WILFRED is the INCEPTION of the R-rated half-hour

One of the darkest, most reality-bending, mind-f**king shows on TV right now also happens to be one of the funniest and most raucous half-hour comedies ever made.

FX’s update of the original Australian comedy features the same actor/co-creator, Jason Gann, as the Wilfred of the title: the man in a dog suit that only Elijah Wood can see. Everyone else just sees a normal dog, but for Wood’s perpetually confused and tortured character Ryan, Wilfred is a bong-smoking, toy giraffe-abusing a**hole who likes Matt Damon movies and does everything he can to screw up Ryan’s life.

Jason Gann, Elijah Wood and Fiona Gubelmann

This is a show where the funny is brutal and the darkness is hilarious. And nothing is what it seems. Under exec producer David Zuckerman’s watch, the FX version of the show is like a mash-up of Inception, Awake and The Hangover, all cooked together and smoked in a Californication-style wrapper. But make no mistake, this is an extremely intelligent show. You can’t play with reality to the devilish degree that Wilfred does without being super-smart. And this show does a fantastic job of making sure you feel the same anxiety and confusion that besets Ryan on a daily, if not hourly basis. Just when Ryan thinks he has a handle on which reality is the real one, something else happens to turn that upside down.

It’s a show that seems descended from UK shows such as Green Wing, Spaced and The IT Crowd in that it takes a surrealistically dark and wry look at reality, shifting it around and reshaping it. The difference is that Wilfred takes this so much further, in a highly disciplined way. It really is as if Christopher Nolan was making a half-hour comedy.

For example, the special preview episode Progress features mind-altering medications, different layers of reality, Robin Williams in a classic “bearded Robin Williams” role, Rob Riggle as a potentially hallucinatory work colleague, shock treatment, and Kevin from The Office in a truly multi-layered role. Progress blasts through its surreal and extraordinary story elements in an assured and devious manner, and is a brilliant introduction to the second series.

Jason Gann is even better in this version than the original, and brings new dark slyness to Wilfred in this episode. Elijah Wood’s watery-eyed confusion is as subtle and haunting as always, and Fiona Gubelmann is pitch-perfect as Wilfred’s sweet and lovely and utterly in-the-dark owner.

The writing is sharp, the directing inspired, the drama messed-up, and the humor  bone-dry. Progress is a great start to this second season of a great show. Don’t miss it.

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The Last Werewolf

I finished Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf in a state of breathless, delirious, heart-pounding wonder at the sheer goddamn power of words.

The experience of reading it feels thrillingly like the transformation that narrator Jake Marlowe endures every full moon, in his position as the last werewolf alive. Each sentence pulses with the throb of conceptual power and melancholy; each sentence has velocity and snap, like live-wires crackling.

Jake is, understandably, somewhat jaded and dissolute, having been alive for two hundred years, and facing the prospect of two hundred more. Finding out he’s just become the last of his kind only adds to his draining ennui. Especially since his mortal enemy, Grainer, leader of the Hunt and representative of WOCOP (World Organization for the Control of Occult Phenomena), has vowed to claim Jake’s scalp for himself at the next full moon. Jake knows it, and has a plan for waiting it out until then.

Naturally, things go quickly and massively awry. It’s a novel; what did you expect?

The narrative powers relentlessly along with genre-bending, mind-blowing velocity. It’s full of mythic arcs, James Bond-style thrills, Inception-level reversals, adrenaline-provoking twists, wickedly postmodern flourishes and scene after scene of undeniable beauty, savagery, poetry and sensuality.

The fact is, this book about a werewolf will show you exactly what it means to be human; will swell and fill your awareness of what being human means, and expand it accordingly.

In this sense — sentences of remarkable power, thrilling intelligence and gorgeous luminosity — The Last Werewolf is akin to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which, depsite being about Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII, was (metaphorically) darkly populated with its own particular brand of vampires and werewolves, and was forged in the complex, conceptual machinations of humanity at its darkest; and therefore illuminated us all.

If there’s any justice, The Last Werewolf will win the Man Booker Prize, just as Wolf Hall did.

As a writer, The Last Werewolf is one of those rare books that’s so jaw-droppingly brilliant, it stops you in your tracks, demanding one of two responses: (1) you stop what you’re doing right there, because this is just too damn good; (2) you take a deep breath, roll up your sleeves, and do it again, only better — step up even more, and make yourself a better writer. Spoiler: I’m choosing the second option. This book shows you exactly what is possible with words; creates a vertigo-inducing ontological shift: you never knew literature could be this pulse-quickeningly, heart-poundingly, world-shatteringly fantastic.

It makes you fall in love with words, with writing, all over again, even more than before. It pulls you in just as the moon drags the wolf through the blood of the human and pulls it out, snarling and wild and alive, seeing the world in a million glinting details you never noticed before. It shatters and rebuilds your perceptual world. It’s exhilarating in its transformative power.

It’s f**king good.

Read it.

Now.

P.S. please also visit the book’s website, www.thelastwerewolf.org, which is a brilliant example of how to promote a book in a rich, multi-dimensional way.

Terminator Mode

It’s been a Swedish kind of week. I feel like I owe Stieg Larsson.

Here’s how it played out: low key, lots of coffee, read the last few chapters of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, completed the entirety of The Girl Who Played With Fire, started The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest, watched the Dragon Tattoo movie on DVD, and saw the Played With Fire movie in a beautiful old-school cinema like the ones I would go to in the summer when I was a teenager, taking a break from the books I was reading to go and sit in the dark and see other worlds (once the strangely loud local ads were finished running).

But… I also found out the wonderful news that I’m getting a story published in the Momaya Annual Review anthology. The story is called Love Like A Shooting Star Across The Dream-Night Of The World. It’s about dreaming of worlds and making them real, searching for truth, giving yourself to your feelings, and never giving up.

In some ways, this is what Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy is about, and this is also a good way to think of the existence of a writer: we’re mystery-solving, obsessive fighters for new worlds. One of the sections of The Girl Who Played With Fire is entitled Terminator Mode; it’s perfect for that point in the story, and it got me thinking.

As writers, we must always be in terminator mode: we must not stop, ever, until we get want we want. Whether this is publication, a TV, film or stage production, or jokes in a routine, we must pursue it relentlessly and unflinchingly. We need to dream it and then make it real. We have to go to the third dream level every day and plant our ideas, achieve Inception. It can be dangerous and exhausting and requires infinite patience, adrenaline and verve. As someone once said, there’s a word that describes writers who never give up: PUBLISHED. You could insert “hired on a TV show” and “got a movie script made” there also. It’s talent plus luck plus persistance. This is the writer’s trinity. Creating and constructing a dream-reality is a painstaking, deliberate and sometimes overwhelming task. These dreams become real with many thousands of accumulating elements. They coalesce in small increments: a story published here, a script reaching the semi-finals of a contest there. (Thanks to sitcom screenwriter and blogger Evan Shaw for the increment idea). These increments are always deeply meaningful, because each one gets us closer to that promised land. There’s another blog to be written about the journey being the destination, but that’s another story: this one’s about that destination, arriving at the citadel of accomplished dreams.

Making It.

And the only way we can do that is to act like Lisbeth Salander and James Cameron’s Terminator. We must always be in terminator mode. We must be relentless until we get there. And even then, because this is what we do, we’ll dream the next reality, and we’ll fight our way towards it.

Inception

Christopher Nolan’s Inception is many things: a great heist movie, a metaphysical thriller, a metaphor for life and creativity. As writers and artists, we exist in three worlds: the “real world”, the world of our consciousness, and the world of our creations. All those worlds are narrated to a certain extent. Narratives are overlaid by others or by us, and events are given meanings and connections.

We collectively impose stories upon the external world, whether in broadsheet newspapers, on TMZ, CNN or The Daily Show. We have to create reasons, causes and effects, to make sense of our surroundings. It starts when we’re infants and everything is a mystery. We have to tell ourselves stories about why this leads to that, so that we can simply survive. This process just gets more sophisticated as we get older.

Likewise with our consciousnesses. One theory states that our brains have an ‘interpreter function’ that adds motivations to our thoughts, which is how we attempt to understand our feelings, impulses and desires. When we wake from a dream, those seemingly random images and feelings usually have a narrative, which some dream scientists and philosophers believe is only added in the moment of waking. Think about it. You wake up to a loud noise: in your dream, a complex series of events led up to something that made that noise, and yet only a second went by between the noise and your waking up. Our brains are incredibly agile: as Leonardo DiCaprio’s character states in a key scene within Inception, we create and experience simultaneously in dreams. It’s the same when we’re awake. We want something; we want someone. Until you question it, the feeling drives you and your actions. When you do question it, you search for the why. Why do I want this person? You search for clues, for a chain of causes leading to this effect. You add your motivation to explain why you did what you did. The interpreter theory says that this motivation is a story we tell ourselves, nothing more. We could have told ourselves a different story, gone  a different way. We experience ourselves and create ourselves, and we don’t always notice the seams, the joins. When we are in therapy, discovering why we took the paths we did, are the connections we make real, or simply useful fictions?

The third level, for creative types, is the creative world. We go deep into the creative trance state, the dream-world, where we are simultaneously architects and forgers, extractors and thieves. We create worlds, people, psychologies and emotions: we get lost in them. The external world, our internal world, and the world of our creations bleed into each other; the levels mingle, realities collide. It’s no wonder that many creative individuals lead intense existences; we are navigating multiple realities, all the time.

With Inception, Christopher Nolan deftly skips between worlds, displaying a seemingly effortless control and the lightest of touches (which is also a fantastic testament to and argument for the power of multiple script drafts). It’s an intense, thrilling experience, partly due to the story, and partly because such accomplished, bravura, show-stopping creativity is exhilarating to watch. We rarely see that in cinema anymore; but we do it ourselves, all the time, every day. We’re all creative geniuses; that’s what being human is.