falls souvenir-shop clerk who reluctantly starts helping people in need at the behest of animal figurines that speak to her.

Even before a bizarre series of events involving the Maid of the Mist, a quarter, a fountain, and a near-choking incident leads to a deformed wax lion figurine addressing Jaye, it is clear she is not your typical heroine. She graduated from Brown with a philosophy degree and now, at age 24, is just what she predicted in her high school yearbook: “overeducated and unemployable.”

She can’t even get promoted to assistant manager of the Wonderfalls Gift Emporium, and she insists Native Americans be referred to as “Indians.” She lives in a trailer park and is completely content with her unambitious lifestyle, which is why she is so dismayed when the little wax lion discourages her from giving a snarky customer a refund. Shocked, Jaye fails to understand what the lion could be getting at—until the woman’s purse, containing the refund Jaye gave her anyway, is immediately stolen. Jaye promptly passes out, as one often does when inanimate objects start speaking to them.

As Jaye recovers at home in her trailer, we meet her minimally concerned, highly dysfunctional family. Her mother, Karen (Diana Scarwid), father, Darrin (William Sadler), sister, Sharon (Katie Finneran), and brother, Aaron (Lee Pace), speculate she could be emotionally disturbed, depressed, sexually unsatisfied, or perhaps all of the above. At her mother’s insistence, Jaye attends a therapy session, the point of which is quickly defeated when the brass monkey on the therapist’s desk asks Jaye to steal him (she does).

Later, at a local dive bar called the Barrel, Jaye does some well-deserved shots and complains about her crazy family with her best friend, Mahandra (Tracie Thoms). A cute bartender, Eric (Tyron Leitso), catches Jaye’s eye, and she learns his week has been even worse than hers—he caught his college sweetheart cheating on him with a bellhop during their honeymoon, walked into the Barrel a few days ago, and cried until someone gave him a job.

Credit: Giphy

Now that we’ve met most of the major players, the first real talking-animal plot of the week begins. Whenever Jaye attempts to ignore the wax lion, he starts singing. This eventually forces her to cave and talk to Thomas, the delivery guy at Wonderfalls, whom she learns has just been through a messy divorce. An eagle on a quarter squawks at Jaye, leading her to discover the snarky customer’s stolen purse in a trash can. This is when Jaye first realizes these animals appear to have some sort of plan, although she still just hopes that if she obliges they’ll leave her alone.

She reluctantly goes to return the empty purse and ends up in a physical altercation with the very unappreciative customer. Sharon, a lawyer, is forced to come to her younger sister’s rescue. This leads to part two of the lion’s scheme, during which he tells Jaye to “make him a match” and fix up Sharon and Thomas, whom Jaye refers to as “poor bitch,” on a date.

After a sleepless night of the lion singing to her, Jaye agrees and lures them both to the Barrel. After a disastrous date, Sharon reveals to Thomas that she’s a lesbian, which her family doesn’t know. A frustrated Thomas promptly blurts this out to an unsurprised Jaye before going into anaphylactic shock due to a food allergy. After a very dramatic car ride to the hospital—during which Sharon performs an emergency tracheotomy on Thomas with a pen—the lion’s intentions become clear.

While at the ER, Sharon has a meet-cute with Thomas’s ex-wife, and we learn the poor bitch truly never did stand a chance—he’s not exactly her type. But things are looking up for Thomas, too: He hits it off with his very pretty nurse and receives a sponge bath that’s pretty sexy for a network show.

Jaye is completely dismayed by how well everything seems to be working out, but remains baffled as to what the animal muses want and why they have chosen her to help them. Back in Jaye’s trailer, with some encouragement from the lion, she and Sharon have their first moment of sisterly bonding in years.

Credit: Giphy

Between connecting with her sister, striking up a promising flirtation with Eric, and seeming genuinely happy for Thomas and his new chance at happiness, Jaye shows hints of being not entirely cynical about life by the end of the pilot. Maybe it’s all a sign that, like the legendary Maid of the Mist herself, Jaye should just “surrender to destiny.” Her hopes that obeying the animals this time will make them shut up are quickly dashed when a stuffed barrel bear at the store tells her to “see a penny, pick it up”—beginning the adventure all over again.

Odds and ends

  • My favorite exchange from the episode is when Jaye tells Mahandra she was “accosted by a middle-aged Texan hausfrau during an act of kindness,” and Mahandra says, “Why were you performing an act of kindness?”
  • An earlier version of the pilot starred Kerry Washington as Mahandra and Adam Scott as Aaron. Just take a moment to picture that.
  • Would you, too, be as bitter as Jaye if you were the only member of your family to not be given a rhyming name?
TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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