There is nothing comforting about FX’s new comedy Wilfred—and I mean that as a compliment. Never mind the weekly drudgery of a procedural, which follows the same routine week after week, but with new guest stars. Or the canned laughter of a sitcom that reminds you to laugh at the non-threatening jokes. Wilfred is not the type of show you unwind to after work (the kind of show FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia keeps threatening to turn into). It’s prickly, thorny and unsettling. How else would you describe a show in which Elijah Wood, as suicidal, single Ryan, starts seeing his neighbor’s dog Wilfred (Jason Gann) as an Australian man in a dog suit? Lassie it ain’t.
And that’s to FX’s credit (IFC is airing the original Australian comedy that FX has adapted). FX generally tries to push the boundaries of cable television in a way that frequently gets overlooked. And for every Damages, they have a Terriers or a Lights Out, shows that start strong and then fizzle.
The question hanging over Wilfred is how long the concept will remain fresh enough to attract viewers. Wood, all red-rimmed bug eyes and twitchiness, grounds the proceedings in a kind of sweaty desperation, making you question the validity of everything that’s happening around him. But in the pilot, every rational explanation for the sudden appearance of a man in a dog suit is disproven. Hallucination? Purgatory? Nope, turns out Ryan’s suicide attempt failed. And now he’s having a conversation with a bong-smoking dog-man, who does not have his best interests at heart.
Gann has something of Jack Nicholson’s devilishness as Wilfred, a gleam that means nothing but bad news and yet convinces you to go along with his schemes anyway because you know they’ll be more fun than anything else you could be doing. He’s the snake charmer who has mesmerized Ryan into defecating in an obnoxious neighbor’s boot, into telling off his sister. And we’re just as intrigued as Ryan is.
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