We don't normally review TV shows, but the promos for the new FX comedy series "Wilfred" - the new series starring Elijah Wood that's premiereing tonight - caught our eye, and so we decided to see for ourselves what it's all about. Imagine if “Fight Club” were turned into a sitcom, with Tyler Durden replaced by a bong-hit-ripping dog who loves Matt Damon—that’s essentially the premise, and it works surprisingly well.
The premiere episode of “Wilfred” finds Ryan (Wood) coming to the grim realization that he’s survived a suicide attempt. Still struggling with his frustration, he hears a knock at his door. It’s the pretty blond girl (isn’t it always?) from next door, Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann), who needs someone to watch her dog, Wilfred (Jason Gann), who appears to Ryan to be an adult human in a rather cheap looking dog suit. Convinced that his suicide cocktail is still playing tricks on him, Ryan tries to roll with the punches, desperate to please his neighbor and curious to see how things with the dog play out.
The show is based on an Australian TV series of the same name that Gann helped to create and starred in, and the level of comfort and ease with which he plays Wilfred goes a long way toward making the whole thing work. Gann has been honing this character for more than 8 years, and he’s got it down cold, never overplaying the joke. He doesn’t force you to recognize his dog-ness, but will casually do things like turn around twice before sitting down on the couch.
The dynamic that develops between Ryan and Wilfred is hilarious, as we watch the two sides of Ryan’s personality duke it out - Id, vs. Ego - in a battle to the death, occasionally putting aside their differences to hit the beach, smoke some pot or just take a walk.
Last year Wood had a small role in “The Romantics,” giving a funny and wicked turn as the drunken little brother hanging with his sister’s slightly older friends--who’d’ve guessed Frodo had a nasty streak? (Though after his work in "Sin City," nothing should surprise us) Here Wood expands on that work, showing a fine sense of timing, a rubber face and deftness for physical comedy.
Unfortunately, the show fails to build the groundwork laid down in the first episode, as they try to develop the secondary characters, specifically Jenna and Spencer, the tattooed biker neighbor played by Ethan Suplee ("My Name Is Earl"). Episode 2 calls for Jenna to prove herself a serious baseball fan, but Gubelmann takes the bit too far, completely divorcing Jenna from the bubbly blond she is at all other times. Similarly, Suplee’s biker, featured in the third episode, is too broad to be believable. But the shortcomings of those characters should be easy enough to overcome with some tweaking.
“Wilfred” succeeds largely on the strength of the chemistry between Ryan and Wilfred, driving the show’s dark tone and bitterly funny comedy. Hopefully, there's help on the way for the duo.
“Wilfred” premieres Thursday night at 10 pm on FX