August 14, 2014

THE SKED Series Finale Review: “Wilfred”


Considering what a deeply strange series WILFRED was–even for the wilds, eventually, of FXX–tonight’s series finale provided a surprising amount of closure.  The more-or-less comedy began as a raunchy riff on “man’s best friend” stories about guys and their dogs, based on an Australian format and starring Jason Gann, who’d co-created and starred in the original show as humanoid canine Wilfred.  In the very different US version, created by David Zuckerman, suicidal, possibly crazy lawyer Ryan (Elijah Wood) saw his beautiful next-door neighbor Jenna’s (Fiona Gubelmann) dog as a man in a furry suit (Gann), one who was happy to hang out and smoke pot with Ryan, but also hatched plots that sometimes helped Ryan out but just as often left him fooled and humiliated.

Over time, the US Wilfred became something of a cross between an existential Beckettian sitcom, an anthropomorphic Judd Apatow-esque buddy comedy, and a parody of twisty, paranoid thrillers.  The series constantly played with reality, and with the central question of just what Wilfred was, and the state of Ryan’s mind.  The ratings were never strong, and this season it was moved from FX to brand-new FXX, where its viewership was measurable in the hundredths of ratings points.

Perhaps fittingly, for a series whose audience constituted a very small cult, much of the plotting in the final 4th season was cult-oriented, concerning the Flock of the Gray Shepherd, a dog-worshiping group that was tied in with Ryan’s madwoman mother (Mimi Rogers, taking over the role from Mary Steenburgen in previous seasons) and his ambiguously drawn attorney father (James Remar).  Meanwhile, in the world of reality, Ryan finally won Jenna away from her amiably blankish hometown husband Drew (Chris Klein), but just as that was happening, Wilfred was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

The show’s final hour (programmed as back-to-back episodes), written by Zuckerman and directed by Randall Einhorn, answered a lot of questions.  The actual Wilfred, who we finally saw as a four-legged dog, died of his disease, and Jenna left Ryan to go back with Drew (and rubbing salt in the wound, raise a new puppy together).  But Ryan discovered (seemingly) that the Flock of the Grey Shepherd was real, and even more, that the head of the cult (played, in a lovely piece of stunt casting, by Saw‘s Tobin Bell) was his biological father.  The man-in-a-dog-suit Wilfred, after declaring himself a god and Ryan as The Chosen One, was revealed as a figment of Ryan’s imagination after all–but at the series’ end, Ryan had embraced his madness, if that was the appropriate word, and was happily chatting at the beach with his best pal and delusion.

As Wilfred went on, its interest at generating laugh-out-loud comedy became more intermittent, although this season’s arc of Wilfred’s jealousy over three-legged dogs, and his delight in getting hit by a car and becoming one, was pretty funny.  Perhaps unavoidably, it tended to be an uneven and inconsistent half-hour, and sometimes, when it went off on one of its paranoid fantasy tilts (a mad scientist this season was played by Rutger Hauer, another choice piece of casting), it felt as though to truly appreciate it, it would help to be as stoned as Ryan and Wilfred often were.  Quirk overwhelmed everything else.  Still, Wilfred was a strikingly original piece of work, and Wood and Gann followed the contortions of their characters with unshakable commitment and wit.  Perhaps the most surreal thing about the series was that with all its oddity, tiny ratings and nothing like the buzz of FX’s Louie, Wilfred managed to stay on the air for 4 seasons–that’s 28 in dog TV seasons–before heading to that puppy farm in the sky.


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."