Wilfred is one of those high concept shows that was so bizarre when it was new, it was hard to imagine it could last. If you’ve hung with it over its four seasons, reflect on how weird it seemed then and how weird it seems now. A pilot can “teach” us to accept a show’s premise and then *bang* we’re on board.
Go back and re-watch the pilot. I forgot how funny it is. It might actually be funnier now, since I’m not wasting mental energy trying to figure it out. Is Ryan dreaming? Is he dead? Is he high? Can he possibly keep it secret that his neighbor’s dog is coercing him to commit petty crimes? It doesn’t matter.
Since this show was a reboot of an Australian show, also created by and starring Jason Gann, they had some practice. Maybe that’s why it feels so natural. The pilot initiates you into a world where Elijah Woods’ facial expressions and Gann’s unflinchingly deadpan delivery can sell the craziest scenario.
The plot, if you’re wondering, is that an out-of-work lawyer named Ryan tries to kill himself by overdosing on anti-depressants given to him by his overbearing obstetrician sister. Surprised to find himself alive the next morning, he’s greeted by his perky blonde neighbor, asking Ryan to watch her dog. The dog’s a dude; he talks, smokes from a bong, holds grudges, and doles out insensitive advice.
But here’s the thing. We almost immediately understand the rules. Ryan sees Wilfred as a man in a dog suit. Everyone else sees him as a dog. When Wilfred is “talking” to Ryan, others hear barking. When he humps someone’s leg, it looks like sexual assault to us, but to the characters who aren’t Ryan it’s–while kind of gross–normal dog stuff. Jenna is particularly blind not only to Wilfred’s raunchiness, but to Ryan’s affection for her.
That’s what a good pilot does. It initiates us. It doesn’t have to be set in Westeros or the year 2517 for us to accept an alternate version of reality.
After three seasons, the premise became almost boring. Ryan has angst. Wilfred prods Ryan’s angst until something terrible happens. They get high. Wilfred humps Bear. Life continues. It wasn’t until Season 4 that things are feeling truly bizarre again. Because, seriously, WTF is going on on this show right now?