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 V.20 No.31 | August 4 - 10, 2011 
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Idiot Box

He Thinks He’s People

“Wilfred” on FX

American networks have been happily appropriating British TV series for decades. Everything from “Sanford and Son” to “Being Human” once had an English accent. By contrast, Australian TV hasn’t proved to be as deep a wellspring for inspiration. There was that American version of “Kath & Kim” starring Molly Shannon and Selma Blair a few seasons ago, but the less said about that, the better. Aside from that, we had ... not coming up with anything.

To that not-so-proud list of one, you can add FX’s “Wilfred.” The edgy sitcom is based on the popular, 16-episode Australian show of the same name. The retooled show stars Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings) as Ryan, an introverted suburban lawyer who falls in love with his cute next-door-neighbor Jenna (heretofore blonde bit-part-player Fiona Gubelmann). Standing in the way of love (aside from Ryan’s own insecurities) is Jenna’s beloved and extremely jealous dog, Wilfred. Oddly—and for no readily discernible reason—Ryan sees Wilfred as a fat, foul-mouthed dude in a moth-eaten dog costume. (I can’t be the only one creeped out by the fact that Wilfred looks like a homeless version of Bob Dog from “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”)

Wilfred (played by the Australian show’s co-creator Jason Gann) chain-smokes, curses and generally gives romantic suitor Ryan as hard a time as possible. The heady “joke” is that no one else can see Wilfred as anything other than an ordinary mutt. And so Ryan is stuck in an unlikely buddy comedy that only he can see and hear. The premise is as kooky as they come and seems more suited to weirder airwaves like IFC (which has been airing the original Australian show of late). Paired in a late-night slot with FX’s brutally honest “Louie,” however, the show is in proper company.

The Americanized version has much better production values than the shaggy Aussie original. Whereas the original featured a lot of improvised dialogue—most of it traded between the two leads while sitting on a couch and smoking dope—the American version features notably tighter scripts. Though still kinda raunchy, the FX version has toned down a lot of the vulgar language, nudity and mean-spirited black humor. There’s still plenty of edge on display, but, so far anyway, there are fewer plots about murder and rape.

Wood is well cast as the emasculated admirer dominated by a talking dog. Gann, who’s done this schtick before, is reliable as our titular man-dog (or is that dog-man?). The show’s producer/adapter David Zuckerman (“Family Guy,” “American Dad”) stretches out the initial courtship between our human leads much longer than the previous iteration, but he keeps up the alternately friendly/antagonistic relationship between man and canine. Hopefully, as the series progresses, it will find the perfect balance between raunchy, romantic and really weird.

“Wilfred” airs Thursdays at 11 p.m. on FX.
 
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