Wilfred: Not your typical dog next door
Think Jimmy Stewart’s Harvey. But in place of the 6-foot rabbit as the protagonist’s imaginary friend, substitute a much bawdier and naughtier man-sized dog.
There also are shades of Family Guy‘s drinking and smoking Brian in the new FX comedy Wilfred, which bows at 9 p.m. Thursday. However, this talking pooch isn’t animated. To everyone but the guy next door, he’s just a big dog. To unhappy, brow-beaten Ryan , he appears as an earthy, unkempt Australian bloke in a cheap dog suit.
Wood said he was having loads of fun making Wilfred.
“I thought it was so hilarious and so unlike anything I’d ever read and anything I could imagine seeing on television,” he said. “One of the things that I connected with immediately upon reading the pilot was it really reminded me of Harvey. It’s a favorite movie of mine, and there’s the aspect of that sort of imaginary character relationship that I find really interesting.”
A kind of wicked confidante, Wilfred helps Ryan take control of his life and do the things he’d normally be afraid to do.
Wilfred first aired on Australian TV in 2007. It was a collaboration between Adam Zwar and Jason Gann, who starred as the big, bad dog. Gann plays Wilfred in the U.S. version, too.
“It was a conversation I was having with a friend about a dog who terrorized his owner’s boyfriends, and I just started improvising as this dog,” said Gann, who is amusingly real playing an imaginary friend. “It wasn’t a concept. It was just funny, and we just said, ‘That’s a short film, baby. We’ve got to write that down.’ So we wrote down a seven-minute short, and a week later we shot it. Within a year, it was at Sundance, and it’s just a bad joke that’s gone too far.”
David Zuckerman, Wilfred‘s executive producer, said a model for his remake was Fight Club. He also described it this way: “I kind of thought of it as Harvey meets Son of Sam.”
Son of Sam? Well, Wilfred’s advice initially does turn into unsavory, violent, even frightening scenarios for the normally mild-mannered Ryan.
“The show is completely from Ryan’s point of view, so we, the audience, hopefully are feeling the same discomfort and disorientation that Ryan’s feeling,” Zuckerman said. “It’s ambiguous. It’s mysterious. We aren’t sure if Wilfred is a good guy or not, and hopefully the fun of the show will be the audience sort of figuring it out as Ryan figures it out.
“If Ryan ever were to say, ‘You’re just a dog. You can’t be talking. This can’t be happening,’ that would be the network version, but I think FX allows us to go a little darker, and I think the reason Ryan doesn’t ask those questions is because the answers might be more terrifying than the actual question.”
In the end, though, his dog pal helps him confront his fears and begin to shake the controlling influences in his life, including his accomplished but unpleasant sister Kristin .
“Kristin represents the world that Ryan’s trying to escape from,” Zuckerman said. “Kristin says, ‘Nobody’s happy, Ryan.’ That is really her world view, which is really sad. Kristin desperately needs a Wilfred, but she’ll never get one, and Ryan is lucky because he got Wilfred.”
Gann said he couldn’t wish for a more satisfying American adaptation.
“It’s slicker. It’s the show that I wanted to make,” he said. “I wouldn’t have done a new version of Wilfred had I not thought that it could be better. … I really think this show maintains its artistic and comedic edge.”
It is indeed a kennel of raunchy fun.
However, parents should be warned: Though Wilfred’s rag-tag canine character likely would be visually appealing to kids, the material is strictly adult.
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