First an award-winning 2002 short film, then a two-season Australian series, “Wilfred” arrives in its third iteration as a U.S. series on FX this summer. Little is lost in translation.
Deviating from the original, “Wilfred” follows Ryan (Elijah Wood), a loner who finds salvation in his attractive neighbor’s dog just hours after a failed suicide attempt. That dog is just a dog to everyone else, but for Ryan, it’s an antagonistic, pot-smoking man in a dog suit who gets him to come out of his shell.
The relationship between Ryan and Wilfred obviously anchors the series, leaving little room for the secondary characters… namely Wilfred’s owner, Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann). And though there is clearly a lot of buddy comedy at work, the series delicately handles the way they want you to perceive Wilfred.
His wisdom is an echo of a voice Ryan long stopped listening to, but his advice is interspersed with the kind of things that likely make up the internal monologue of a canine. Ryan could be hallucinating. Or maybe he’s just achieved some bizarre clarity.
Watching the way the series handle alternative perceptions of Wilfred exaggerates your own take on him. It’s kind of like seeing “The Sixth Sense” a second time, knowing that Bruce Willis is dead. Elijah Wood is a grown, equally-stunted Haley Joel Osment, talking to his imaginary friend while the rest of the world goes on around them, ignoring their interaction — or at least mistaking it for something else.
For a raunchy comedy, there’s a great deal of heart to “Wilfred.” The story of man and dog will always wax sentimental, even when that dog makes a bong out of two-liter bottles of soda and convinces you to defecate in your neighbor’s boots.
… which is to say that it’s also incredibly funny. In addition to Gann’s aptitude for his character, Wood is right at home on a television comedy. His career has provided few showcases for his humor — “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Faculty” are the only things we can think of offhand — and you’d never know it to see him in this role.
It’s up in the air as to how “Wilfred” will be perceived by viewers. The first three episodes are fantastic, but proudly off-color, like most of FX’s comedy line-up. So let’s hope it gets a fairer shake than that last show the network made about dogs.
“Wilfred” premieres on FX, Thursday, June 23 at 10 p.m. ET.