I think it's fair to say that the FX network continues to push the boundaries of conventional TV fare with its slate of provocative adult programming. When I heard they were planning to adapt the Australian comedy "Wilfred" (which I knew only by reputation), it seemed like an inspired idea. Better yet, creator and star of the original version Jason Gann was along for the ride. Gann, for those new to the scene, plays Wilfred--an existentialist, pot-smoking dog. Befriending his suicidal slacker of a neighbor (Elijah Wood), Wilfred appears to the loner as a man in a dog suit. Everyone else sees a playful pooch, while Wood is left with a new best friend (and frequent antagonist) to teach him unorthodox life lessons. It is a buddy comedy unlike any other as to see life through Wilfred's eyes can make the world seem completely logical or it can be horrendously demented. It's all rather unpredictable.
As such, the television program itself can be a love-it or hate-it proposition. Those that embrace the show's lunatic wisdom will be vocal and avid supporters. Conversely, the high concept and subversive humor is likely to perplex just as many viewers who will dismiss the show as complete garbage. But if a show can elicit strong and passionate feelings, it's doing its job--and, make no mistake, "Wilfred" aims to provoke. For myself, I eagerly awaited the arrival of this show. And in truth, I didn't love the first couple of episodes which were offbeat, strange, and lacking in many of the laugh out loud moments that I expected. But I kept watching and the show really got under my skin. The humor can be so off-putting and disturbing and yet it so perfectly fits the tone of the show. I don't know when it happened exactly, but I ended up really loving the show, this friendship, the warped lessons, and the bawdy ridiculousness of its central premise. Is it for everyone? I'd still maintain the answer was no. But there is unexpected depth and compassion under a relatively mean spirited veneer, and it's a winning combination.
Season One represents thirteen episodes each based around a central emotion or theme (anger, pride, trust, happiness, acceptance, fear, respect, conscience, compassion, isolation, doubt, sacrifice, and identity). The show's conceit is that this unlikely friendship can help to fix Wood who had all but given up on life. Wilfred exists to provoke Wood out of apathy--to make him feel and live again. But the path to enlightenment never ran smoothly, and the pair is always up to its neck in unexpected trouble. But the faith in friendship wins over adversity every time and what doesn't end Wood only makes him stronger. It's a truly lovely message caught up in a wild mix of bad behavior, sexual innuendo and slapstick shenanigans.
Give Wood much credit here. His character does evolve through the season and it's a subtle shift that Wood carries off perfectly. Gann, of course, has a far showier role as Wilfred. Alternately loathsome and surprisingly lovable, Gann maintains the premise's hard edge and unapologetic nastiness to perfection. It would be easy to absolutely hate Wilfred, but that would derail the concept--so Gann walks a tightrope every episode. Ultimately, despite better instincts, you believe in this friendship and see the positive affect for both characters. I can't believe I just wrote that about a man in a dog suit! The show has a few supporting characters (Wood's sister, Wilfred's owner) but it's all about the central bond. Some nice guest moments are provided through-out. Some standouts include Mary Steenburgen as Wood's mom, Chris Klein as a new dominant presence in Wilfred's life, Jane Kaczmarek as an unlikely paramour of Woods, and Ethan Suplee as a hostile neighbor who needs friendship too. But Wood and Gann are the true stars. Come and watch TV's strangest buddy comedy evolve! KGHarris, 9/11.