Friday, June 24, 2011

Wilfred - "Happiness"

There is a Dog     FX's Wilfred premiered "Happiness" last night. In it, Ryan (Elijah Wood, Lord of the Rings) tries to kill himself, not knowing his sister, Kristen (Dorian Brown, NCIS, Roommates), has prescribed him sugar pills. After spending a sleepless night waiting to die, Ryan's new neighbor, Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann, Blades of Glory) asks him to watch her dog, Wilfred (Jason Gann, who co-created the original Australian version, and reprises his role here) for the day. While everyone else sees Wilfred as a shaggy mutt, Ryan views a man in a dog suit. This version of Wilfred has insight into Ryan, and encourages him to not only blow off the job Kristen has secured for him, but also break into an annoying neighbor's (Ethan Suplee, My Name Is Earl) house, poop in his shoes, and steal his pot. Ryan thinks Wilfred is saving his life, but Wilfred also plants Ryan's wallet at the scene of the crime.

     Now obviously Wilfred is just a dog in reality. How could he plant Ryan's wallet the way he does? This speaks to the big question of the show, what exactly is Wilfred? Is he something Ryan is imagining? Maybe Ryan did kill himself, and this is some sort of afterlife or purgatory to make him realize what a mistake he has made? Is Ryan going crazy? Each of those has their own set of larger queries to raise, and obviously that is something to be explored as the series goes on. But then, is Ryan the one putting his wallet underneath the broken window, or did Wilfred do it? Knowing that will speak to whether Wilfred, in any incarnation, is actually helping Ryan, or being self-destructive.

     It's not often a half hour comedy show raises such issues, and gets one thinkig about the meaning of life, the power of the brain, and fate versus self-direction. Wilfred raises each of these subtlely in "Happiness," and will likely explore them more in depth in later episodes. It's not just a man in a funny suit. It's about a guy's journey to figure out what he is. The fact that the episode opens with a quote from Mark Twain, "Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination," sets the tone for the rest of the thirty minutes perfectly. Which puts Wilfred heads and shoulders and snout above most of its kin on television.

     But lest you worry Wilfred is too metaphysical to enjoy after a hard day of work, rest assured it is funny, too. When asked by a waitress if Ryan always serves his dog nachos, he deadpannedly replies that Wilfred worked out today. Much of the humor will be had at Ryan's expense, and go over Ryan's head. That's OK. It doesn't make him stupid. Sitcom is short for situation comedy, and there is plenty of comedy to be had about this situation.

     It should be testament to how good the series is that it attracts many large guest stars. Ethan Suplee, who is easily recognizable from the Kevin Smith movies, is merely the first in a long line. Among the familiar faces in this first season are Ed Helms (The Office), Chris Klein (American Pie), Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation), Nestor Carbonell (Lost), and many more. I wouldn't want to spoil all the surprises, but it's certainly worth tuning in for.

     Wilfred airs Thursday nigths at 10 p.m. ET on FX.

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     To catch up on Wilfred with streaming episodes online, please click here.

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