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The first episode of FX’s new comedy series Wilfred led to a frantic need to hit play on the second. Ditto that for the third. What we have here, folks, is more proof that the comedy genre on television is stronger than ever. Then again, a man in a dog suit is never not funny.
Based on the Australian series of the same name, Wilfred was adapted by David Zuckerman (King of the Hill, Family Guy) and centers on a depressed lawyer named Ryan (Elijah Wood), whose botched suicide attempt leads him to see his neighbor’s dog as an oddly sweet and insightful but irascible Australian guy in a cheap dog suit, while everyone else just sees a dog. Wilfred (Jason Gann, who co-created the original series) gets thrown into Ryan’s life when his owner, and Ryan’s neighbor, Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann), needs Ryan to watch him last minute one day.
That day is Ryan’s failed suicide. He got some pills from his uptight doctor sister, Kristen (Dorian Brown). He took them all. “Abusing those pills can lead to paranoia, hallucination, depression and much worse!” she tells Ryan, who then realizes his seeing a man in a dog suit is just a hallucination. Until Kristen tells him they were sugar pills.
The conceit is a great one. Ryan doesn’t know why he’s seeing Wilfred as an unshaven Australian in a dog suit, but the two of them have an immediate chemistry. Wilfred, it turns out, is part philosopher, part devious dog, part life coach. The two of them smoke a lot of pot at Ryan’s house, since Ryan quit his job and Jenna works all day and leaves Wilfred at home. The series probably could have coasted on all the inherently funny situations that a bong-loving dog who loves Matt Damon movies could get into with a possibly schizophrenic neighbor. But Wilfred goes beyond that – which is why there’s more than a little hilarious genius in this series.
Wood is perfect as Ryan, struggling to find happiness and meaning in a world where his father called the shots, like becoming a lawyer. Ryan is awkward, emotionally shackled, fearful of embracing life. Gann is also superb as Wilfred, who wants to help Ryan grasp the joy in life and seize the day – provided Ryan doesn’t use him to get to Jenna. Oh, sure, Wilfred may sometimes muck up Ryan’s life for no reason, but hey, he’s a dog. A foul-mouthed, often irascible dog who has his own bong, but still.
While all the philosophical, existential and surprisingly intimate moments of their friendship are the wonderfully surprising backbone to Wilfred, the hook is the absurdist situations and brilliant humor.
In one scene, Wilfred becomes very friendly with a waitress at an outdoor restaurant – fine, he’s humping her leg – and Ryan breaks it up. “Ryan, I like you, but you’re a shit wingman,” Wilfred says. In one episode, the two are on a walk when a motorcycle drives by and Wilfred takes off running after it, shouting “I’ll kill you!” In other random scenes, Wilfred pushes over a guy on a bike, does bad things to stuffed animals and delights, crazily, in the ocean, even though it causes Ryan to get a $300 fine. Again, the visual jokes alone are worth watching this series, plus it’s almost impossible to get tired of watching a guy in a dog suit say stuff like, “I’ll kill you. I’ll murder you in your sleep.”
Wilfred has a string of cameos planned, including Ethan Suplee (as a porn-loving thug), Ed Helms, Rashida Jones, Nestor Carbonell, Peter Stormare and many others. Maybe the word got out that there’s something oddly magnificent in this dog story.
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