Picture the pitch meeting. Picture someone in a network executive’s office trying to explain that Wilfred is a show about a suicidal man named Ryan (Elijah Wood) who’s attracted to the girl next door (Fiona Gubelmann), who has a dog named Wilfred.
Except Ryan doesn’t see a dog. He — and the viewing audience — see an Australian bloke (Jason Gann) dressed in a shaggy dog costume. To review: The other characters just see a dog. Wilfred doesn’t establish who’s right — whether Wilfred is dog or man — and it doesn’t really care.
And yet, on FX — the network that gave us odd, sardonic comedies like Archer, Louie, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia — Wilfred (originally a short film, then an Australian TV series) is an entire actual real American TV show.
It would be easy enough to have the series center around the absurdity of a person acting like a dog. We get those jokes on occasion. (At a motorcycle he’s chasing, Wilfred yells, “I’ll kill you!”) But Wilfred goes far deeper.
Wilfred is complex. Instead of just, say, showing that Wilfred enjoys the taste of squirrel, it imbues him with the actual personality traits of a dog — the sloppiness, the neediness, the loyalty, the impulsivity.
Pull Wilfred out of the dog costume, and he’s your brash, crude, destructive friend — the kind who doesn’t make your life any easier but forces you to take risks. These may be stupid, idiotic, destructive risks, yes — but they’re the type of risks that bash confidence and experience into you (to go along with the black eyes and bruises). Wilfred offers an antidote of id to a man paralyzed by superego.
As Ryan, Wood creates an introverted, insecure character who’s far, far removed from Frodo. In later episodes, however, his character too often shifts from understandable expressions of frustration to grating whines.
Gann’s Wilfred is more consistent. He’s a unique comic creation — alternating, like many a dog, between lovable and agonizing. The accent helps.
As a comedy, Wilfred occasionally tries too hard to be surreal. (Its premise is surreal enough.) At other points, it tries too hard to be broadly funny, even though its humor works better in darker, subtler veins.
Generally, though, Wilfred skips along with a sweet, misanthropic darkness, occasionally stopping to pee on a fire hydrant.
Let’s get this straight: Despite being written by comedian Louis C.K., Louie is not a comedy. It’s somehow sketch, stand-up, sitcom, drama and avant-garde television — without really being any of those. It’s full immersion into the depression, frustration and absurdity of Louis C.K.’s psyche. (Thursdays, 10:30 pm, FX)
Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings
Local TV commercials have a low-budget purity to them. Their flaws and their naïve awkwardness demand our ironic respect. Rhett & Link features two young videographers who go from town to town, making commercials for “lucky” local businesses across America. Their results, unsurprisingly, are Tim and Eric awkward. (Fridays, 10 pm, IFC)
When Futurama was resurrected, fanfare fell to disappointment. Episodes sagged with lazy jokes, bad timing and desperately dated pop-culture references. But then, somehow, the writers forged several episodes — an insanely complicated body-switching episode and a poignant episode about a time machine that can only travel forward — that not only rank with the best Futurama episodes, but the best sci-fi episodes ever. (Thursdays, 10 pm, Comedy Central)