Friday, 24 June 2011

Review: WILFRED, 1.1 – "Happiness"

Friday, 24 June 2011

A remake of a critically-acclaimed Australian series, writer David Zuckerman (Family Guy) adapts the bizarre comic tale Wilfred for American audiences. The concept is brilliantly simple: an ordinary guy realizes he's hallucinating his attractive next-door neighbour's dog Wilfred as a grumpy man in a dog costume (Jason Gann), and the pair become unlikely friends. In the original, the "ordinary guy" was exactly that, but the US remake chooses to make Ryan (Elijah Wood) into a social misfit and loner, introduced to us attempting to commit suicide after writing a fourth draft suicide note. I think it's intended to give us some form of explanation for why this fantasy's happening, as we're supposed to feel concern for Ryan's sanity, in addition to enjoying the symptom of his problem. And that's fine, I guess. It gives the show a somewhat darker edge, and Wood proved in Sin City that his feminine looks and turquoise eyes can be used for more unnerving ends. It's just a shame this one-joke comedy, for me, ran out of steam after 15-minutes.

And that's the key to this comedy. If you don't find the central premise consistently amusing, it won't be long before you're bored and wondering how they can possibly keep the ball rolling. The original series only produced a total of 16 episodes over two series (spread across three years), and FX will be producing 13 this year alone. On the evidence of this episode, I'm not convinced the show can go much beyond that time-span, as there's only so long you can poke fun at the idea of a dog that's been anthropomorphized in the head of a lcoal weirdo. It helps that co-creator Jason Gann (who played Wilfred in the original) is back playing the same character in this remake, as he knows exactly what's required and how to play a man-dog. Wilfred's essentially an Australian bloke who likes nothing more than smoking from bongs and doing typical canine things, like digging holes when he's anxious, and Gann makes for an oddly appealing co-lead. It already feels like Gann and Wood work as a double-act, but there still remains the issue of how long this concept can last...

It's essentially a pretty obvious and weak sketch idea, and even with Zuckerman in charge of the show (whose work on Family Guy is great training, as it too mixes traditional storytelling with sketch-like gags and a talking dog), I have a funny feeling Wilfred will counter problems fairly quickly. I was already over the concept's joke before this episode finished, and don't feel compelled to watch more. It doesn't take a genius to imagine the type of jokes we're going to be getting from this show, does it? Dogs have been staples of comedy for so long that we're all very aware of their foibles and areas of comic potential (peeing against lampposts, sniffing anuses, trips to the vet, neutering, burying bones, etc), and frankly I'm already bored with the idea of watching Wilfred undoubtedly tackle all of that—with the only twist being we're seeing a bearded Aussie in a silly costume as "man's imaginary best friend".

Overall, as much as I enjoyed some of the chemistry between Wood and Gann, I just can't see Wilfred becoming anything more than fleetingly amusing. Maybe it'll be worth sticking around for more, just to see how the show deals with various problems (the excuses for Wood to keep looking after a neighbour's dog, say), or if the show will be forced to become more creative and interesting once all the man-acting-like-a-dog jokes have been used up. I'm cautiously optimistic David Zuckerman has something in mind about how to prevent Wilfred becoming a repetitive bore, but after one 23-minute episode I think the joke's over for me.

written by David Zuckerman / directed by Randall Einhorn / 23 June 2011 / FX