Monday, March 29, 2004

But where's the cow creamer?

I was all ready to hate Wonderfalls, and whaddaya know, it's my favorite show in a surprisingly strong spring season. The vague commercials didn't help my expectations, nor did the sense that it was a blatant attempt to cash in on the success of Joan of Arcadia. In fact, I've since learned, Wonderfalls was slated for the summer, but was shelved when Joe Millionaire 2 tanked and they decided to burn it off with double episodes, then delayed again in the fall when CBS announced Joan (it's like Armageddon and Deep Impact all over again!).

Still, it's easy enough to make the Joan of Arcadia comparison, but it's really very different. For starters, it's FUN! And well written. And I care about the characters. And Joe Mantenga's not in it. It's a little bit creepy, which I find highly refreshing. Joan could use a little extra creepy, considering the premise. I could do without the "quirky" music and the "wacky" Viewmaster editing, but the show is legitimately weird, and I really like that. And it's a weirdness that doesn't feel forced. It helps that Jaye is an adult, and therefore can drink (which I'm sure I would do if inanimate objects started talking to me), that Caroline Dhavernas deserves the title of Queen of the Reaction Shot, and that some of the little talking animal objects are just supremely fucked up.

I actually like Joan, in small doses, but while it hasn't gone into Touched By An Angel territory yet it can (understandably) get a little heavy-handed. God inevitably teaches Joan some great lesson, while Jaye sometimes has to go a very long way to figure something out on her own, and often winds up right back where she started. Jaye's mission seems to be to help people, but it's almost always highly indirect. The animals inevitably tell her to do something, which she misinterprets completely, and her resulting actions set of a chain of events that ends up doing whatever it was she was supposed to do. You'd think that by now she'd know that she's always wrong about her mission the first time, but I like the message that everything is connected, and that your actions have consequences you may never know about (without the guidance of talking knick-knacks).

I also have no interest whatsoever in Joan's supporting characters, but Wonderfalls goes out of its way to keep its narcissistic protaganist from completely hogging the spotlight, and there's some really wonderful ensemble work happening. I'm especially fond of Jaye's best friend and adorable bartender love interest, and Broadway vet Katie Finneran is fantastic, playing the complete opposite of the Noises Off role that made her famous in theater circles.

I just hope that the show doesn't become too one-note. Three episodes in, it's all good fun, but it could easily degenerate into Talking Knick-Knack of the Week. All the regular characters are so far are pretty much just types. Totally enjoyable types, but we know very little about them and I'd like to see that change to ground the show in something besides the guest stars. In any case, definitely one to keep watching.

In even weirder territory, there's Kingdom Hospital. I've always been a Stephen King fan, but his recent work has been pretty assy, especially on film and TV, so I was skeptical about this. I'm still not quite sure what to make of it, but I'm enjoying it. Not much has really happened yet, and each week is starting to feel the same, but the characters are interesting enough, and the show stylish enough, that I don't really mind. King's longer novels usually take a couple hundred pages to get going, so things should be getting good and scary soon. I could have done without the 15 minute sequence in the pilot establishing that one character is an asshole (we got it!), and some of the quirkier characters feel forced (what's the deal with the German security guard with the improbable glasses, who also occasionally cleans floors and signs in patients?) but I'm pretty engaged. Hopefully it'll all tie together and make sense eventually like It, and not turn out to be a big steaming pile of crap like Dreamcatcher. We've got ghosts, a factory fire, psychics, a vampire (I think), some kind of mystical aardvark, and musical fantasy sequences galore. It really could go anywhere.

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