[06/22/11 - 11:53 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Wilfred" (FX)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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(Thursdays at 10:00/9:00c beginning June 23)

The network's description: "Debuting on Thursday, June 23 at 10 PM, Wilfred, starring Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and Jason Gann, is a live-action comedy series based on the critically acclaimed Australian series of the same title. Wilfred was adapted for FX by David Zuckerman (Family Guy, American Dad), who wrote the pilot and serves as Executive Producer/Showrunner. Elijah Wood stars as "Ryan," an introvert struggling to make his way in the world until he meets "Wilfred" (played by Gann, co-creator of the Australian series), his neighbor's canine pet. While the world sees Wilfred as a dog, Ryan sees Wilfred as a man dressed in a dog suit.

Co-stars include Fiona Gubelmann as "Jenna," Ryan's attractive neighbor and Wilfred's owner and Dorian Brown as "Kristen," Ryan's uptight sister. Wilfred marks Wood's first starring role in regular series television. Executive Producers are Rich Frank, Paul Frank and Jeff Kwatinetz of Prospect Park, along with Joe Connor and Ken Connor of Renegade, producers of the Australian version of Wilfred. Gann serves as Co-Executive Producer. The series is produced by FX Productions. FX will air 13 episodes of Wilfred."

What did they leave out? Andrea Savage played Ryan's sister Kristen in the original pilot.

The plot in a nutshell: After downing several bottles worth of pills, depressed lawyer Ryan (Elijah Wood) is surprised to find he doesn't die as planned. In fact all that follows is a night's worth of frustrations over said development, capped by a knock at the door from Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann), his cute new next door neighbor. She innocuously asks if he can watch her dog Wilfred for the day. Wilfred however isn't a seven-year-old Labrador retriever however, he's a grown man with an Australian accent (Jason Gann) in a dog costume... at least that's what Ryan sees. From there the realization sinks in that his smorgasbord of pills have driven him nuts rather than finished him off.

After all, dogs don't want to smoke pot ("got to cough to get off," he dryly notes), ogle girls, quote "Dune" and watch Matt Damon movies all day, let alone offer you advice on how to fix your life. And yet that's exactly what Wilfred does. He tells Ryan to stop doing what everyone else wants him to do - namely take a job at a hospital his high-strung sister Kristen (Dorian Brown) got for him - and instead spend the day with him having actual fun. He does and for the first time in quite a while, life doesn't seem to suck, that is until a second realization sinks in: Wilfred doesn't necessarily have Ryan's best interests in mind. Upcoming installments then see Ryan tasked with everything from taking Wilfred to the vet for a teeth cleaning to dealing with a neighbor (Ethan Suplee) whom Wilfred enrages.

What works: Gann is an all around hoot here as he captures the subtleties of a dog's behavior in an amusingly exasperated way. He's Russell Crowe if he were dog: gruff and vaguely menacing on one hand, mischievous and overly pleased with himself on the other. He's also almost a dog in spite of himself: he doesn't want to get worked up into an anxiety fueled mess and start digging holes when his owner doesn't come home, but he does; he doesn't want to chase motorcycles down the street, and yet, he can't help but do just that. It's not all necessarily laugh out loud funny, but it is breezy fun.

I mean what's not to love about a grown man in a dog costume chasing a laser pointer against the wall for a solid 30 seconds or Wilfred proclaiming, "I don't know Ryan, why is the sky gray? Why is the grass gray? Why is a rainbow gray?" It helps that Wood makes a nice straight man to Wilfred's antics, hopelessly trying to parlay his "friendship" with Wilfred into brownie points with Jenna. Their cycle of Wilfred crashing in on Ryan's life, Ryan reluctantly agreeing to help Wilfred and Wilfred ultimately screwing Ryan over is ripe for the funny as is its overall comedy motif of watching a man doing dog things (Wilfred turns in a circle a few times before sitting down, gets overly excited about playing in the ocean, the list goes on). All in all, you'd be hard pressed to find a more unabashedly silly way to spend a half hour this summer.

What doesn't: The show sometimes plays fast and loose with the rules around Wilfred's anthropomorphism: he's a dog when he needs to be and a man when he needs to be, neither of which are really that consistent. Wilfred himself also seems to change attitudes with each passing scene: one moment he's blissfully ignorant, another he's a calculating devil. I get that it's kind of the point but it often comes across as being a slave to whatever joke is coming rather than actual characterization. Wood's Ryan also seems to get played by Wilfred a little too easily: for instance a momentary slip that Jenna "has a dick" from Wilfred leads Ryan to legitimately think she might be a man. The ensuing madcappery to prove it is quite a stretch, even for a show with a man in a dog costume. Overall though, the fact that the show doesn't take itself too seriously makes the aforementioned sins more than forgivable.

The bottom line: After all, it's a guy in a dog costume - how can you not at least get a little kick out of that?

  [june 2011]  


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