Review: Wilfred

Good dog
By RYAN STEWART  |  June 28, 2011

FX's Wilfred
CANINE WISDOM You're better off not knowing why a dog is being played by a man in a dog suit.

It's hard to say what's more surprising about Wilfred, FX's new comedy — adapted from an Australian series — about a depressed ex-lawyer (Elijah Wood) and his friend Wilfred, who he thinks is a man in a dog suit but who is, in actuality, a dog. Is it that the show exists at all, or that it's actually pretty good?

Wilfred (Thursdays at 10 pm) opens as Ryan (Wood) proudly puts the finishing touches on his suicide note (helpfully, he's labeled it as the third revision). He then concocts a sleeping-pill smoothie, only to discover that it's not having the desired effect. In one of the first episode's funniest scenes, Ryan consults the Wikipedia page for "Drug overdose" in search of answers. The next morning, Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann), Ryan's neighbor, asks him to look after Wilfred, a normal dog to everyone but Ryan, who sees him as man in a dog suit (Jason Gann, reprising his role from the Australian series) who loves marijuana and Matt Damon films. Soon afterward, Wilfred is offering Ryan life advice — albeit wisdom filtered through the brain of a dog. Wilfred wants Ryan to follow his instincts and grow a spine, but he imparts the former advice by sharing an anecdote about eating a dead opossum's anus and the latter by insisting Ryan poop in the boot of his noisy motorcycle-riding neighbor.

Wilfred is a bizarre concept, even by the more adventurous standards of television in 2011, but the show works in part because of its lack of explanation. There's no backstory offered as to why Ryan can see and communicate with Wilfred. He's not hallucinating, he's not mentally ill, his house isn't the center of some mystical, reality-bending energy field. He just perceives this dog as a man in a dog suit. And after he spends a few minutes adjusting, Ryan goes with it — and so do viewers.

The concept also works because Wilfred is allowed to be a dog despite his human appearance. In the pilot, when Jenna leaves for the afternoon, Wilfred has a panic attack, believing she'll never return. It's funny and, in an odd way, believable. In episode two, Ryan has to take Wilfred to the veterinarian's office. Many dog owners have tried to trick their pets into getting in the car for a visit to the vet; only Ryan has the advantage of promising Wilfred a Matt Damon movie. (It should be noted here that the jokes are generally more clever than they are hilarious, but that's not a real complaint.) There's also genuine chemistry between Gann and Wood. Wood, for his part, does a solid job in his first television role, even if the part doesn't ask much of him beyond playing the straight man.

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