Picks and Pans Review: Wonderfalls

updated 03/22/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/22/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

FOX (Fridays, 9 p.m. ET)

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"Are you Satan? Are you God?" souvenir-shop clerk Jaye (Caroline Dhavernas, a fresh face from Canada) asks a small wax lion that speaks to her. You may hear echoes of Joan of Arcadia, but this new series (premiering March 12) reminds me more of Showtime's Dead Like Me, a brainchild of Wonderfalls co-creator Bryan Fuller. Both series concern young women with negative attitudes who are summoned to duty by supernatural forces. And both are quirky—relentlessly so.

Despite an Ivy League education and a family full of achievers, Jaye works in a tourist trap in her hometown of Niagara Falls, N.Y., and lives in a trailer park. One of the early episodes calls her a typical "disaffected twentysomething," just so we'll know where the show is aiming demographically. Nevertheless, when animal figures—toys, cartoons, etc.—give her cryptic instructions, Jaye obeys and in spite of herself does some good in the process. "See, you are nice," says Eric (Tyron Leitso), the sensitive bartender she's sort of stuck on. Of course, Jaye denies it.

The convoluted plots can be wearying. Is a stuttering stranger trying to steal Jaye's identity or observe her for a magazine article on Gen Y? Why does the buffalo on the apron tell Jaye to hide the muffin lady's disability checks? Who cares? The reason to watch Wonderfalls is Dhavernas. Her Jaye is appealing even when obstinate, embraceable even when she's pushing people away. With a star like this, a series doesn't really need a gimmick.


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