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Midsummer Magic: Wonderfalls and Touching Evil

"Jaye Tyler lives in Niagara Falls. Her life, like her blurb, are a work in progress."

Wonderfalls, the new Friday night entry by Angel alum Tim Minear, is a quirky, well-written breath of fresh air.

The delightfully sarcastic lead character Jaye (Caroline Dhavernas) is an aimless, goalless, disaffected twenty-something with a philosophy degree who works in a tourist trap gift shop in Niagara Falls. Dhavernas gets outstanding support from Diana Scarwid, William Sadler, Katie Finneran, and Lee Pace, who play her extremely interesting family, and Tyron Leitso, who plays her bartender slash love interest.

The show shares the "good deeds aided by the supernatural" theme of Tru Calling, Early Edition, and Joan of Arcadia, but with a difference: Jaye hears voices coming from inanimate objects, and the ambiguous nature of the messages allows for a lot of comic (mis)interpretation. In a sense, it's a show about finding yourself; at the same time, it tells us that living the way Jaye does isn't necessarily a bad thing. The plots are far from the rubber-stamped variety, and the dialogue crackles with Buffy-like wit.

It's hard to describe why Wonderfalls is so delightful; you sort of have to see it for yourself. Having said that up front, I'll try for a brief description of the most recent episode. It began with Jaye unable to sleep while inanimate animals sang, "Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall," until she figured out she was supposed to go to a bar. In the bar, Jaye stumbled across a runaway nun who was being pursued by a priest. Jaye's parents thought she was converting to Catholicism, and gave her a hilarious pep talk on Protestantism. Her brother, a divinity student, gave the nun chapter and verse on exorcism, and at one point, the runaway nun tied Jaye to a bed and tried to exorcise Jaye's voices. The priest found out he had a daughter he never knew, from his previous un-priestly life. And all that really doesn't describe the episode at all.

Wonderfalls is clever and unique, and it makes me laugh out loud, repeatedly. Given time to grow and develop, it could be even better. Unfortunately, it's already in ratings trouble: Fox is moving it from its Friday night death spot to Thursdays, following its soul sister, Tru Calling. I hope the move helps Wonderfalls find an audience, but putting it up against the hottest reality show on television may not be helpful. Do yourself a favor and give it a try before it's gone.

Touching Evil

"Being dead was easy. Coming back was the tough part."

Touching Evil, currently airing Friday nights after Wonderfalls (on a different channel), is almost its opposite... except that there's an element of the supernatural in Touching Evil as well. A remake of the hit British series of the same name, Touching Evil is dark and disturbing, a crime drama with an interesting twist.

The lead character is David Creegan (Jeffrey Donovan), a cop who was shot in the head, died for ten minutes, sustained brain damage, and spent several years in a psych ward. He has officially "recovered" and is once again working in a serial crime unit, investigating the worst of the worst. And it really is the worst: serial killers who prey on children, arsonists who burn people to death, shudder shudder yuck.

The twist in Touching Evil is Creegan himself. His brain damage has made him uninhibited, impulsive, and inner-directed to the point where he constantly offends and/or mystifies his co-workers as well as total strangers. Is he psychic, or does he just see patterns that others can't see? Is something supernatural going on, or isn't it? Creegan's partner, the snippy and business-like Susan Branca (Vera Farmiga), really doesn't want to be working with him, but he's growing on her. He's growing on me, too. Jeffrey Donovan is a talented actor and makes Creegan very appealing; it's hard to pull off a character this complex, but he's doing just fine, thank you.

The first two episodes were a bit too murky for me, but I was intrigued enough to keep watching. The first episode in particular featured a character named Cyril who thought that the real world was a dream, and that his dreams were the real world. It was done very well; it made me consider the possibility that all of this was Cyril's dream. The third episode that just aired this past week (March 26) was the best so far. It featured one of my favorite actors, Peter Wingfield (Highlander), in a touching performance, and explored a heavy issue: how heart-breaking it must be to let a human monster go free because of lack of evidence when you know for certain they're guilty, and how tempting the desire must be to cross the line.

I rarely notice photography in a series, but much of the photography in Touching Evil is striking and moody. Each episode begins and ends with surreal shots of the Golden Gate Bridge. The third episode began with Creegan getting out of his car, sitting on a deserted street, and staring at the traffic lights. The unusual images stay with you.

I hope Touching Evil catches on. It has depth, and a great deal of potential.
Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

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