Thursday, June 23, 2011

TV Review: Wilfred - "Happiness"

"No Ryan! Nobody's happy!" - Kristen

Wilfred is the story of Ryan, played by Elijah Wood who sees his neighbor's dog, Wilfred as a human (played by Jason Gann, reprising his role from the original Australian series). The pilot episode doesn't give the viewer much more than this. There is a light plot, but really the point of the episode is to get you adjusted to the kind of show that begins with a man trying to kill himself, and ends with that man clinking beers with a man in a dog costume.

The attempted suicide, it should be said, is handled with a light touch. Ryan opens the show with joy at "nailing" the third draft of his suicide note. He gains a milk mustache over the course of the night. He looks up "Drug Overdose" on Wikipedia, given his chosen method of offing himself. However, the pills prove unsuccessful (due to the fact that they're sugar pills, which comes up later). The next day, looking miserable from a lack of sleep, Ryan opens the door to his beautiful neighbor Jenna, and her dog Wilfred. He ends up dogsitting for Wilfred and it takes him a while to get over the shock of seeing the dog as a man.

Meanwhile, his frustrated sister, Kristen (Dorian Brown, who does well with a fairly thankless shrew-ish role) is furious at him for skipping his first day of work for a job he only recieved based on her recommendation. Instead of punching the clock, Ryan spends the day with his new friend, who shows him how to live life: humping waitresses, chasing motorcycles, and breaking into houses to steal weed. It's that last activity that gives Ryan enough of a rush to turn down his new job for good. Right when you think this happiness due to his friendship with Wilfred might last forever, we see the dog place Ryan's wallet outside the house where they jacked the weed from. What is Wilfred up to? And if Wilfred is just a manifestation of Ryan's depression/anxiety, is he sabotaging himself?

And while we're asking questions, what does it mean to be happy? Is it working a job you may not like, just because that's what you're supposed to do? That's what Kristen does, and she certainly doesn't seem happy "prying twin babies out of a little Asian lady". Is it not working? And turning down dates with your attractive neighbor, and sitting around all day, red-eyed, wondering if you've chosen the right path in life? Ryan doesn't seem much better off. While the show may hint at asking these questions, in the pilot at least, it refuses to answer them, or even give them any depth. It seems to support the lifestyle of living for a cheap thrill, like theft or drugs. There's nothing wrong with a show having this viewpoint, but if Wilfred wants to make an impact, it's going to have to strengthen its ideas. A good place to start would be giving the neighbor Jenna a personality beyond "inexplicably wanting to date pretty weird, strung-out neighbors and be really cute". Seriously, why does Jenna ask Ryan back to her place for wine? Maybe she's looking for happiness too, and thinks, for whatever reason, a washed-up, dirty-underwear-wearing Elijah Wood is the answer. Right now this show is deeply flawed, but I see enough glimmers in it to hope that every week I tune in to find a little happiness for myself.

Grade: B-

-I hope Ethan Suplee returns as the pot-growing motorcyclist next door. He didn't have much to do this episode, but I quite enjoyed him on My Name Is Earl, and would love to see him in a much different role.
-The "human doing dog things" joke gets old pretty quickly, so I hope it isn't overused in episodes to come. However, Wilfred rushing after a motorcycle yelling "I'll kill you!" was pretty amusing.
-"Can I get you anything? Orange juice? Medical attention?"

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