TV review: Wilfred

By Columbus Alive
From the June 21, 2012 edition

I was very pleasantly surprised by the first season of “Wilfred.” I went in with somewhat low expectations because I’m not a big Elijah Wood fan — he stars as Ryan, a guy who, after a failed suicide attempt, sees his neighbor’s dog Wilfred as a pot-smoking, beer-swilling Aussie in a dog suit — and the aforementioned premise seemed to limit where the story could go.

Then “Wilfred” went to some unexpected and imaginatively dark places as it reached the conclusion of Season 1. Even though some of the outright laughs the show is capable of were sacrificed, the narrative was quite impressive.

The Season 2 premiere — which is already available online, but shouldn’t be watched until you’ve seen all of Season 1 — deals with last season’s cliffhangers and their role in determining Ryan’s mental state, but it avoids giving the audience definitive answers. I initially found this a little frustrating.

Then I realized this is still early in the show’s run, and the humorous, existential adventures of Ryan and Wilfred (Jason Gann, star and creator of the original Australian series) wouldn’t be quite the same without the mystery of what Wilfred is. By having open-ended possibilities as to the origins of Wilfred, the series is able to always keep the audience expectations off-balance — much like its Thursday night companion “Louie,” which returns for Season 3 next Thursday.

The first three episodes are scatterbrained, but in a good way. Jokes can be subversive or slapstick while occasionally the plot and character development becomes more important than laughs. But this is still a very funny show. Showrunner David Zuckerman, a veteran of “Family Guy,” and Gann make the dog-as-a-human jokes work incredibly well. It’s similar to Brian from “Family Guy,” only sharper and more decadent.

Still, none of this would work without the chemistry between the leads. Wood’s performance last season made me warm to him as an actor, and he’s even better here, conveying Ryan’s tormented id with subtlety. And Gann is still the lovable — and diabolical — scoundrel looking to repair — or destroy — Wood’s neuroses-riddled Ryan.