Wilfred is a very, shall we say, unique show. A remake of an Australian series of the same name, it stars Elijah Wood of The Lord of the Rings fame as Ryan, a severely depressed former lawyer.1 His new next-door neighbour, Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann) owns a dog named Wilfred. But there’s a twist: while the rest of the world sees Wilfred as just a regular dog, Ryan sees him as a foul-mouthed, beer-drinking, pot-smoking Australian man in a dog suit (played by Jason Gann). Though Ryan and Wilfred start off on the wrong foot, they eventually form an awkward, drug-fuelled friendship. That’s certainly a one-of-a-kind premise, and in theory, the fact that Ryan sees Wilfred differently from the rest of the world should provide ample fodder for jokes. It’s surprising then, that Wilfred is so formulaic and unfunny.

I’m sure I’ve seen this story hundreds of times before. Character A is in a depressive funk. He meets Character B, with whom he initially has an antagonistic relationship, but Character B gives him a new perspective on life. By following Character B’s advice, Character A performs an heroic act that lifts himself out of the funk. Following a formula is fine. After all, almost every basic story has been told before in one form or another, and anything new is just a variation on an old theme. But Wilfred seems to actively call attention to its formula. For example, we learn that Ryan is attracted to Jenna within the first minute of the episode, but we also know that it’ll be a while before they together because the show bashes us over the head with the fact that Ryan can’t hold it together when he’s around Jenna and Wilfred at the same time.

There is an even more egregious example of the show calling attention to its formula. The show continually reminds us how much Ryan’s life has fallen apart (via his irritating, type-A sister2), as if to say, “Hey, Wilfred’s gonna fix this, just wait and see!” The problem is that we spend the entire episode waiting and seeing. We know that Ryan is going to emerge from his funk by the end of the episode, so having to watch his depression for nearly a half-hour becomes a slog.

It wouldn’t have been such a slog if it were funnier. But there’s a distinct lack of jokes in this show, almost as if the writers were lazy enough to believe that an Australian man in a dog suit and Elijah Wood’s deadpan delivery could make anything funny. If that’s true, they’re half-right. I did crack a few smiles (though not a single laugh) because of the way Gann and Wood played off each other or the way Wood delivered a line. However, funny acting is only half the equation; there needs to be funny writing to back it up. There was a distinct lack of clever or witty dialogue in this episode. It seems as if the writers prefer shock humour, like jokes about dogs eating “possum ass.”

But I’m compelled to check the series out at least one more time before I decide whether or not it’s for me. I see a lot of potential here. Pilot episodes tend to be saddled with a lot of clunky exposition, and subsequent episodes are less likely to adhere to a predictable formula. Moreover, there is a wealth of comedy to be mined in Ryan’s and the rest of the world’s differing perceptions of Wilfred’s human/dog status. Finally, Wood, Gann, and Gubelmann delivered strong performances, despite the weak writing. It’s quite likely that Wilfred will improve.

Overall, “Happiness” was a mediocre episode of television. But Wilfred has a strong fundamentals and a talented cast. Capitalizing on those assets, while moving away from predictable, clichéd storytelling will be the keys to this show’s success. However, if it sticks to trite plots and gross-out humour, it won’t be much more than a surreal Judd Apatow flick, and I’m going to tune out quicker than a dog can wag its tail.


1 In the typographical equivalent of a Freudian slip, I originally typed “liar.” LOL.

2 You guessed it, she’s this episode’s Exposition Fairy.

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