justin matchick gets into the dog days of summer …
There is perhaps no bigger risk a television network can take these days than a remake of a series that started overseas. Every remake that’s a hit seems to be followed by ten misses that try to make lightning strike twice. For every Office, there is a Kath & Kim, for every Shameless, a Coupling. Luckily, Australian hit series Wilfred survived the trip across the pond, and in fact has turned out better for thanks to its reworking.
The series’ continued success in America is no doubt thanks to the continued presence of series co-creator Jason Gann as both an executive producer and in his role of anthropomorphic dog Wilfred. The show revolves around Wilfred and his daily interactions with Ryan (Elijah Wood), who has been able to see Wilfred as a man in a dog costume ever since a failed suicide attempt. Wilfred’s actual owner is Ryan’s neighbor Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann), who Ryan has an obvious crush on, despite her dumb but loveable boyfriend Drew (Chris Klein). The cast fills their roles fantastically, with Wood acting as the perfect straight man to Wilfred’s often self-destructive tendencies.
The first episode of tonight’s double-episode third season premiere shows the series developing one of the most interesting aspects of the show, the mysterious and surprisingly complex backstory to why Ryan is the only one able to see Wilfred. By using the tracking microchip in Wilfred, Ryan is able to find a previous owner to see if they might have any answers for his bizarre connection to the dog. The second episode shows the other side of Wilfred away from all the mythology building, with a far simpler episode focusing on the daily life of Ryan and Wilfred. After bonding with a mailman over their love of Alan Moore comics, Ryan finds that a jealous Wilfred is turning to religion to get back at him. Both episodes use Wood and Gann’s onscreen chemistry to take the comedy to a level that would be unreachable with lesser performers.
A good amount of the comedic situations that arise in Wilfred revolve around the fact that everyone else sees Wilfred as a normal dog. Also common are jokes at the expense of Wilfred still having all his basic dog instincts despite the audience and Ryan seeing him as almost human. One would think these types of jokes would get tiring after just a few episodes, but Gann’s performance has such an impeccable sense of comedic timing that even the most predictable and clichéd jokes are given a new life.
Wilfred’s humor covers many subjects mainstream comedies would normally shy away from. Despite the tough subject matter of things like suicide, depression, religion and more, the show find a nice balance to find the comedy within these themes. They manage to laugh with these issues as if these were old inside jokes instead of directly making fun of them.
With Louie taking a year off, Wilfred has been left on its own to carry FX’s summer programming. While this is certainly a huge amount of pressure to be placed on a relatively small show, if Wilfred can keep being at least half as funny as tonight’s episodes, it should have no problem drawing in a respectable amount of viewers and fans.
All photos credit: CR: Prashant Gupta/FX