I love werewolves. They’re my favorite movie monster, which makes it a shame there’s been so few quality movies and shows centered around them. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a vampire or zombie these days, but apart from Werewolves Within their lycanthropic brethren haven’t featured much in the past decade. So when Peacock premiered Wolf Like Me I got excited. The streaming service promised a black comedy around the blossoming relationship between widowed father Gary (a subdued Josh Gad) and struggling werewolf widow Mary (an ageless Isla Fisher). Gary’s having trouble connecting with his distant and emotionally unstable 11-year-old daughter, Emma (Ariel Donoghue), while Mary’s balancing a career, grieving her own dead husband, and occasionally feasting on live chickens in her basement. Both are American emigrants, a strange choice given Isla Fisher is Australian, and as far as I know, there are no rules that say Australians can’t turn into werewolves. Were-dingoes, at least.
The damaged adults meet when Mary drives through a red light, crashing into Gary’s car. This triggers one of Emma’s frequent panic attacks. Mary, somehow, calms her immediately. Gary, struggling to connect with Emma despite her blatant hostility towards him, is astonished. Mary’s beauty and personality draws him in as well and the two begin a fumbling courtship complicated by Emma, their past, and Mary’s tendency to run away at inopportune moments. Despite this, they make progress even when Gary discovers Mary’s frightening secret.
Much of the series is good, if slow. Ariel Donoghue isn’t given much to do apart from scowl at her father while ignoring every groveling word he says, but she’s good at that. Her trauma feels real, and relatable from a child’s perspective even as it frustrates a parent’s. Josh Gad is quiet for once, so focused on Emma that he’s withdrawn from his own emotions as much as possible to provide stability. For someone like me who mostly knows him as Olaf from the Frozen movies, it’s a big change. It works for him, particularly as his control begins to fray. Gary, it has to be said, is not a good father. He’s trying his best, but his “best” is begging/bribing his daughter to like him again, and putting Emma in therapy with a counselor who doesn’t listen to her. He’s also such a distracted driver they should revoke his license, and Mary’s besides. That said, I do like the idea of exporting all our terrible drivers to Australia.
Isla Fisher is great, as she so often is. Fisher’s never gotten enough credit for her performances, or the exposure she deserves. It was like Fisher and Amy Adams arrived on the scene together but Hollywood decided there was room for only one ginger, and went for sweet instead of sexy. Ever since 2005’s ridiculous and ridiculously entertaining Wedding Crashers and 2007’s fantastic The Lookout — one of JGL’s and Jeff Bridges’ best movies — she’s been a spark of vitality onscreen. Mary — also a godawful driver — writes an advice column, and often speaks to herself as though she’s written an email asking for help. She struggles to keep her condition a secret and remain isolated despite her crushing loneliness. She fears all the terrible things that happened to her are simply random, awful experiences and so she searches for meaning in a chaotic universe. She believes something has drawn her, Gary, and Emma together, and is willing to find out what even if it means jeopardizing her safety.
A story that starts slow and picks up speed in the second act falls apart in the third even as they move to the beautiful, spartan bush. I honestly can’t decide if Gary or Mary demonstrates worse decision-making skills. They make Bode from Locke & Key look downright logical. The final episode is an illogical mess and the solution to their self-imposed predicament requires the laziest deus ex machina I’ve ever seen. It’s also the first time we see Mary as a werewolf and with the first glimpse, you understand why they didn’t show her earlier. It’s bad. Real bad. I know good effects are expensive, but why bother going the CGI route if you aren’t going to bother making the knees bend properly? Seth Green in season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer made a more believable werewolf. And then the last five minutes of the episode is the little family driving down a straight road in the middle of the Outback, listening to a particular song as they gaze out the windows and occasionally at each other. A 10-second shot would’ve accomplished the same thing, but then they’d need to fill the time. Perhaps Gary could bathe in a river full of crocodiles.
Wolf Like Me is still worth watching despite the terrible ending, if barely. The first four episodes are mildly amusing, and at less than half an hour each all six episodes are very manageable. The short episode length helps mask how little happens in each segment. Isla Fisher’s performance alone is worth the price of admission. Just be prepared to shout at the screen — a lot — in the final episode.