As a fan of Elijah Wood and shows that appear to be describable as a blend of bizarre and funny, I had high hopes for FX’s new comedy series Wilfred. Based on an Australian series co-created by Jason Gann, Wilfred follows a man who, in the midst of a personal crisis, comes to meet a dog named Wilfred, whom he sees as a man in a dog suit.
They say dog is man’s best friend and Wilfred puts that to the test. Wilfred, played by Jason Gann, is a regular dog to the rest of the world, but to Ryan (Elijah Wood), Wilfred is a man in a dog costume, who talks and interacts with him like any other person might. Ryan comes to meet Wilfred following a failed suicide attempt, which may very well have unraveled him enough to cause him to see Wilfred as a man-dog (or Mog, if we’re going with John Candy terminology). Maybe Ryan’s crazy or maybe there’s magic at work here. Does it matter? The point is, Ryan’s new best friend is a dog with an Australian accent. And this dog is helping him gain some new perspective on life.
For a series that starts out with one of its leads trying to kill himself, Wilfred doesn’t wallow in darkness. If anything, the story is Ryan’s chance to figure himself out. His new life happens to involve a dog that does normal dog things, like circling before sitting down and taking pleasure in urinating in people’s shoes, while also engaging in conversation with Ryan. While the dog jokes are plentiful and dog lovers are likely to find many of Wilfred’s doggish idiosyncrasies as amusing as the rest of the humor, Wilfred has the feel of a buddy-comedy.
Wood plays Ryan with just the right blend of desperation and likability. He’s at the end of his rope and he’s handed that frayed rope over to a clever dog with plenty of amusing thoughts to share. Gann’s portrayal of a dog is hilarious and will have you wondering what your own dog would say if it could talk (if you aren’t already). Rounding out the cast is Fiona Gubelmann, who plays Jenna, Wilfred’s owner and the woman Ryan hopes to start a relationship with. Dorian Brown plays Kristen, Ryan’s bossy sister. There’s also a plethora of guest stars set to appear in the show, including Ethan Suplee, Ed Helms, Chris Klein, Rashida Jones, Jane Kaczmarek, and Mary Steenburgen.
If there’s a common thread between FX’s comedy series, it’s that they don’t hold back on the jokes or the build-up in the dialogue. Even Rescue Me, which would probably be classified as a drama, features conversations between the characters that are hilarious but also feel genuine and not the staged sort of comedy we see in so many sitcoms today. In that respect, I think Wilfred’s going to fit in well on FX. Despite a premise that seems about as sitcom-ish as it gets, Wilfred avoids the formula of joke-to-joke dialogue by reveling in normal guy conversation, much of which happens to be funny. This includes a conversation between Wilfred and Ryan about Wilfred’s ability to smell feces on people. I expect those who are already on board with FX's other comedy series will appreciate the humor in Wilfred more than those who are generally comfortable with some of the tamer comedies found on network television.
I do think some episode scenarios are going to work much better than others. In the second episode, titled “Trust,” in an attempt to get closer to Jenna, Ryan deceives Wilfred. This opens up the issue of trust, which works on two levels as it’s a normal issue to be explored between two new friends, but is just as important, if not more, between a man and a dog. Episode 3 (“Fear”) involves Wilfred and Ryan getting into trouble over a stolen marijuana plant. The jokes were just as funny but the general story of the episode didn’t come together nearly as well as it did in “Trust.”
I went into Wilfred hoping the series would live up to the premise and the quirky promos. Expectations were relatively high, and for the most part, Wilfred met them. The series has some clever jokes and the budding on-screen chemistry between Wood and Gann has me intrigued and amused enough to want to watch more.