The wonder of it all: two gay creators and a bitterly funny lesbian character make Wonderfalls queer must-see TV

Dennis Hensley

TV writer Bryan Fuller still remembers the moment 2 1/2 years ago when his agent called to tell him that award-winning director Todd Holland (Twin, Peaks, The Larry Sanders Show, Malcolm in the Middle) had read his work and wanted to meet him. “I was like, ‘I get to meet the guy who kisses his boyfriend at the Emmys?'” recalls Fuller, who at that time had worked primarily on the Star Trek series Deep ,Space Nine and Voyager. “I was so excited, because Todd’s one of the best directors in television.”

The pair became fast friends, bonding over their similar small-town movie-geek upbringings (Fuller hails from Clarkton, Wash.; Holland from Meadville, Pa.), and vowed to create a show together. So was born Wonderfalls, Fox’s new Friday night dramedy about a disillusioned 20-something souvenirshop worker named Jaye Tyler (Canadian newcomer Caroline Dhavernas) whose life changes forever when inanimate animal figurines start telling her to meddle in the affairs of the people around her.

“It’s the love child of Donnie Darko and Amelie, and Niagara Falls is our Paris,” explains Holland, who directed the pilot and four subsequent episodes. “It’s about somebody who is avoiding interacting with the world, who’s grabbed by the universe mad told that she’s now going to become fate’s bitch,” adds Fuller. “Events that wouldn’t necessarily happen without her intervention are now going to rake place.”

One of those events will be the gradual coming-out of Jaye’s uptight lesbian immigration lawyer sister Sharon, played with scene-stealing brio by Katie Finneran, who is best known for her Tony-winning turn in the 2002 Broadway revival of Noises Off “What cemented Katie in my heart forever was the fact that she was in the remake of Night of the Living Dead,” gushes Fuller, a lifelong horror buff who penned the recent TV adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie. “Katie’s character makes a mad dash from the farmhouse to a gas station, but it blows up and then the zombies eat her barbecued corpse. Anybody that’s been zombie barbecue is A-OK in my book.”

Finneran doesn’t get eaten in Wonderfalls. Not literally, anyway. “There’s a little romance in there,” promises the actress, whose previous experience playing gay was a tiny turn as a lesbian nanny in the film You’ve Got Mail. “We shot this big ol’ naked sex scene that was fantastic–peanut butter was involved–but I think Fox kind of freaked out about it, so they cut it.”

Wonderfalls marks Fuller’s second crack at executive-producing a series, after Showtime’s Dead Like Me, which he opted to leave midway through its first season. “It was sort of par for the course. Wonderfalls has been like a salve for my wounds from that experience.”

Fuller and Holland maintain that being gay hasn’t held them back in any way. Still, Holland remembers being “terrified” the day he crone out professionally, while working on The Larry Sanders Show in 1993. “I was fearful it would undermine my authority on the set,” explains the director. “I remember I walked into the writer’s room to turn in my cut of an episode, and there’s Garry Shandling and his entire staff, and I said, ‘I’m anxious to hear your thoughts on the episode when I get back,’ and Garry said, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘I’m going to the gay and lesbian march on Washington’ He jokingly did a spit take with his food and then he said, ‘Be careful. I hear those things can be dangerous.’ It was so sweet. Then as I was walking out, he shouted, ‘I’ll look for you on ESPN!’ It was such a nonevent, and I was so relieved.”

Though Holland took home his first Emmy for The Larry Sanders Show, it was his two subsequent wins for Malcolm in the Middle–when Holland kissed and thanked his husband, actor Scotch Ellis Loring, on-camera–that gay Emmy watchers like Fuller remember so vividly. “It comes up a lot,” confirms Holland. For example, there was that clerk at the Los Angeles sex boutique the Pleasure Chest who gave the couple 45 minutes of terrific, discreet assistance, then just as they were leaving with their purchases, shouted out how much he loved Malcolm in the Middle. “We thought we were completely anonymous,” says Holland, cringing at the memory, “but he knew who we were the entire time.”

Should Wonderfalls deliver its creators to Emmy glory, Fuller will happily carry on the PDA tradition and plant one on John, his astrophysicist partner of six years. “I’ve scared many a potential boyfriend away with my Star Trek action figures,” admits Fuller, “but he stock around.”

Holland has his own action figure obsession, revolving around Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. “While I was in my eBay frenzy, buying all these [Island of Misfit Toys] action figures, I realized that, as a gay person, I’ve always connected to any story about someone who feels misplaced or lost. I think that’s who Jaye is in Wonderfalls. She’s struggling to figure out who she is. The universe decides to drive her crazy in order to make her a better person.”

Hensley is the author of Screening Party (Alyson Books).

COPYRIGHT 2004 Liberation Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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