Judge Bill Gibron envisions his pet hamster as a monkey in a mohair suit.
Talk about your high concepts…emphasis on the "high!"
Sometime around the turn of the millennium, two Australian friends were having a conversation about dogs. Specifically, actor/voice artist/writer Adam Zwar was telling his best mate, actor/writer Jason Gann about a date he had with a young woman, and how when he went back to her house for a "nightcap," her pet pooch would have none of it. The mutt was overly protective and suspicious, as if acting as a "block" to a certain young man's fancy. Fast forward a few beers and the concept of Wilfred was born. Deciding to deal with the age old dilemma of "Love me, Love my (insert four legged companion here)," the duo devised a successful short film that played to much success on the festival circuit. When they tried to get a TV deal, however, few would bite. Eventually Wilfred would find its way onto Australian television for two highly successful series runs. The concept even got picked up by American cable outlet FX, where a third season is about to premiere.
So, what is Wilfred about? Well, the idea is rather complicated. The main premise centers around a guy in a dog suit (Gann) who curses, smokes, acts inappropriately, and basically behaves like a foolish frat boy. The only thing is, no one knows this but Adam (Zwar), a suitor for the affections of Wilfred's owner, Sarah (Cindy Waddingham). She sees her pampered pal as a real dog. Only Adam sees Wilfred (and other neighborhood animals) as a talking costumed human. Similar to how Family Guy deals with its human/animal relations, much of the comedy comes from the idea of a debauched foul mouthed cur giving a wannabe Romeo the business. Over the course of 16 episodes (and here, spread across four DVDs), we get to see the beginnings of Adam and Sarah's relationship, Wilfred's initial reaction and continuing complaining and conniving about same, and some backstory about them all. Series Two sees Adam and Sarah getting serious, with Wilfred having to deal with their impending nuptials, as well as some lingering Daddy issues.
For a brief synopsis of the episodes featured, here is a rundown:
Much darker and meaner than the American version (which takes away the relationship angle and more or less paints the dog part as a goofball guru for Elijah Wood's character), the Australian Wilfred takes a bit of getting used to. Not the premise, really. The show sells it well, and once we get beyond the fact that everyone sees the bow wow as just that, we begin to accept the tie between Adam and his newfound rival. The show is also smart enough to know that focusing solely on a guy talking to another guy dressed up as a pooch won't carry much past the opening, so they introduce a lot of fascinating filler into the mix. We get the history of Wilfred's family (at first, he is described as a stray, in and out of various pounds, who Sarah finally adopted, but that changed in Series 2) and Sarah's issues with her own relatives. Adam also walks a fine line between sensible and slacker. He is more than happy to indulge in some incredibly immature behavior all while trying to prove his employability position to Sarah. This dynamic works, but it also means that a lot of Wilfred's episodes follow a "problem/resolution" formula.
That doesn't mean they aren't funny, however. As with most humor outside the US, Wilfred sprinkles in random swears, lots of inappropriateness, and when necessary, some biting social (and interpersonal) satire. It's hard to say which series is better. If pushed, the first always seems to find the right balance between material and execution. Series two took several years to come together (three, actually) and you can see the creators having a hard time getting back into the groove. There are many more guest stars in Series Two as well, as if padding with personalities would compensate for slighter stories. Yet there is more meat the second time around than the first. The ambition that drove the original idea is pushed to its limits and then some. The interaction between the cast is also more established and exacting. To be more specific, "Dog Day Afterglow" and "Barking Behind Bars" are first season standouts, while "Dog of the Town" and "Dog Star" offer equally impressive season two delights. In fact, almost every episode here is a winner. It's a question of gradients, not groans.
As for the DVD presentation itself, Shout! Factory does a decent job. They have loaded up each season with excellent added content (Series One—a terrific behind the scenes, along with a trailer and a crew montage/ Series Two—a making-of, outtakes, bloopers, and something called "Wilfred Bites" along with some stills galleries and an accompanying booklet) and the tech specs are solid. The show was filmed in 16mm and it shows. The anamorphic widescreen image has a bit of grain and some muted colors, yet the level of detail and contrast is spot on. Similarly, the Dolby Digital 2.0 is decent but not definitive. It handles the dialogue with ease and never gets lost in a wave of ambient noise. Some subtitles would have been nice. After all, there is a lot of Aussie slang to dig through.
For fans of the US show, or anyone out for the unusual, Wilfred will make for interesting viewing. It's not an instant classic like other shows from across the pond (Fawlty Towers, The Young Ones), but within its wickedly weird high concept premise is a lot of promise. Luckily, it mostly delivers.
Not guilty. A sensationally surreal import.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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