Wonderfalls

I think that using the phrase “spirit animal” to describe a fictional character or a famous person is generally very hacky, but I really need to use it in this case. I’ll forgive myself if you do, too.

Jaye Tyler is that phrase for me. I thought it was Rory Gilmore for awhile, and then I thought it was Liz Lemon for awhile, and then I tried to convince myself that it could possibly be Claire Underwood, but that’s really more of a pipe dream, sartorially and attitudinally. No, it’s Jaye Tyler through and through.

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Caroline Dhavernas’ detatched, intelligent, trusting, inexplicably loyal Jaye Tyler is what Kat Dennings and Aubrey Plaza have made a career on. Her Jaye Tyler is nuanced, specifically relatable, and frustrating. Jaye Tyler is me. Minus the talking to animals part.

I do talk to myself, though. I’ll admit it. (Who doesn’t? If you don’t, you’re kidding yourself.) Seeing this character portrayed on television brought me great comfort, and knowing that it was cancelled because mostly likely there are few people who could relate to it brings me even more comfort. It’s an ego thing, I guess. Jaye isn’t an extremely likable person; she grew up in a privileged home and got a good education, she’s capable of more than she’s allowing, and she doesn’t relate to her siblings but she doesn’t have a bad relationship with them, either. She’s just stuck, somewhere, in her own head. She lacks the ability to express why she’s stuck, and she doesn’t particularly want to be unstuck, either. She’s comfortable living and working in a tchotchke shop in Niagara Falls and complaining about how boring her life is.

So why do the inanimate animals–the wax lion, the totem mole, the caged bird–talk to her? And why does she feel compelled to follow every instruction they give her? It’s not really explained, but it doesn’t need to be. She needed to feel special somehow, and this is what her mind gave her. It gave her little messages that mucked up her life and created drama out of nothing, and then helped her learn about the place of her job, her family, her friends, her lovers, in her life. She didn’t feel like she needed to be listened to, but she didn’t mind being noticed once in awhile. She forced herself to listen to the animals because somewhere, deep down, her morals wouldn’t let her do otherwise. I completely, totally, get that.

I also get why she was such a dumbass when it came to Eric (Tyron Leitso, dreamboat). He was too good to be true, in a way that freaked her out, because he wasn’t too good to be true, and she couldn’t handle it. She couldn’t handle letting her mind wander to the place where she’d inevitably ruin the relationship, and she pulled the plug too soon. Of course [spoiler alert] it is a television show, and Bryan Fuller is nothing if not a romantic, so Eric does make a triumphant return (after a confusing situation with his ex-wife rears its ugly/pretty head). But the innocent, playful way that their relationship comes about, and the show’s use of emotional cliffhangers at the end of a couple of episodes (particularly the 9th and 10th) really made me feel like I was feeling whatever Jaye was feeling. That sense of being cut off, of not knowing how to fix something you just caused? Wonderfalls nails it.

Wonderfalls isn’t some soap opera, though. I don’t want you to get that impression. It’s a weird, supernaturally-laced show with occasional horror and historical fiction and suspense elements thrown in for fun. One episode in particular, the 12th, goes off on a pretty long tangent at an Indian reservation upstate. It actually made no sense within the larger context of the show, and it was probably my least favorite episode of the 13, but it demonstrated how zany and interesting things could have gotten. Those episodes could have been more frequent, and thus more polished, and the show could have gone in so many cool directions. Dealing with the same boy-girl relationship episode after episode can be tiring, and the show knew that, but it had to end things well once it got the cancel-call.

It would have been thrilling to see more from Lee Pace and Tracie Lords, too — as Jaye’s brother Aaron and Jaye’s best friend Mahandra, respectively, their romance seemed a little forced, for the sake of giving Pace more screen time, especially. (Not that I’m complaining, he’s my #1.) But in the long term vision of the show, whatever that would have been, their relationship would have been worth exploring; he, the religious studies student, she, the sassy waitress. As they found out about what they did or didn’t have in common, they’d be forced to adapt or break free. (I’m just glad I get to see the spectacular Katie Finneran on the MJF show now. She went from uptight lawyer to relaxed mooch sister with such ease.)

I shouldn’t talk as much about the hypothetical, because the show is over, and it ended on a nice note, and maybe it couldn’t have even gone on for much longer anyway. Bryan Fuller’s shows are big, beautiful dreams, and as a result, they fizzle kind of easily. It’s too bad that television can’t handle them, but at least there are a few of us in on the fun. And the less I know about Jaye Tyler’s future, the better. I can make it up as I go along.

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