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"Wilfred" Review: Frodo and the Humping Man-Dog

By Dustin Rowles | TV | June 27, 2011 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | TV | June 27, 2011 |


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I'm reluctant to pass judgment on a show based on the first 23 minutes of a series, but if the pilot episode is any indication of the series as a whole, F/X's "Wilfred" looks to be a casually amusing, but not a particularly resonant television program. Elijah Wood -- formerly Frodo in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Puppet Master on "Yo Gabba Gabba!" -- plays Ryan, a depressed introvert struggling to find social and professional happiness, who, in the opening scenes, fails to take his own life after revising his suicide letter three times. The next morning, his attractive neighbor, Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann), asks Ryan to take her dog, Wilfred, for the day. Wilfred -- played by Jason Gann in both the American series and Australian one it's based upon -- is part Australian Shepherd, part Russell Crowe on a bender. The world sees Wilfred as a dog; Ryan sees Wilfred as a man dressed in a dog suit.

Supernatural explanations, dreams, and hallucinations are ruled out early on; it's just the way it is, and "Wilfred" is not the kind of show that begs answers. Gann -- equal parts deadpan and boorish, like a muted Dane Cook minus half of the douchebaggery -- is compelling enough that we overlook the obvious, and in a matter of minutes, we readily give in to the conceit. It's a take on Harvey or "Mr. Ed," or The Beaver or Lars and the Real Girl, or any other show where the lead forms a therapeutic relationship with an imaginary friend, and that's all we need to understand.

The series -- adapted from a darker, more daring Australian show of the same name -- is being reworked by David Zuckerman ("Family Guy," "American Dad") for American audiences, and Randall Einhorn (a TV director for shows such as "The Office," "Parks and Recreation, and "Happy Endings") directs many of the episodes (including the pilot). You can feel the two sensibilities competing in the show's themes. Woods' Ryan is a pushover, a sensitive yes man, and Wilfred is trying to get him to give in to his baser, Seth MacFarlane instincts, to be less responsible, more of an asshole. Through some perseverance, in the pilot alone Wilfred convinces Ryan to smoke a bong, quit a job he hadn't even started, and shit in a boot, as the two form a budding bromance. By episode's end, the sentiment is already bubbling up as the MacFarlane influence takes a backseat to slightly more sophisticated emotional beats of Einhorn.

Zuckerman also brings some of his sophomoric humor over from "Family Guy," giving in to the easy jokes, as in the scene where Wilfred motorboats a waitress and humps her leg. "Get off," Ryan says to Wilfred. "I'm trying to," he snaps. Easy jokes, yes, but I didn't say they weren't funny, although it's hard not to believe that that aspect of the show might wear thin quickly. Watching a grown man hump a teddy bear is mildly amusing once, but the welcome mat will be pulled if Wilfred continues to dry hump through the series.

The pilot episode, overall, isn't all that engaging, but it lays out the ingredients of a more promising show, one that I'd be inclined to continue watching. It airs Thursday nights on F/X (and opened with the highest debut for a comedy in the network's history), and that station has a remarkable track record with both dramas and comedy ("It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," "Archer," "The League"), so it'll get the benefit of the doubt, for now. Although given the way AMC botched its pristine run with "The Killing," I won't be shy about pulling the "Wilfred" season pass if it doesn't improve within a few episodes.



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