Whether or not 'Wilfred's' blend of low-key stoner comedy and oddball bromance is effective in luring people back week after week remains to be seen. But I can at least say this with confidence: You won't see another man-befriends-another-man-in-a-dog-suit comedy on television this year. Probably.
In 'Wilfred,' Elijah Wood plays Ryan, a twentysomething whose life is permanently stuck in neutral thanks to a lack of ambition and assertiveness. In the opening minutes of 'Wilfred's' pilot, we see Ryan revising a suicide note several times. He may have nothing to live for but there's something a little admirable, if mildly pathetic, about his devotion to grammar and punctuation at that particular moment in time.
Soon enough Ryan meets Wilfred, the dog of the attractive woman who lives next door. Unlike everyone else he knows, however, Ryan doesn't see Wilfred as a dog, he sees a man in a dog suit, with whom he eventually becomes close friends. Ryan quickly accepts that Wilfred talks (with an Australian accent) and that he likes to drink and smoke (and not just cigarettes). Is it all a hallucination? The show doesn't seem too interested in dwelling on that, which seems like the right choice. Getting hung up on whether Ryan's sane or not would get in the way of depicting his developing friendship with the dog-man, or man-dog, or whatever Wilfred is.
Wilfred has a foul mouth, a stubborn attitude and a wide array of impulse-control issues and as a result of all that, his relationship with Ryan settles in to a somewhat predictable routine early on. Essentially Wilfred is the kind of character who can be spotted in dozens of dude-centered comedic films -- he's the bold, free-living live wire who purposely gets the uptight hero into trouble in an effort to get him to live a little. The variation here is that Wilfred and Ryan's relationship is clandestine; Wilfred is the unchained id constantly whispering in Ryan's ear.
It's to 'Wilfred's' credit that it's not like any other comedy -- FX wisely doesn't bother with premises and points of view that have been done to death elsewhere -- but the first three episodes of 'Wilfred' feel relatively slight. The dynamic between Wilfred and Ryan is nicely underplayed by Wood and Gann, but once you get a sense of how the characters' relationship works, the episodes have somewhat similar arcs.
That's not to say there aren't some satisfying moments sprinkled throughout the show. Though there's sometimes a frat-boy vibe, some of my favorite moments were the ones in which Wilfred's sarcasm took a back seat to his innately cheerful dog-ness (there's a funny scene with laser pointer in one episode). He's not only teaching Ryan how to be a top dog but how to have fun, an ability Ryan appears to have lost at some point.
'Wilfred' is still a work in progress; in the early stages, the relationship between the dog and the man feels a little claustrophobic, but as the episodes progress, Ryan's world begins to expand a bit, which is a good thing. This isn't a show in which high stakes and cliffhangers are the main point, but they should matter a little more than they do in the first few outings. Though it's clearly aimed at a different demographic, 'Wilfred' resembles those Showtime women-in-jeopardy "comedies," which, whatever their other faults, usually recognize that a freaky premise isn't enough to keep people coming back.
I've made it through this whole episode without making a single corny dog joke, so allow me this one: It's not quite fully formed yet, but there are signs that 'Wilfred' may be barking up the right tree.
A 'Wilfred' clip is below. Ryan McGee and I also talked about the show on this week's Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan podcast.
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