Moving Pictures
Jul 19, 2011, 04:55AM

Wilfred Unleashed

FX’s stoner pooch comedy is just odd enough to be watchable.

Three weeks in, and I’m still not sure about Wilfred. The latest FX sitcom—about the relationship between Ryan (Elijah Wood) and the titular dog, who appears only to Ryan as a big guy in a well-worn fur suit (co-creator Jason Gann)—premiered to mostly critical shrugs; ratings-wise it’s still outdrawing the show that it precedes, the apparently universally-adored Louie, by a ratings hair in the infinitesimal Nielsen numbers that the network usually gets.

I was a big fan of Louie last year too, though so far this year it’s hit-and-miss. Same with Wilfred. The basic set-up is admirable: Wilfred belongs to Ryan’s winsome next-door neighbor Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann), who in the pilot asks Ryan to watch him while she’s at work. It quickly becomes clear that only Ryan—who in the opening scene tried committing suicide by ingesting what turned out to be placebos—sees and hears Wilfred as if he was the sarcastic, weed-puffing (he has his own bong) horndog (there’s no other way of putting it) that he truly is.

Is Ryan hallucinating? Is Wilfred’s appearing to be human a manifestation of Ryan’s shortcomings? (Possibly, but it’s still too early to tell.) Does Ryan perceive the actual truth, and the rest of the world is actually experiencing a Philip K. Dick-like simulacrum? (An intriguing idea, but one probably not addressed by a show as reliant on jokes about bodily functions as this one is.)

Not answering this question, or appearing to even care that much about it, is by far the show’s greatest strength. So is the depiction of Wilfred himself: Gann doesn’t play him as a slobbering, eager-to-please leg humper, but as an even-toned mocker of most everything he sees, more prone to eye rolls than outright mania. This laissez-faire attitude only works, however, if you don’t think about some of the show’s mechanics. Where does Wilfred get his weed, anyhow, and how would a dog operate a lighter, much less a bong? How does Ryan support himself? In the pilot, he fails to show up to a job at a hospital that his nurse sister had gotten him; neither she nor a source of income has been mentioned since.

The series is based on an Australian sitcom of the same name, also co-created by and starring Gann. I haven’t seen the original, but Gann makes for an amusing presence, a sort of toned-down Ricky Gervais who for some, again unexplained reason, has decided to give Ryan some life lessons on how to deal with bullies, scope out women, and generally act like a man. Wood does a nice job of taking these lessons with a grain of salt, although he’s not above using Wilfred to get closer to Jenna—who, he (and we) rather belatedly have discovered, has a boyfriend played by Chris Klein, the onetime New Keanu who went from playing dopey in American Pie and Election to making dopey films like the Rollerball remake before falling off the radar.

There have also been some more welcome guest shots, including Ethan Suplee as a bullying pothead/porn addict who lives next door (kind of a more aggressive version of the simpleton he played on My Name Is Earl) and Damon Herriman, the long-suffering Dewey on FX’s Justified, as Suplee’s porn-loving pal. This week Ed Helms shows up, likely as an easy-to-panic weakling with a heart of gold.

Wilfred tries to add a touch of class by introducing each episode with a title card bearing a quote from such luminaries as Mark Twain, Mahatma Gandhi, and George Orwell. It also contains plot points wherein both Wilfred and Ryan shit in someone’s boots. It’s rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but admirably manages the tricky balance of being quirky without rubbing your nose in it. If the show were to vanish tomorrow I wouldn’t be annoyed—as I was when the network canceled its shaggy detective series Terriers—but for now, at least, it’s worth keeping an eye on.


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