Skip to content


I guess I just like liking things


In the pilot episode of Wonderfalls, we are introduced to our main character, Jaye Tyler. She works in a tacky gift shop in Niagara Falls, Buffalo, New York, despite having completed a philosophy degree at Brown University. After being passed over for a promotion to assistant manager (which goes to high schooler Alec AKA The Mouthbreather), Jaye angrily tosses a quarter at a fountain, which bounces off the statue of the Maid of the Mist and conks her on the head. Shortly after this, Jaye has an altercation with a customer over a “smooshy” wax lion figurine, which suddenly begins talking to her. This causes Jaye to faint, worrying her family, who all stage an intervention at her trailer. Her father urges her to see the same therapist her mother sees, Dr. Ron, whose brass monkey bookend also gets chatty. Swiping the monkey, Jaye drowns her sorrows in some alcohol at The Barrel, a local bar, running into her friend (Mahandra, although she is never named in this episode) and the new bartender. The following day, back at the gift shop, the wax lion harangues Jaye into asking Thomas, the EPS delivery guy, about his missing wedding ring, and later to set him up with her sister, Sharon, on a date. The date goes terribly, as Sharon announces she is a lesbian. When Thomas has an allergic reaction to peanuts, they have to rush him to the hospital. Afterward, Jaye and Sharon share a heartfelt moment, Thomas and his nurse fall in love, and the episode ends with Jaye being told by a stuffed bear in the gift shop to help someone with toilet paper stuck to their shoe.

Pilot episodes can be an interesting prospect. The goal is to set up the environment that characters are living in and introduce us to them, and make us want to come back and see how the story develops. (And to sell the series to whatever entity is going to make it available to the public.) Sometimes it goes seamlessly into the the rest of the series, and other times you wonder if you missed something. Let’s start with the good things about this episode.

Jaye is a fantastic character right from the beginning. She’s complicated, but we seem to get a good sense of her right away. She’s obviously smart, but unmotivated. She’s witty but ambivalent. She is secure in her identity, and seems completely comfortable to be “over-educated and unemployable”. We also get the impression that she is a black sheep to her family, who are much more hard-working (although Jaye says that they are equally dissatisfied with life). A character that is brusque and acerbic is sometimes hard to make likeable, but it’s easy to empathize with Jaye. Things don’t seem to bother her, and when they do, she says so.

The writing in this show is also hilarious. From Jaye’s deadpan “I’m a crazy person”, to Sharon fighting her seatbelt (to this day, everytime I do that, it reminds me of this episode), the comedy hits the exact right tone. A lot of the funniest bits, including the seat belt scene, where improvised by the actors themselves. Thomas’ chirpy squeaks after the trachiotomy is another example. This doesn’t take away my original point that the writing is great (Mahandra’s line about Jaye being crazy is fantastic), but it’s a nice touch that the actors all brought something special to the table. The humor is genuine, and it shows.

You can't talk! You don't have a larynx!

You can’t talk! You don’t have a larynx!

On to things I didn’t like. We are kind of beaten over the head with this idea that Jaye and her sister Sharon do not get along. Jaye tells Dr. Ron that Sharon “hates” her, and Sharon lists several unpleasant things throughout the episode that Jaye has done to her at some point. It seemed more plausible that Jaye and her brother didn’t get along, from the way he dismissively calls her insane. Both Jaye and Sharon go back and forth with “you hate me” “no, you hate ME” bickering. We don’t ever get a reason or rationale why they would dislike each other.

The other storyline that I didn’t buy was the bartender coming on to Jaye. OK, so 6 days ago, he was blissfully happy and married, and he’s already thinking about moving on? Yes, I realize that he pointedly said “rebound”, but for someone who was crying three days prior, it seems like a big leap to make that he would already be thinking about starting something with a complete stranger. They have some cute moments, and admittedly lots of chemistry, I just felt that for someone who had just had his heart broken not even a week ago, he was pretty aggressive in trying to get her to start something with him. At this point, Jaye seems quite disinterested in his advances, although she seems to enjoy chatting with him, so we’ll see where it leads. Also, it’s important to note that his name is Eric, as he is not named in this episode. How strange is it that we are given more information about his estranged wife than we are about him?

Some funny things I noticed: Jaye can apparently leave the gift shop to go chase down people or steal quarters from the fountain on a whim. She also brought the Wax Lion back to work with her after questioning her sanity – which should really have made her question it! If something was talking to me, I’d probably have tossed it over the side of the rail into the river.

Other than the introduction of all of our characters, this episode lays the groundwork for the show’s premise, which is the muses; or, the inanimate objects that tell Jaye to do things. The first is the Wax Lion, who has Jaye asking Thomas the EPS guy where his ring is, chasing a quarter down the street, returning a stolen purse to the angry customer, and setting up the blind date between Sharon and Thomas. The Brass Monkey gets Jaye to tell her sister “I love you”. Finally, the Barrel Bear tells Jaye to “find a penny, pick it up”, and “don’t squeeze the Charmin”, and has her chasing a stranger with toilet paper stuck to their shoe down the street. We’re meant to infer that the conk on the head at the beginning of the episode caused the muses to start communicating with Jaye, and this either means she’s crazy or it has altered her brain in some way.

At this point, we aren’t sure what or who is causing this. Jaye questions this herself, as she wonders aloud whether it’s God, or Satan, or something else. It’s unclear whether the directives are good or bad, because at first they seem bad (like when asking about the ring causes Thomas to cry) but seem to work out for the best (Thomas and Sharon both find romance, even though it’s not with each other). Todd Holland, co-creator of the show with Bryan Fuller, said that the show is a modern take on Joan of Arc, where the “consciousness” or God talks to Jaye/Joan through inanimate objects. Jaye and Mahandra have a conversation about this at the bar where her friend talks about how the universe is made up of consciousness and everything has a soul, and Jaye’s denial of this is what is causing the lion to talk to her. The idea of a higher power and its role in morality comes and goes through the show, so we’ll revisit it again.

Next up is the episode Pink Flamingo, where Jaye has to figure out if her attitude is harming her family and what she can do about it.


  • The View-Master toy has been around a long time. It was invented (not as a toy) in the late 1930s, although it was popularized in its present form in 1966.
  • The Maid of the Mist is a real legend, although apparently having many variations. The First Nations people around Niagara Falls have banned the telling of it, since it’s not one of their legends, but apparently a “white man’s construct,” as Todd Holland mentions in the commentary for this episode.
  • The angry Texan tourist (who is apparently named Ronnie – thanks IMDB!) mentions that she knows all about identity theft because Morley Safer did a program on it. Morley Safer is a reporter for CBS and 60 Minutes, and he actually did a story on this topic.
  • The Wax Lion (and later the Barrel Bear) sing a number of songs to coerce Jaye into following their suggestions. The first is the Michigan J. Frog song, “Hello! Ma Baby,” popularized by the WB televison network, which was one of the first songs ever to reference the telephone. Following that is “K-I-S-S-I-N-G”, a popular kid’s playground rhyme, and “Daisy Bell”, with Sharon’s name added in. “Daisy Bell” is a pretty old song; it was composed in 1892!
  • The creators wanted to get the “dirty kid eating Spaghetti-Os out of a can” that was freaking Sharon out on a future episode as a kind of Easter egg for the viewers, but it never worked out.
  • The “don’t squeeze the Charmin” line proved tricky for translators. They thought it was a play on the word charming, but Caroline Dhavernas (Jaye) had to tell them it was just a brand of toilet paper. The phrase was used in commercials for the product between 1964 and 1985.
  • Before the series was picked up and filming began, the cast was slightly different. Lee Pace’s Aaron was played by Adam Scott and Tracie Thoms’ Mahandra was played by Kerry Washington. The actress playing Heidi (Eric’s estranged wife) in this episode is not Jewel Staite, who ends up playing that role later on.

Written by: