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.
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.