Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What Ever Happened To Katie Finneran?



So much of this blogge is inspired by listening to I-tunes as I type, and the other day it called up Andy Partridge's wonderfully bouncy theme for the short-lived Fox delight, Wonderfalls. Which causes me to ask: what ever happened to Katie Finneran?

Wonderfalls lasted a grand total of four episodes on the Fox Network in 2004, thus making it something of a survivor, actually, on a channel which often cancels anything that doesn't have "idol" or "fifth grader'"in its title. (What is it with Fox, anyway? Its production end has helped produce some of the best television of recent years-- Joss Whedon's programming, David Kelly and Steven Boccho's stuff, 24, etc. And yet, its broadcast end has a quicker trigger finger than Dick Cheney). The admittedly quirky show told the story of Jaye (Caroline Dhavernas), a Brown graduate who returns to her hometown of Wonderfalls, works in a tacky gift shop next to the falls, and lives in a trailer park. She is defiantly anti-career, much to the chagrin of her overachieving family, and seems to be living something of a purposeless existence until one day the animal figurines in the shop start talking to her.

Still reading? The figurines guide her to perform various altruistic acts for friends, family, and random townspeople/tourists. At least, that what's Jaye thinks they're telling her; the messages are so quirky and linguistically obtuse that she's often not sure what she should do, and sometimes causes as much harm as help (call her the anti-Roma Downey). Are the figurines a vehicle for God? Are they talking to her at all? Is Jaye completely nuts?

Still reading? Good, because the show is not nearly as portentous as its description suggests. In fact, it's downright ribald, as enjoyable a mixture of cynicism and romantic hope as one could find on post-Buffy TV, much more Preston Sturges than Left Behind.

That's due in large part to the folks behind the scenes: creators Bryan Fuller and Todd Holland and writer-producer Tim Minear (formerly of The X-Files and Angel/Firefly), who jumped on as show-runner after the pilot was sold, and who has since become a kind of patron saint of brilliant-but-cancelled TV (most recently, The Inside and Drive). But it's also because of the fabulous cast. Dhavernas was the star, and she's a great, great anchor (and has since gone on to very fine work in films like Breach, where she's almost unrecognizable), but for me, the heart of the show was always Finneran, as Sharon, Jaye's closeted lawyer sister.

Whether chain-smoking in an examination room while giving her sister up to the police ("OK, what do you want to know?"), using the local Republican party as what Jaye calls a "lesbian dating service," geeking out over her 4H experiences, or simply offering Jaye a very tentative hug, Finneran always found the right notes for her character. Sharon could so easily have been a cartoon-- she's very exaggerated, and the butt of a lot of early episode jokes-- but Finneran always keeps her grounded, using her dry alto as a kind of anchor; even when the world is spinning out of control, Sharon desperately wants to keep things together through sheer vocal power. She also does shoulder-slumping and withering looks very well, allowing us to see through gesture and facial expression how even this successful older sister feels out of place and emotionally adrift.



All of this makes Sharon oddly sympathetic, until by the end of the series (thoughtfully collected in its 13-episode, arc-resolving entireity on DVD) it is her journey that seems the most interesting and redemptive. Finneran's reward for all this good work was critical acclaim, cult status as a postive lesbian media image-- and quick cancellation.

Finneran was born in Chicago, raised in Miami, and moved to New York when she was 19, quickly finding work in films like the 1990 Night of the Living Dead and You've Got Mail. Guest appearances on Fraisier and Sex and the City followed, but it was onstage that Finneran made a big mark, starring opposite Kevin Spacey in The Iceman Cometh, and winning a Tony for her role as Brooke Ashton in a revival of Noises Off in 2001. (For a funny interview with Finneran about her Broadway experiences, click here.) A short turn on the Alfred Molina sitcom flop Bram and Alice followed in 2002, then Wonderfalls.

She's since popped up in the aforementioned Drive and The Inside, and had small roles in movie flops like Chicken Little and Bewitched. Perhaps this trail of commercial failure makes Finneran seem like a bad-luck charm, but I'm convinced, Bram and Alice aside, that she could anchor a very successful sitcom-- she's got the comic timing and smarts to be another Candice Bergen, if someone would give her an opportunity. All she needs is a show that will "say" to her what Sharon yells at her lover midway through Wonderfalls's sole season: "Ravish me!!"

3 comments:

boolise said...

Yeah, I have to say that Katie Finneran is what put me over the top when it came to intending to watch Drive. ("Intending" because Frax yanked it around the schedule so much that I only ever found the one episode, between the yanking and the forgetting to watch when they aired the pilot. Oops.) I was curious because of Nathan Fillion and Minear, but I liked Finneran in Wonderfalls, too, and was curious to see what other groovy things she can do.

Could it be, perhaps, that perpetual "show-killer" Katie Finneran could be the next Lauren Graham??? Maybe after 10 or so tanked series, she'll land the big one.

(Bram and Alice? Wow, now there's a blast from the past!)

dave said...

Love that moment you mention, cinephile, when she completely gives up her sister to the cops.

Cinephile said...

Dave--
Yeah, that might be my favorite moment in the whole series, actually.

Boolise--
I would love to see her on a Gimore Girls-type show, but then she'd become this big star, and all beloved, until one day she'd let slip in an interview that she didn't think her character should end up with the male lead (let's call him "Pooke"), and draw the wrath of never-satiated Television Without Pity 'fans'. (: