Bryan Fuller’s quirky yet human Wonderfalls jars a retail clerk out of apathy with a force of mysterious talking tchotchkes.
In the midst of Les’ great first TV Club Classic review of Bryan Fuller’s one-season Wonderfalls, he makes a slight mistake, albeit an understandable one: he refers to the show being set on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, which every fibre of your being will tell you is true if you’re simply following setting-based indicators (like knowing that the Horseshoe Falls featured prominently in the episode are also known as the Canadian Falls for a reason). And yet on the other hand, the most definitively national piece of iconography in the episode is the American currency featured prominently throughout (although even that could be explained through the high volume of American tourists who would be visiting the Falls which would even lead tourist traps to accept American currency).
It’s an interesting test of how we understand textual representations of place. I find currency to be the most definitive marker of setting when thinking about shows that blur the line between Canadian and American, if it’s present; Canadian money is so distinctive in its multi-colored bills that it’s easy to spot and also thus easy to potentially confuse American audiences (and thus often not featured in shows that don’t want to call attention to their Canadianness). While the backdrop of the Horseshoe Falls very explicitly places the filming location in Canada to those who are aware, those who don’t have as clear a knowledge of Niagara Falls’ cross-border geography can have that backdrop reclaimed through the familiarity of their currency (and Jaye’s reference to Brown, and other culturally specific details). Despite the fact that the Sheraton on the Falls hotel featured prominently in the background of one sequence is in Ontario, Sheraton is a chain that also exists in the United States (Sheraton AT the Falls is on the other side of the border even), which further enables the show to establish its liminal, imagined Niagara Falls as American without necessarily having access to the geographic markers that would make that clearer.
We can therefore see currency as a prominent part of the show’s setting in two different ways: both as a contributor to why shooting in Ontario was more financially viable for the show’s production (hence why they have this problem in the first place), and as a tool for the production to imagine a version of Niagara Falls where the American border happens to extend a few miles—or kilometres—west.
This is the first of what will probably be a fair number of dissertation-related posts over the next few years in which I work through some ideas for my project entitled Location, Relocation, Dislocation: The Cultural Geography of Production and Television Textuality. I’ll be collecting them in my "Dissertation" tag. You can ignore as you see fit.