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'Wonderfalls' nostalgia recap: Flannel granny justice

Season 1 | Episode 7 | “Barrel Bear” | Unaired

The seventh episode of Wonderfalls, cowritten by Bryan Fuller and Tim Minear, begins with Jaye taunting the wax lion to say something. Interestingly enough, Jaye almost seems to rely on the animals’ guidance now. Although the lion remains silent, one of the stuffed barrel bears speaks up and tells Jaye to “give it back to her.” Jaye assumes it’s referring to a quarter an older lady just threw in the Maid of the Mist fountain outside, but by the time Jaye retrieves the quarter (and gets fined by a cop for doing so), the woman is gone.

At the Barrel, Eric is avoiding all calls from everyone in his old life—his mother, his former boss, and, most of all, his wife. Jaye is shocked when the woman from the fountain appears at the bar, and even more shocked when Mahandra gets starstruck. The woman is Millie Marcus (Rue McClanahan), the first American woman who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel and lived. Mahandra can’t believe Jaye’s lack of interest in such a piece of hometown history, remarking that Jaye really is “a Hobbit that hates the Shire.” When the fish on the wall tells Jaye the quarter isn’t what she is supposed to give back, she reluctantly engages in conversation with Millie. Jaye learns Millie misses her former days of being a celebrity and sets her up with an autograph table at Wonderfalls.

The autograph session is a disaster because no one is interested in meeting Millie. Jaye wonders if Millie would gain some attention by writing a book, and even attempts to recruit Karen to help her. Mrs. Tyler could not be less interested, but Darrin suggests Millie speak at a fundraiser for C.L.A.W. (Concerned Ladies of America West—East Coast Chapter), an organization he and Sharon are a part of.

The fundraiser (at the Barrel, naturally) is about to begin when another woman, Vivian Caldwell (Louise Fletcher) shows up and declares Millie is a fraud who stole her life. Jaye realizes “give it back to her” was never about Millie at all. It turns out Vivian, who was/is less attractive and charismatic than Millie, actually went over the Falls in the barrel, but her manager blindsided her with a plot to swap her out for Millie at the bottom. All of these years, while Millie went on worldwide press tours, Vivian was home in Niagara Falls, no one knowing what she accomplished. While Jaye is disgusted by Millie, Mahandra, who has idolized Millie since she was a child, stands by her.

DVD screengrab

Millie and Mahandra get drunk at the bar. Millie rambles about how she has guarded the legacy for all these years while Mahandra hangs on her every word and Eric looks on in horror. Meanwhile, Jaye goes to Vivian’s house and declares she’s going to help her reclaim what is hers. Mahandra is adamant that Jaye is up to something, and she convinces Millie and Eric to help her steal the real barrel from Vivian’s yard. Vivian and Jaye catch them in the act, and when Vivian tells Millie she can never change the fact that she never went over Niagara Falls, it gives drunk Millie a terrible, dangerous idea.

Mahandra, Eric, and Millie drive to the Falls with Vivian’s barrel, video camera in hand and ready to “reverse-engineer history.” Jaye and Vivian attempt to catch up to them, and Vivian accuses Jaye of being just like her—stuck. As Jaye insists she’s not, the truck gets literally stuck in the mud. While trying to get the car unstuck from the metaphor, Vivian and Jaye notice a mangled barrel in the water below and assume Millie has died.

DVD screengrab

Turns out Millie is not dead—the barrel accidentally went over the falls, but it was empty at the time. Millie has finally realized what a bitch she is because she could not bring herself to be as brave as Vivian was. She insists it’s not too late to make it right and wants to take Vivian on tour and introduce her to the world as the real hero. In the midst of this revelation, Millie keels over dead, because this show is dark sometimes.

Mahandra apologizes to Jaye, but is sad because Jaye used to tell her everything and has clearly been hiding something lately. Jaye tells Mahandra the crazy truth about the animals, to which Mahandra responds “whenever you’re ready to tell me the truth, I’m here to listen.” Vivian, dressed up in Millie’s clothes, is ready to go on tour. The plan is for her to impersonate Millie, which will at least give Vivian the opportunity to, in a way, finally get the recognition she deserves. Jaye is satisfied that Vivian is no longer stuck, and Mahandra is happy that Millie’s legacy will also remain intact.

After one final prompt from the animals, Jaye realizes it’s still not too late for Millie to go over the falls, and puts her ashes in a toy barrel from the store that she throws over. Eric joins her, throwing “old Eric’s” phone into the falls as well to symbolize his new beginning.

Odds and ends

  • Rue McClanahan, who sadly passed away in 2010, is a television icon best known for her role on The Golden Girls.
  • Louise Fletcher won an Oscar in 1976 for her portrayal of Nurse Ratched in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
  • One of my favorite exchanges from the episode is when Mahandra says Millie’s failed autograph signing is “sadder than that hooker we saw getting beat up by that other hooker.” Alec laments that “at least a hooker fight would draw a crowd.”
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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