Wilfred began as an award-winning 2002 short film that was later developed into an Australian comedy television series created by Adam Zwar and Jason Gann. The Australian story followed the lives of Wilfred the dog, his owner Sarah and her boyfriend Adam, who sees Wilfred as a man in a dog suit. In March 2010 the rights were sold to an American production company and an American version was born, withJason Gann reprising his role as Wilfred accompanied by Elijah Wood as Ryan the next door neighbour.
In this series, Ryan (Wood) is a troubled young man having difficulty finding his way in the world. He is nervous, anxious, depressed and lacks manliness. The first episode opens with a failed attempted suicide when his neighbour Jenna (Gubelmann) knocks on the door asking him to look after her dog Wilfred, who Ryan sees and hears as a man in a dog costume.
One line spoken to Ryan by his sister in the first episode sticks throughout the series –“It’s all about perception, change how you’re seeing things”. That is generally Wilfred’s role as Ryan’s life mentor, encouraging him to be himself and come out of his shell; sticking up for himself when bullied by a neighbour or his sister and letting go of life. Where Ryan is a clean-cut young man, Wilfred is his opposite. Wilfred is a man dressed as a dog with canine mannerisms. When behaving like a dog he digs holes in the back garden (using a spade), drinks from the toilet (using a glass), is terrified of the dentist and hoovers, loves to go to the beach for a swim and has an excellent sense of smell. As a man he is an intoxicated foul-mouthed individual that drinks beer, uses technology and loves Matt Damon movies. He also has a dark side when he sets Ryan up for breaking into a neighbour’s house and their cars and in the hospice episode, is a suspected murderer; standing over a patient with a pillow as she died.
In Season One Ryan’s sanity is put into question when a man called Bruce (Dwight David Yoakam) shows up claiming to have had his life destroyed by Wilfred in the past. It makes viewers start thinking is Wilfred real, is he part of Ryan’s imagination or is Ryan simply nuts! This is then reinforced with the season ending in turmoil after Ryan and Wilfred accidently cause mass destruction of the lives around them. It also leaves viewers a little baffled when Ryan rushes home to his basement, only to find a closet where the stairs should be?
The second season takes place four months later with Wilfred getting his strength back and Ryan thinking that events of the previous season were all a dream. When Wilfred first returns home he doesn’t want to remember who Ryan is, but as time progresses the two are closer than ever. Ryan has a new job and a girlfriend only to lose them both by the time Jenna gets married in the season finale. When Wilfred finds a picture Ryan had drawn as a child, with him hidden in the background, a whole new set of questions about Wilfred’s existence are posed.
Season 3 continues a few months later with Ryan still trying to figure out Wilfred’s origins. This season explores Wilfred being previously cloned, his new understanding of death, Ryan’s Christmas family reunion, a new house mate, Ryan undergoing psychotherapy to understand his past a little more and the spark of an affair. The season concludes with a supposed death that creates a new world of understanding for Ryan.
The fourth and final season of Wilfred back tracks to before the death of the previous season with a new set of events occurring. There is a lot more continuity in this season than previous seasons with episodes blending together like one long story narrative rather than segments of a story spaced out over several episodes. With Wilfred struggling much more through this season and Ryan finally finding out whom Wilfred really was, this is the most emotional season.
Elijah Wood has never really been part of anything with real comedy before and even here there is not a real funny side to him, just Wilfred acting comical around him and pulling him in every now and again. The situations Wilfred and Ryan get into are more “haha, that’s funny” rather than laugh out loud funny; the dancing scene (Season 2) will put a smile on your face though. If you are going to be physically laughing it is going to be because of Wilfred, such as when he chases a red laser light, obsesses over a stuffed giraffe and goes Emo and gets miserable. There are also excellent dog-specific laughs such as confronting the hoover.
They say a dog is man’s best friend however the buddy relationship here is unlike anything you’ll ever see or want. Wilfred The Complete Series: Seasons 1-4 contains all 49 episodes and is released on DVD 28th September 2015.
Review by Michelle Moore