TV Eye

Feasting on midseason fare

<i>Wonderfalls </i>

Friday night is a terrible night to launch a new series. So, consider this your official reminder to preset the VCR, TiVo, or whatever your recording device of choice is for Friday nights at 8pm on Fox. This is the unenviable time the new, midseason dramedy Wonderfalls airs, and from the midseason offerings I've seen, this is the cream of the crop.

Ordinarily, when I see "underachieving twentysomething" as a character description in a series log line, my eyes glaze over. There are just so many disaffected, aimless young adults I can take. But Caroline Dhavernas as Jaye Tyler, the central character of Wonderfalls, brings a delicate spin to the now familiar archetype. In this case, Jaye is a bright, 24-year-old, college-educated woman. She works in a Niagara Falls gift shop where she barely gives customers the time of day and tolerates her overachieving, high-school-age supervisor. She comes from a family that takes tasteful studio portraits and sends yearly Christmas letters detailing each family member's achievements. Jaye makes every effort to avoid them, retreating to her trailer at the High and Dry Trailer park. That is, when she's not throwing them back with the equally disaffected but much more social Mahandra (Tracie Thoms, in the token black-girl-as-best-friend role). To Jaye, life is just fine. No challenges, no drama, no bother. That is, until animal figurines begin to talk to her. Is God talking to her, or is she crazy?

The premise of a celestial being communicating with a human is not what anchors Wonderfalls, as in similar fare like Touched by an Angel, Joan of Arcadia, or Dead Like Me. After viewing four nonsequential episodes, it seems to me that Jaye is hearing from her id, the "source of psychic energy derived from instinctual needs and drives," according to Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. Jaye has done a fine job cultivating her insular world, so when she finds herself involved in lives around her (at the behest of the talking animal figurines), she finds the experience messy and confusing but strangely satisfying. Jaye is no saint. She's not on the born-again track. She's discovering that the interconnectedness of people is more distinct than she'd like to believe. Of course, Jaye never comes to this conclusion directly, and sometimes does not witness the results of her involvement. This, in itself, makes Wonderfalls supremely satisfying and enables the series to traverse the rutted road of the human condition through one of the most reluctant and engaging heroines to hit the small screen.

Others in the cast include Diana Scarwid, marvelous as Jaye's manicured mother, the successful author Karen. William Sadler plays Jaye's father, Darrin, a physician cast in the Father Knows Best mold. Her older siblings include Sharon (Katie Finneran), a closeted lesbian lawyer, and her theology student brother Aaron (Lee Pace). Tyron Leitso stars as Eric, a bartender and Jaye's potential love interest.

Wonderfalls premieres this Friday at 8pm on Fox.

Premiering This Week

Touching Evil, a remake of the British crime drama – this one featuring an FBI detective – premieres tonight (March 12) at 8pm on USA. Century City, a law drama set in 2030 Los Angeles, premieres Tuesday at 8pm on CBS. In The Stones, Robert Klein and Judith Light star as a likable, long-married couple who traumatize their adult children when they decide to divorce. Premieres Wednesday at 8:30pm, on CBS. High School Reunion: Round Rock High School alums from the class of '93 gather in Oahu to settle old scores and spark old loves, giving the phrase "get a life" renewed meaning. Premieres Sunday at 8pm on the WB.

Worth Watching

Johnny Cash in San Quentin. This 1969 documentary is a gem in Trio's Uncovered TV series. Filmed as a follow-up to At Folsom Prison, this hourlong film features Cash in his prime and in his element – singing to the forgotten with songs that strike deep in the heart. A prologue of sorts, explaining the cowboy mythology, offers an amusing glimpse of how the Brits viewed American culture (the film originated from Granada Television). Interspersed among concert footage are interviews with prisoners and prison guards, but what delights most is Cash's frank, openhearted performance. Johnny Cash in San Quentin premieres Sunday (March 14) at 8pm on Trio.

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Johnny Cash in San Quentin, Trio, Robert Klein, Judith Light, The Stones, Touching Evil, Diana Scarwid, William Sadler, Katie Finneran, Lee Pace, Tyron Leitso, Tracie Thoms

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