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After months of FX promoting this offbeat series, the premiere of Wilfred is finally here. It's weird and raunchy, with a dark edge to much of the humor. Which is to be expected when a show's opening scene is a man attempting suicide. Introducing two great leads and a storyline brimming with opportunities for humor, “Happiness” managed to provide just that thing to the audience.
With a plot that is a blend of Calvin and Hobbes and Fight Club, there is no denying this series is odd. After ruining his career as a lawyer, Ryan (Elijah Wood), decides to take his own life via an overdose. Despite doing all he can to help the drugs along, come morning he still hasn't shuffled loose the mortal coil. This is when his blonde, bubbly neighbor, Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann) stops by to ask him to dog sit, introducing Ryan and the audience to her dog, and the titular character. For Ryan however, Wilfred appears as a man in a dog suit (Jason Gann), who almost immediately takes it upon himself to be Ryan's life coach, helping him find the happiness he's never known. So it's certainly an esoteric storyline, but is it funny?
the first moments the episode draws viewers right in, or maybe it was
just Wood's baby blues. Ryan's haplessness is both endearing and
humorous, especially him going so far as to look up “drug overdose”
on Wikipedia for some tips on how to induce one. Wood's facial
expressions are executed perfectly as well; whether it was the
thousand-yard stare he has when Jenna and Wilfred show up on his
doorstep or as he was staring in disbelief and disgust at Wilfred's
ability to hold discourse on anything from the meaning of life, to
how much he enjoys dining on a nice possum posterior. The character
also earns small laughs consistently with the under-his-breath
comments he makes throughout the episode. All in all, Ryan is
shaping up to be a great “straight man” while also serving up a
fair amount of humor himself. And Wood seems to be perfectly cast in
the role; he impresses for both for his ever present acting skills and
for showcasing a grasp on comedy that wasn't expected given his body
While Ryan serves as his comic foil, Wilfred is the main source of comedy and Gann does an excellent job portraying him. He should, considering this is his second time donning the dog suit. Gann was both co-creator and star of the original Australian series, so it's safe to say he's used to such an oddball character. His delivery is flawless, switching from angry and emphatic, to dismissive and uninterested with ease. Gann's sense of comedic timing is also spot on, knowing just how long to hold a pause and when to rush through dialogue for effect. Though the series could easily become too dependent on a man doing things a dog would for it's humor, it managed to avoid that pitfall in it's pilot. Witty banter and applying a dog's logic to the world of humans is definitely the way to go with him. As long as he doesn't become too dependent on physical humor, Wilfred will find as much love in the States as he did in Australia.
In addition to Gubelmann balancing out the hormones in the cast is Dorian Brown, starring as Ryan's overbearing sister, Kristen. Jenna didn't provide any laughs in the first episode, but she also didn't have much screen time, so it will take at least another episode to judge if she's going to be more than just a pretty face. Kristen however managed to stand out even with only a few scenes. She was hilarious in how fed up she was with Ryan thinking he is special because he hates his life, as well as dealing with the stress of her own career. The highpoint of her performance was her second phone call to Ryan to see why he hadn't shown up to the job she got for him. As she is all but tearing her hair out in frustration, the scene culminates in a very non P.C. joke about delivering an Asian woman's twins. (“I had to do so much slicing and dicing down there it looked like a God **** Benihana's!”) If Jenna ends up half as funny as Kristen, than she'll do just fine.
Following in the footsteps of It's Always Sunny and it's partner show Louie, Wilfred is taking crude, lowbrow humor and elevating it to a height seldom seen - at least outside of FX. Making a conversation about feces particles funny was particularly impressive. They did push it too far later though, with Wilfred and Ryan leaving a little something in their annoying neighbor's boots. Which is the thin line the series is walking along; how vulgar is too vulgar? And when does it stop becoming funny? So the writers will have to be just as careful of not going too “frat house” with their humor, as they are about Wilfred's physical comedy. If they can do that, than every episode should be as entertaining and uproarious as “Happiness.”