“Wilfred:” The Story of a Dog and His Man

“It’s easy not to worry when you don’t have any real problems. Dogs don’t have to think about money or crime or social injustice,” says Ryan to his neighbor’s dog, Wilfred. Such is a constant theme in FX’s late-night sitcom “Wilfred:” the never-ending conflict between what Ryan (Elijah Wood) wants out of his life, and what Wilfred, whom executive producer David Zuckerman describes as “part Labrador Retriever and part Russell Crowe on a bender” wants out of it.

The show is based off of an Australian television comedy series of the same name, which began as a joke between friends, evolved into a short film and later, became a two-season sitcom that won several Australian Film Institute awards. Jason Gann, who played Wilfred in the original Australian sitcom, reprises his role in the American version.

“Wilfred” takes the well-known saying “ a dog is a man’s best friend” idea to the next level. Although the rest of the world sees Wilfred as an average dog, Ryan sees him as an Australian man in a dog suit. Depressed and literally suicidal, Ryan is introduced to Wilfred in the first episode of the series when, after a long and onerous night of failed suicide attempts, Ryan’s new neighbor Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann) knocks on his door asking if he can look after her dog while she’s at work. And so begins Ryan’s life-altering friendship with a dog whom he and viewers alike can never be sure is actually real.

Although the deeper implications of Ryan’s relationship with Wilfred can be dark, mind-bending and thus interesting for viewers to entertain, scenes and episodes that only touch the surface of the relationship are among the best of the entire series. Each episode of the show follows a similar pattern; a quote pertaining to a sweeping life lesson is displayed on the screen, and Wilfred proceeds to manipulate and force Ryan into realizing the already-decided moral of the story, albeit using twisted and off-kilter methods to do so. Despite the fact that Ryan will question the validity of Wilfred’s words and actions at least once per episode, by the end, viewers can expect to find the two buddy’s seated side-by-side on the couch in Ryan’s basement, discussing Matt Damon movies and the inevitable death that will come to mailmen everywhere over their makeshift Gatorade-bottle bong.

There will be the occasional episode, however, during which Ryan’s entire life is called into question, and readers are forced to face the facts: what on the surface makes for a very humorous and lighthearted sitcom represents, in actuality, something very dark and troubling. Episodes such as these can involve Ryan opening the door to his basement only to reveal that there is no basement at all, but rather only a closet; discovering that a dream he’s been having is actually his reality or being visited by Wilfred’s notorious and possibly imaginary friend Bruce (Dwight Yoakam). Although these episodes are by no means devoid of the humor and quirks that are trademarks of the show, the unanswerable questions that they throw into sharp light can make them less pleasant to watch. Viewers are no doubt left reeling in contemplations of Ryan’s various possible realities. Did Ryan actually succeed in killing himself in the first episode and is currently in the afterlife? Has Ryan been hallucinating, smoking away his life in a possibly imaginary basement by himself? Does Ryan have magical powers that allow him to speak to animals? Heavy as these episodes may be, their existence is necessary to keep the series moving; the plot needs to be driven by more than an ongoing gag reel of dog jokes, and these episodes provide a catalyst without providing viewers with any answers.

“Wilfred” is a show worth watching because although it has the buddy comedy component that makes it so enjoyable to watch and causes the characters to be so lovable, there’s much more to it than that. There is a depth to this show that viewers are constantly aware of, and it comes hand in hand with a goose-bump-eliciting sense of doom for the characters that viewers cannot shake. So, is Ryan dead? Or is he simply mad? We will probably never know, but I, for one, am glad we won’t, if that means we can hang out with Ryan and Wilfred in his imaginary basement for seasons to come, smoking out of a Gatorade bong.