Wilfred reviewed: Elijah Wood in a surreal comedy about a depressed lawyer and a talking stoner dog.

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June 23 2011 10:05 PM

Stoner Dog to the Rescue

A depressed lawyer befriends an unusual talking canine in the comedy Wilfred.

Elijah Wood in Wilfred. Click image to expand.
Elijah Wood in Wilfred 

The title character of Wilfred (FX, Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET) is a dog. Though I have sat raptly through the Australian comedy series on which it is based and—somewhat less raptly—through three episodes of the thing itself, I am not certain what sort of dog Wilfred is meant to be. An Australian cattle dog, perhaps? (Jason Gann, who dons a dog suit in each version of the show, goes over the top with a Down Under boorishness that is the best thing on-screen, but the patterning of his coat isn't at all right.) Is he just a lovable mutt crossbred with a nervous cur, a tramp and scamp? Does the Westminster Kennel Club recognize the "babehound" as a distinct breed? This pooch is very devoted to attempting to hump things, especially hot waitresses.

In any case, Wilfred is a drug-sniffing dog in the sense that he owns a bong made out of a plastic juice bottle, and Wilfred, the FX series, is a stoner comedy that somehow behaves as if it's goofy on pills. Whereas the original had a homey shaggy charm and a coherent internal logic, the remake is crisper and weirder and queasily dystopian and slightly Apatowized. FX likes comedies with a dark streak, and this one certainly qualifies. It's a fondly nihilistic portrait of the relationship between an effete depressive (Elijah Wood) and the man's-best-friend-next-door.

Wood's character—Ryan, an ex-lawyer and ex-everything—botches a suicide attempt and unsteadily faces a world where his sister is one those anti-empaths that run rampant on TV comedies and his neighbor needs a hand with her dog. You can tell that the dog understands basic commands because he sneers at them. You know that the dog is middle-aged because he tells the human protagonist directly: "I'm 7 years old, Ryan, too old and too wise for lies. I can smell your fear like I smell the sour milk in the fridge." Wilfred operates in a zone adjacent to those inhabited by the invisible rabbit Harvey and the eminent Aloysius Snuffleupagus. Though Ryan perceives Wilfred as a dude in a woolly grey dog costume, the rest of the world relates to him as a dog, which is quite helpful when, for instance, he is humping a waitress.

The secret to the show's success in maintaining the conceit lies in its absurdist half-apathy about such maintaining. How does a dog manage to work a disposable lighter? How does he carry it when going out to strip clubs? If you find it distracting or otherwise unpleasant to dwell on these questions, then this is not the show for you. It borrows indiscriminately from hazy magic realism, sketch-show Dada, and underground-comics allegory according to alternating whim.

If you don't give a hoot about such logistical issues—and if you're willing to forgive the half-hearted crudity that fills the space between good crude jokes and the bizarro non-jokes—then you have come to the right place and are free to muse upon the parallels between meek Ryan and loose Wilfred and the brotagonists of I Love You, Man. "We're all animals," barks Wilfred to Ryan, in the course of telling an anecdote about eating a possum anus to make a point about trusting one's instincts.

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

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