"A boy and his dog" is a storytelling trope that goes back for centuries, but there's never been a "boy and his dog" story quite like Wilfred. As seen on FX, the American version of Wilfred finds Family Guy veteran David Zuckerman remaking the Australian sitcom of the same name. That show was the brainchild of Adam Zwar and Jason Gann, who played, respectively, "the boy" and "his dog," envisioned by Zwar's character as a man in a dog suit. Gann reprises his role in the American remake, opposite Elijah Wood as mentally troubled Ryan Newman.
The pilot immediately announces its irreverence, with societal dropout Ryan editing his suicide note in anticipation of permanently checking out. His failure to achieve even his own death leads to a strange new chapter in his life, as the dog belonging to his beautiful neighbor Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann) appears to Ryan, and no one else, as a bearded man in a ragged dog costume. The dog, Wilfred, becomes Ryan's untrustworthy life coach, encouraging free-spirited recklessness and demanding tall orders from the emotionally hapless Ryan. In return, Ryan gets intelligence on Jenna (who he would like to date), validation for his dropout lifestyle, and a partner in crime (from chronic chronic-smoking to neighborhood vandalism).
The setup keeps the audience guessing whether Ryan is brain-damaged by his suicide attempt, has succeeded in his suicide attempt, has newfound powers of perception, or is just plain crazy, but ultimately, the answer is beside the point. Wilfred is a vehicle to examine the meaning of Ryan's life and, therefore, the life choices he should be making. For all its randy scatology and sex and drug humor, Wilfred is a decidedly moral and philosophical show, a point underlined by each outing starting with a deep-thought quotation that lends the episode its title and its thematic focus. Season One's thirteen episodes include "Happiness," "Trust," "Fear," "Acceptance," "Respect," "Conscience," "Pride," "Anger," "Compassion," "Isolation," "Doubt," "Sacrifice," and "Identity."
Wood made a wise choice locking down this role, a perfect fit: a subtle straight man, he hits all the right notes as the show's off-kilter Everyslacker. Since Gann is an unknown quantity on these shores, he's likewise perfect as a character we're ever wary of; Gann also handles the requisite "dog-isms" with aplomb. Wilfred's animal instincts drive the show's plots and humor while suggesting humans would be better off acknowledging their own animal nature—call it the id—and running after whatever they desire. Ryan provides the confused ego—is he just Ryan, or is he Wilfred too?—and pesky superego, allowing each self-contained episode to be a little morality play fitting into the bigger picture of Ryan's ongoing struggle to troubleshoot his psyche, romance and, perhaps, a job to pay the bills. The picture gets bigger with Season Two, now airing on FX.
Fox's two-disc Blu-ray set Wilfred: The Complete First Season may be light on bonus features (more on those anon), but it puts forward the series in the best A/V "light." Shot on digital, Wilfred's thirteen first-season episodes look pretty spiffy here; because the photography isn't as high-end as it gets, the transfers occasionally betray a bit of digital noise (including brief aliasing), but generally the impression is vibrant, sharp and colorful. Similarly, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixes on each episode maximize the source material; though there's not a lot of immersion going on here, the audio is crisp, the music warm, and the dialogue always crystal clear.
Extras are, indeed, slim, but a couple of them are worthwhile. "Wilfred at Comic-Con 2011" (6:32, HD) doesn't present the whole panel, but it's always nice to see such snippets from Comic-Con archived, with cast and crew holding court in front of their public: the more, the better. Also welcome is a selection of largely amusing "Deleted Scenes" (15:38, HD).
On the other hand, "Wilfred and Bear: A Love Affair" (1:00, HD) and "Maryjane Mashup" (1:00, HD) are downright pointless montages—well, the point being to fill out the bonus features, making them seem meatier than they are.
Splitting the difference between the strong and weak bonus features is "Fox Movie Channel Presents: Life After Film School with Jason Gann" (9:57, SD), one in a series of interviews conducted by annoyingly perky and insanely solicitous film students. Gann gamely plays along and, in the process, reveals some interesting details about his concept and approach to playing the character of Wilfred.
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