Surrender to destiny.
Jaye Tyler is a young woman with a useless Ivy League degree and no desire to pursue a career, working as a retail clerk in a Niagara Falls souvenir shop. Magic Realism asserts itself when inanimate objects--everything from statues, bookends and plush dolls to cartoon business logos, but always animals in some form--begin to talk to her. Their cryptic clues lead Jaye to bettering the lives of people around her (usually in cleverly-conceived, indirect ways) while simultaneously causing her to seriously doubt her sanity. Worse, if she attempts to ignore their commands, they badger and pester her until she relents.
To her aging post-yuppie parents, her closeted lesbian overachieving sister, and her atheist theology-grad-student brother, she is undergoing a stress-related psychiatric 'sode. Despite Jaye's apparent life of Dismotivation (dead-end retail job, trailer-park home, vintage clunker car), they would rather believe stress is the cause rather than the effect of her episodes. Her best friend and confidante merely believes that Jaye will tell her the truth about whatever is wrong when she's ready, rather than accept the actual truth that Jaye has already disclosed. Additionally, relationship tension is provided by a local bartender that Jaye is attracted to, but to whom she seems unable to admit the attraction, much less make a commitment to.
As the story continues, Jaye finds herself under increasing stress as she struggles to deal with the often bizarre commands that she seems compelled to follow and the cascade of events she unwittingly touches off.
The Fox network aired four one-hour episodes of the series before cancelling it, though thirteen episodes had been completed. Tim Minear, one of Joss Whedon's co-creators on Angel, wrote and executively produced, ensuring snappy post-modern dialogue and convoluted plots.
The show's creator, Bryan Fuller, also created Dead Like Me, which may explain some of the similarities between the two shows; for example, the slacker female protagonist with a traditionally male name stuck in a dead-end job. (Fuller went on to create Pushing Daisies, starring Lee "Aaron Tyler" Pace alongside a female with a traditionally male name.) A series arc of sorts was planned; the second season was to focus on Jaye's sessions with her therapist, and the third was to have had Jaye committed to an institution. The show also shares characteristics with Joan of Arcadia, which premiered a few months earlier, as it is (very loosely) based upon the Joan of Arc legend.
Many people missed its broadcast run, being unable to figure out when it was on. It still managed to scrounge up a few fans, though, who petitioned to get a DVD set, which collects all 13 episodes.
- Aborted Arc: In the episode about the lovebirds, Sharon's girlfriend is implied to be having second thoughts about their relationship and might have been seeing her ex husband again. The subplot between them ends on an ambiguous note of her having something to say but being interrupted by Sharon making out with her. What happens between them is never mentioned afterwards for the rest of the series.
- Almost Kiss: Done in "Wound-Up Penguin" between Jaye and Eric. Happens again later with Mahandra and Aaron in "Safety Canary".
- Alpha Bitch: Deconstructed with Gretchen Speck-Horowitz.
- Amazing Freaking Grace: In the end of "Totem Mole". Not that recognizable since it is sung in Cherokee.
- Basement Dweller: Jaye finds it irritating that Aaron is considered more successful than her, even though he still lives in the family home and she doesn't (he doesn't actually live in the basement, though, he has his own bedroom).
- Black Best Friend: Mahandra. (Though for the purposes of collecting casino money, 1/8th Native American on her grandmother's side!)
- Black Sheep: Jaye.
- Blessed with Suck: Jaye's experiences cause her and those around her, not unreasonably, to doubt her sanity.
- Braids, Beads, and Buckskins: both played straight and subverted with the various Native Americans on the show.
- Brilliant but Lazy: Jaye got an Ivy League philosophy degree, but lives in a trailer and works in a giftshop because it entails less work. There was an entire episode that deconstructed this with as much detail as they can.
- Buffy-Speak: With Tim Minear on board, perhaps not surprising.
- Cassandra Truth: Nobody--except, possibly, her brother Aaron--believes Jaye when she says that inanimate objects talk to her.
- The Chosen One: Jaye, possibly, although it's entirely unclear why and by whom she was chosen if that is the case.
- Cold Opening
- Continuity Nod: In Muffin Buffalo she is shown to be obsessively photographing someone with a telescopic camera she stole. This comes in handy again later on while she is spying on Heidi.
- Cosmic Plaything: Jaye comes to conclude that it's the only possible explanation for what's happening. "I'm fate's bitch."
- Cutting the Electronic Leash: Eric does this in "Barrel Bear." His throwing his cellphone into the falls is to symbolizing the letting go of "Old" Eric and embracing "New" Eric.
- Deus Ex Scuse Me: Happens occasionally.
- Double Aesop: At the end of "Safety Canary".
- Dueling Shows: Wonderfalls had the unfortunate luck of being made at the same time as Joan of Arcadia, which had a very similar premise but was more family oriented and optimistic. All of Fox's attempts to keep people from thinking Wonderfalls was ripping it off were the exact wrong things to do.
- Easy Amnesia: Invoked; Heidi Gotts tries to fake amnesia precisely because so many people think amnesia works this way.
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: One of Jaye's animal advisors is a monkey figurine.
- Executive Meddling: When they found that the show Joan of Arcadia would be released around the same time as Wonderfalls with a very similar premise, Fox decided to hold off on premiering Wonderfalls, not wanting to risk looking like a rip off. Of course Joan ended up being a huge hit and by releasing the show a few months later they definitely looked like they were ripping off the show. Smooth.
- In a less show-endy way, they also made the show change its opening credits because they didn't have enough shots of Jaye smiling, and they had them cut out a shot of Eric fainting because he wasn't "manly enough".
- The people at Fox apparently thought there were too many blonde girls in the show, and had Sharon's love interest wear a rather fake looking brunette wig throughout the season.
- Fake American: French-Canadian Caroline Dhavernas as Jaye (and yes, that extended to the French-Canadian dub for the show).
- Within the show, "Crime Dog" has an illegal Canadian immigrant pretending to be a naturalized American citizen.
- She's also an English Canadian, pretending to be a French Canadian, with a very badly faked accent.
- Within the show, "Crime Dog" has an illegal Canadian immigrant pretending to be a naturalized American citizen.
- Family Theme Naming: The Tylers are named Darren, Karen, Sharon, Aaron and Jaye.
- Friends with Benefits: Aaron and Mahandra get together for "Friend sex, which is generally cleaner and more disease-free than stranger sex." As a side-note, their story was inspired by one of the creator's friends, who said she got together with her husband because of friend sex.)
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: The various references to Heidi cheating on Eric can get pretty dirty ("She always said I shouldn't open my mouth to strangers." "Kind of ironic, you know...considering"), as is the policewoman's comment about how she could tell Sharon was a lesbian from her short fingernails. ("Lesbians always trim their nails like that. You know why?")
- In Lovesick Ass, the kid's name is Peter Johnson and his dad is Dick Johnson. They managed 3 penis euphemisms across 2 people, not bad.
- The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Between Jaye and Sharon.
- Hollywood Atheist: Averted with Aaron. He's an atheist, but he is also incredibly fascinated by religious studies and is the first person they go to when needing a theological expert. And the events surrounding Jaye seem to shake his lack of belief, possibly enough to make an agnostic out of him.
- In "Totem Mole", he seems to credit the possibility that Jaye is The Chosen One of the Native American tribe around which the episode centres.
- Hollywood Exorcism
- How We Got Here: "Crime Dog"
- Idiosyncratic Wipes: Viewmaster effect
- I Just Want to Be Normal: Being a divine instrument (or whatever Jaye is) is clearly not all it's cracked up to be.
- Impromptu Tracheotomy/Instant Drama, Just Add Tracheotomy: In the back seat of a car with a wheezing man who throat is closing up, the first thing Sharon thinks of is to pick up her ball point pen and hope she hits the right spot.
Nurse: We have a stabbing victim!
- In Mysterious Ways: The whole premise of the show, in a sense.
- Instant Drama, Just Add Tracheotomy
- Intercontinuity Crossover: Mary Ann Marie Beetle, from "Muffin Buffalo", appears in the Pushing Daisies episode "Comfort Food".
- Especially confusing due to the Celebrity Paradox
- Ivy League for Everyone: And it seems of the three Tyler children, Sharon is the only one putting her degree to actual use. With Aaron simply continually piling on more religious study degrees to avoid getting a job, and Jaye working in retail after getting a bachelor's in philosophy.
- Jerkass/JerkWithAHeartOfGold: Jaye is pretty obnoxious and self-centered, but she's got significant good points, especially loyalty to her family.
- Kiss Diss
- If You Know What I Mean: A police officer was able to tell that Sharon was a lesbian on sight. On a count of her... ahem... fingernail length. See Getting Crap Past the Radar.
- Last-Minute Hookup
- Left Hanging: Whatever was to become of Sharon and Beth's relationship was left on the rather ambiguous note in Safety Canary.
- Les Yay: Behind the scenes. In the bonus features on the DVD Jaye and Sharon's actresses frequently talk about each other's cleavage and having "nice boobs", and Sharon commenting on how playing a lesbian was fun because "girls are nice to kiss, they're really soft!"
- Lipstick Lesbian: Sharon Tyler. About the most butch thing about her is that she smokes and drives an SUV.
- Long-Lost Uncle Aesop: The Tylers' beloved housekeeper Yvette.
- Love Hurts: At the start of the series, Eric had found his wife cheating on him on their honeymoon. Later Jaye finds out this is a huge downside to falling in love with him when Heidi returns.
- Love Triangle: Type number 7 between Jaye, Eric, and Heidi.
- Magic Realism
- Magical Native American: Jaye wants to find one to explain what's going on to her. Instead she finds a Native American accountant and tries to convince him to turn into one.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Whether or not Jaye is insane or guided by fate is entirely up in the air, for the most part. Not even the cast and crew knew, besides maybe the writers.
- Must Have Nicotine: Sharon, who pays a $300 fine in advance for the privilege of smoking inside the police station.
- My Friends and Zoidberg: "Jaye, a daughter, is 24."
- Noodle Incident: Several various mean tricks Jaye's pulled on her sister go only half-explained.
- Odd Name Out: The Tylers consist of Karen, Darrin, Sharon, Aaron...and Jaye.
- The Other Darrin: Initially, Adam Scott was cast as Aaron and Kerry Washington was cast as Mahandra. They filmed the pilot but were unable to commit to a full series, so the roles were recast with Lee Pace and Tracie Thoms and their scenes were refilmed for the broadcast version of the episode.
- Heidi was played by Corry Carpf during a brief flashback in "Wax Lion", and replaced with Jewel Staite when the character appeared in the last five episodes.
- Political Correctness Gone Mad: Inverted? Every time someone says Native American Jaye interrupts them to insist that they just call them Indians.
- Plot Parallel: Once an Episode, with the Woobie of the Week and Jaye's morals matching up.
- Prophecy Twist: Constantly.
- Remember the New Guy?: Yvette is apparently an incredibly close house keeper of the Tyler's and is considered like one of the family. Despite the fact that she is neither mentioned nor seen before or after the episode she appears in. This is because they couldn't afford to have her actress appear unless they wanted to cut down Mahondra's role.
- Romantic False Lead: Heidi.
- Refusal of the Call: Constantly, in the first half of the series. By the second half, it starts to seem like she's unable to refuse their commands, or at best only able to delay it for a while.
- Running Gag: The multiple times in the season where Jaye and the others throw stuff into the waterfalls or loot stuff from fountains always earns them a ticket from a police officer.
- Sassy Black Woman: Mahandra
- Scenery Porn: They take every chance they can to remind the audience that Niagara Falls is pretty.
- The Slacker: Jaye.
- The Snark Knight: Jaye, to a T.
- This Loser Is You: To the point that an entire episode focused on Jaye's status as an archetypal twenty-something with limitless possibilities before her but absolutely no direction.
- The Unfavorite: Averted, Jaye is considered the least successful member in her family, but they don't hold it against her. Instead they simply lower their expectations for her and celebrate every little accomplishment she makes, as a way to encourage her to keep improving.
- Viewers are Morons: Fox absolutely hated the episode "Crime Dog" because of its How We Got Here narration, thinking that fans wouldn't be able to understand what was going on.
- Woobie of the Week: The show premise, atleast for the first two-thirds of the season. Then it became less focused on her accidentally doing good deeds and more on Heidi and Eric and beginning go into detail about just what exactly is causing her "powers".