There’s a new show on Fox called Wonderfalls (Thursdays, 9pm, Fox). I like it, which means it’s pretty much doomed (c.f. Sports Night or Boomtown). I watched the first episode for a bunch of reasons; the premise (tchotchkes talking to a disaffected clerk in a tourist trap) sounded interesting and similar to Joan of Arcadia, but more importantly, I trusted the show creators. The executive producer is Tim Minear, who wrote several of the best episodes of Angel. One of the creators is Bryan Fuller, who created Dead Like Me, a show that I’ve only seen one episode of (at a motel which happened to have Showtime), but I really liked the sense of humor and whimsy in that one episode. So I gave it a chance. And I love it.
The main character, Jaye Tyler, got a degree in philosophy from Brown, but moved back to her hometown of Niagara Falls and is now working retail and living in a trailer. She’s wonderfully snarky. She snarls at people that cross her, she avoids customers like the plague, and generally tries to avoid making anything of her life. She’s got one of those impossible overachieving families of television, but it sets up all sorts of hilarious situations, so I’ll roll with it. In fact, the whole sense of humor of the show appeals to me greatly, which, again, means it’s doomed, because I know I’m not part of the mainstream humor-wise. Alas.
But in Jaye Tyler, the writers of the show have created an archetype of the disaffected slackers of my generation. In the second episode, she’s described as having created “a stressless, expectation-free zone” around her. One of the comments at Tim Minear’s site said that they didn’t like the show because they didn’t understand why Jaye was so angry. They said that Jaye had everything: a loving family, a great education, every advantage it’s possible to have, and they didn’t understand why “she’s determined to try to spite [her family] by taking a dead end job that she clearly hates.” I’ll step in here and offer my own explanation. Jaye isn’t angry. She is, if anything, afraid. She _has_ been given all the advantages in life, which means she has no excuse for failure. The expectations on her are overwhelming. So she consciously chooses to reject those expectations, to create that “stressless, expectation-free zone” around her. By lowering everybody’s expectations, she regains the freedom to chart the course of her own life.
It goes further than that, though. Her family are all mythical overachievers – her father is a doctor, her mother a successful writer, her sister a lawyer, and her brother a graduate student. Yet she knows how unhappy they are. She has seen that “success” in the conventional sense does not guarantee happiness or even satisfaction. So she’s looking for another path, but one that she can take on her terms, without being judged by the standards of society. Her retail job, her living in a trailer, these are all attempts to erase the slate of expectations and start over, allowing her to define success on her terms.
No, I’m not projecting at all.
It’s definitely made me think a bit about my own life. Jaye’s situation is viewed conventionally as a dead-end. But then these animals start talking to her, giving her things to do. In some sense, they’re giving her a cosmic kick-in-the-butt to get moving (as an aside, it’s unclear what makes the animals talk. I think it makes a lot of sense that it’s Jaye’s own conscience). I kind of feel that I may need a similar kick myself. Not the dead-end part, but I’m too comfortable where I am. I have done such a good job of managing expectations at my job that I am easily able to satisfy all the demands put on me. So it’s not that hard, and it’s well-paying, and gives me lots of time to do other things with my life. But it’s not very satisfying, partially because it’s not challenging me. Or I’m not challenging myself. So I feel like I’m waiting for something to tell me what to do next. Hopefully, I won’t have inanimate objects actually start talking to me, but I want some sign from the universe. I think. If you see me wearing aluminum foil hats a year from now trying to get the universe to stop talking to me, you’ll know I asked for it.
Anyway, back to Wonderfalls. It’s already being threatened with cancellation. Tim Minear wrote a plea to viewers to tell their friends to watch, as did Caroline Dhavernas, the actress who plays Jaye. So if you watch television, and you think my sardonic comments are funny, check this show out. Especially if you have a Nielsen box. Which none of us do. Because apparently the way you become a Nielsen family is by answering a bunch of surveys over the telephone. And we all have better things to do than talk on the phone, so when they ask “Do you have some time to take a survey?”, we say “No.” and hang up.
But still, watch the show. It’s still finding its footing, and the plotting is pretty uneven, but it’s already a lot of fun, and the dialogue is sparkling. Thumbs up.