‘Wilfred’ brings bizarreness to the masses
TV Review | 3.5 out of 5 stars
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 01:09
Some shows have that special something. It can be hard to tell exactly what that something is — an original twist, a hint of weirdness or maybe just the nerve to break the mold and depart from procedural television altogether. Whatever it is, FX’s “Wilfred” has it, which makes the show, despite its flaws, almost impossible to stop watching.
The premise itself is bold enough to warrant skepticism — or to fans of such inventive shows as “Community” — to stir up some curiosity. After L.A. lawyer Ryan Newman (Elijah Wood) tries to commit suicide, he begins to see his neighbor’s dog, Wilfred (Jason Gann), as a guy in a dog suit who, of course, can talk to him. What follows is more or less a buddy comedy between the pair, in which Wilfred attempts to teach Ryan life lessons, often to no avail. Hilarity ensues.
Like many American television shows, “Wilfred” is in fact a remake of a series broadcast outside the States. In this case, Australia is the show’s origin. The original “Wilfred” was met with much acclaim, and after its Australian run, star and creator Jason Gann brought the series to the US with the help of David Zuckerman, where he reimagined the show in an L.A. setting.
Apart from its plot, what makes “Wilfred” — the U.S. version, at least — unique is its willingness to throw away basic comedy conventions. Whereas almost every other sitcom insists on having some measure of humor in each episode, “Wilfred” is perfectly content with running an episode void of any actual comedy. Some are more dramatic than anything else, and some choose to focus on the curious mystery of what Wilfred actually is: a dog, an angel, a hallucination or something else?
At times this works quite well, emotionally moving the audience and forcing it to contemplate the series’ deeper questions. This is largely due to the chemistry between Wood and Gann. Though Wood’s character has remained fairly static throughout the series and at times comes off as unconvincing — let’s be honest, Wood hasn’t “convinced” anyone with his acting talent since his Shire days at Bag End — Gann’s performance is impressive enough to make up for it. As Wilfred, Gann makes you laugh, makes you smile, makes you wonder and can even make you shed a tear or two. How an actor can make a human-dog hybrid empathetic and rather heartwarming is about as deep a mystery as Wilfred’s origins.
Even more impressive, perhaps, is Gann’s comedic skill. Taking dog stereotypes and flipping them on their head, Wilfred humanizes canines by making some, but not all, of their actions seem logical. The rest of his actions just end up being hilarious. Whether it’s his mailmen conspiracy theories, his fear of toenail clippings or his jealousy of other dogs, Wilfred’s oddities are what make the show great, and they provide most of the series’ clever humor.
The remainder of the humor is often found at the end of the episodes during short clips that depict the pair getting high in the basement while discussing irrelevant topics, such as Wilfred’s love of Matt Damon films. These snippets are always perfect, making the 10-second credits delay well worth sitting through.
And yes, even as a dog, Wilfred can smoke
and drink alcohol
and call people on the phone. The logic of it all can be a bit mind-boggling.
Other times, the strange structure of “Wilfred” leads the show to collapse. While shows like “Community” take episodes to an appropriate level of meta, “Wilfred” occasionally crosses the line. The result is a handful of uncanny episodes, void of humor or poignancy, that are seemingly aimed at a cult fan base that may very well not exist.
Pairing this with the show’s insistence on teaching Ryan a new lesson every episode — an endeavor that gets old midway through the first season and prohibits the protagonist from growing — “Wilfred” is not without its share of problems. There are only so many times an audience can watch Wood’s character get mad at his best friend and then forgive him once he realizes he was just being taught a lesson for his own good.
These faults aside, “Wilfred” is a show worth watching. Instead of getting hooked on some modern rendition of the classic “Friends” (1994-2004) theme, try the outlandish for a change — you might actually like it.