Reviews

'Wilfred': Bone-Dry Humor in a Warm and Wicked Cartoon Universe

The Aussie Wilfred fleshes out its sitcom universe with impressive worldbuilding and genuine heart amongst the weed smoke and scatological humor.


Wilfred: The Complete Original Series

Distributor: Fabulous Films, Inc.
Cast: Jason Gann, Adam Zwar, Cindy Waddingham
Network: SBS
Release date: 2013-06-04
Amazon

The two seasons of Wilfred can be aptly subtitled "Past" and "Future", respectively. For a series that touts its high concept -- a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking dog visualized by a man in a suit who terrorizes his owner’s new boyfriend -- so proudly, the show manages a gratifying amount of perspective on the relationship between its human characters. More surreal even than the sight of Wilfred (Jason Gann) himself might be the fact of Adam Douglas (the wearily befuddled Adam Zwar) and Sarah Mitchell (Cindy Waddingham)'s relationship, a constant ping-pong battle of indignance and stern disapproval supplemented by what one can only assume is a satisfying bedroom life.

As Adam contends with the highly emasculating experience of moving in with the businesslike, out-of-his-league Sarah in the very house where her (by all accounts) perfect late boyfriend Mark used to live, the first season more often than not requires him to prove himself in some way, to justify his place within her world. It’s only after the bizarre, traumatic events of the first season finalé that the relationship stabilizes, and thoughts turn instead to their years ahead as a couple.

Refreshingly, this means that season two is able to move beyond the antagonistic relationship between Adam and Wilfred toward a semi-comfortable sort of partnership. Much of Wilfred’s appeal can be traced back to the incongruity of the central image of Gann in the dogsuit, usually smoking a bowl, so the novelty of season one’s storylines that turn on Adam and Sarah’s differing perceptions of Wilfred is shortlived. Instead, resolving the conflict between man and dog loosens up the comedy, allowing for a second season that has the luxury of A and B storylines, more gags, and more energy overall. There’s even a sense of greater ambition, as with the two-part storyline that brings the characters back to Sarah’s childhood home to meet her free-wheeling parents and results in a long-overdue confrontation between Wilfred and his spiteful father.

Of equal importance to Wilfred’s appeal is its worldbuilding, impressively canny for a sitcom. However imaginative one considers its premise, there’s no denying the familiarity attained by selective recurrences of certain supporting characters, especially the ‘Dog Whisperer’ (a perpetually disgusted Kim Gyngell). Nowhere is this more apparent than in season one’s “Barking Behind Bars”, in which Adam takes revenge on Wilfred by shuttling him off to the pound and informing Sarah that her dog was hit by a car. The elaborate climactic funeral, staged as a logical endpoint of the appalling ruse, features numerous minor characters from the preceding episode, only serves to further isolate Adam within his girlfriend’s world.

“Barking Behind Bars” functions as the centerpiece of the series, in which Adam comes up against his own selfish proclivities and his relationship with Sarah endures its most serious test to date once she discovers that Wilfred remains alive. Most reasonable women, believing as Sarah does that Wilfred hasn’t a streak of mischief in him, would immediately dump their significant other for such callous behavior. Adam seems to expect as much, so when Sarah cheerfully interprets the funeral as a romantic gesture worthy of her reciprocation, it’s easily the most surreal moment yet in a series that has little inclination to make a lick of sense.

Yet it’s these surreal moments that most often give way to genuine sentiment, and allow Wilfred a place alongside the essential It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as a live representation of a fully developed cartoon universe capable of shedding light upon its characters at the proper moments to relate them back to reality in equal measures ironic and affecting. (The series may also appeal to fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm, another series where everyone around the protagonist seems to be insane.) The minister at Wilfred’s faux-funeral intones gravely, “When we die, we will touch God’s face - in the form of Wilfred,” to Adam’s chagrin. He continues “In friends we find God, and we found God in Wilfred,” altering the phrasing to drive home that incalculable bond between pet and owner. Adam easily forgot that which the series never does: The dog is woman’s best friend, too.

Extras are sparse but entertaining, with a series of amusing outtakes with the cast and extended behind-the-scenes featurettes for both seasons that delve into the shooting and rehearsal process. Curiously, the actors seem to have a real problem remembering their lines. Most welcome among the special features is a clip called “Dog Bites”, made up of additional footage of Adam and Wilfred lounging about the sets, riffing on Gann’s wickedly crass improvisations.

7

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image