Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Genius of Wilfred

Quick. Tell me how many sitcoms you can think of, past or present about a dysfunctional family dealing with their everyday issues. How many can sitcoms can you name about a group of friends dealing with the struggles of young adulthood? How many shows can you name portraying the life of people in a modern American work setting? A lot, right? Well how many can you name about a guy struggling with his life, considering suicide until he finds a savior in his neighbor's dog. A dog who appears normal to everyone but our troubled protagonist who views the dog as a pot smoking, beer drinking, womanizing man in a furry costume.  How many can you name like that? None? O, right. There has never been anything like that on American television before. Until now. Until Wilfred.

When the ads began to appear on FX about six months ago, my interest immediately peaked.  The basic premise of the show was incredibly unique. It almost seemed to bizarre for TV.  I could just picture the TV execs at most networks bolting for the door if someone had the gall to pitch something as strange as Wilfred.  On top of that, the idea seemed better suited for a movie, most likely done by a small indie studio.  But FX has shown in the past that they can appreciate unique, innovative programming. This is no exception.

Being so unique, a show like Wilfred won't have a large built in audience in the early going.  The premise alone will be enough to turn away most people. But after watching the first episode, the level of comedy is right on par with some of FX's other shows. It may not be the family-friendly humor of Modern Family, or the easy laughs of Two and Half Men, but its well written, well acted, smart comedy that will keep you laughing throughout.

Elijah Wood's character, Ryan meets Wilfred the morning after a failed suicide attempt (which is apparently also the same day he is supposed to start a new job).  In less than a day, Wilfred's influence immediately begins to work wonders for Ryan's psyche. Wilfred offer's his new friend lessons of being a man, standing up for himself, and generally, just tells Ryan to grow a pair.  Despite his ability to talk to Ryan, and perform a few human functions, he still behaves like a dog for the most part.  He needs to ask for water, plays fetch, chases motorcycles, and digs holes (although he does so with a shovel).

Amazingly the show works.  Jason Gann brilliantly plays the part of Wilfred, carefully walking a tightrope of plausibility towering over an ocean of absurdity. At times, the show stumbles (did he really just pull out a bong?) but in the end, he walks the line perfectly (his interaction with women is especially hilarious).  However, the thing that excites me the most about Wilfred isn't just it's premise, acting or funny jokes.  It's the show's potential. It's ceiling is so high because of it's uniqueness. The writers could easily think up a few season's worth of plot lines or situations without worrying about ripping off another show. How many sitcoms have felt stale or dull because it just seemed like a reincarnation of another show? I know it's only been one episode, but honestly I can't wait for next week. This show already passes my "I want more" test. Hopefully enough American viewers can embrace Wilfred as well, keeping the show alive.

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