June 23, 2012


WILFRED – Thursday 10PM on FX


WHERE WE WERE:  Ryan (Elijah Wood) is a burnt-out young lawyer who’s quit his job and is in such a state of depression that he attempts suicide.  One day an attractive new neighbor, Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann) moves in next door with Wilfred, her Australian sheepdog.  Ryan has an instant crush on Jenna.  The only thing is, Ryan doesn’t see Wilfred as a sheepdog.  He sees Wilfred as an Australian guy in a dog suit (Jason Gann), a literally raging id who smokes pot, lies incessantly to serve his purposes, and may be a murderer.  He and Ryan become an extremely peculiar form of best friends, hanging out together in Ryan’s basement with a bong and riffing on Matt Damon movies, when Wilfred isn’t manipulating Ryan into more antisocial acts.  Wilfred offers Ryan freedom and acceptance, and also danger.  But is he real?  There have been hints–very possibly no more than Wilfred’s sociopathic sense of humor–of a Lost-like mythology, but nothing is clear.  In the season 1 finale, Ryan forced Wilfred to get hit by a car in order to rescue Jenna from the consequences of eating pot brownies (long story), and in the hospital, Wilfred professed not to know Ryan at all.  When he told Ryan to go back to the basement and read his will, Ryan ran home and opened the basement door–only to find a closet where the basement used to be.

WHERE WE ARE:  In a mental institution, which seems appropriate.  But is the clinic real?  Is Ryan’s shrink played by Robin Williams, or is this another Good Will Hunting gag?  Is he having nightmares of working in a dreary office with Steven Weber and Rob Riggle, or is that reality and is the clinic the fantasy?  Does Wilfred, when he visits with Jenna, really need a wheelchair, or is that another sham?  How the hell is Wilfred’s stuffed bear (and frequent sex partner) driving a getaway car?  In any case, when Ryan knocks down the wall to that closet, he finds the stairway down to his basement is there after all, the furniture (and his and Wilfred’s bong) covered in sheets.  In the file cabinet is, indeed, Wilfred’s will, which reads only “Keep digging.”

No show on television embraces the weird quite like WILFRED, and its Season 2 premiere (which FX for its own marketing purposes labeled a “sneak,” a week ahead of the network’s big Thursday unveiling of Charlie Sheen’s Anger Management, Russell Brand’s Brand X and Season 3 of Louie) was no exception.  The series will no doubt continue to refuse pin itself down to any conventional notion of “reality,” shuffling between conventional life, paranoid fantasy and hallucination interchangeably.

Although Wilfred is technically a “comedy,” it’s fair to note that as the season premiere (written by US developer/showrunner David Zuckerman–the original Australian version had been created by Gann himself–and directed by Randall Einhorn) reminded us, it’s often more fascinating than funny.  A genuinely strange meld of The Odd Couple, Waiting For Godot, Fight Club and the Harold & Kumar movies, the show is committed to an overall sense of uneasiness, and never letting its viewers (or its protagonist) know where they stand.  Only time will tell if Wood and Gann will continue to be watchable, or if it all becomes tiresome gamesmanship at some point.

It appears from the premiere that Ryan’s nagging sister Kristen may have departed, at least as a regular (Dorian Brown’s name is absent from the opening credits), which would be a good move.  Apart from that, it’s impossible to know what’s in store for Season 2, since the one thing no one could ever accuse Wilfred of being is predictable.  The show’s semi-secret premiere had an 0.4 18-49 rating, in line with its Season 1 finale (which had to face off against Jersey Shore) and an airing of Step Brothers that led into it, but below the 0.7 it had been drawing with some regular episodes.  However, any conclusions about ratings are premature until FX premieres its regular Thursday line-up next week.  Wilfred is probably a very low-budget show, so the bar for an acceptable rating shouldn’t be high.

Until Girls premiered this Spring, HBO was in danger of losing its title as TV’s home for idiosyncratic comedy to FX,  which with Wilfred and Louie is taking some huge chances in the area.  Louie is one of the best shows on television; Wilfred isn’t quite at that level, but like a stray dog that just won’t stop following you, it’s impossible to shake.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."