So when FX unveils a new series, I snap-to, because the results can be superlative and instantly addictive, as with “Sons of Anarchy” and “Justified.” Even when some of the network’s offerings leave me a tad frosty (“Lights Out,” “Archer”), I’m left with something to admire in the writing, the acting or the overall feel.
But rarely is an FX show as puzzlingly discordant as “Wilfred,” a darkly comedic series premiering on the network Thursday night. In moments where it ought to be subversively sweet, “Wilfred” opts for sour; in what might have been its funniest bits, it suddenly rolls over and plays dead; where it wishes to be ironic and droll, it is often just dumb or mean. Most oddly, it does something you’d think would be impossible in our culture: It makes you dislike a dog.
The dog is the main character in “Wilfred,” who is actually an unpleasantly cruel-minded Australian man in a dog suit. Where it would seem the rest of the world sees Wilfred as a real mutt on four legs, only Ryan (Elijah Wood), a depressed lawyer who lives next door, sees Wilfred the way the audience does, as a guy walking upright in a fur suit.
Lifted intact from a hit Australian show of the same name and adapted for American audiences by executive producer David Zuckerman, “Wilfred” would appear to be crafted from a can’t-miss, indie-hipster aesthetic, which may be part of the problem: The show is cool to the point of being cold. The bark is all snark.
It doesn’t work. We meet Ryan on the night he’s decided to commit suicide by swallowing a bottle of pills. (They turn out to be placebos.) After a frantic night spent tossing, turning and becoming even more depressed, Ryan is jolted by a knock on the door: His cute neighbor, Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann), is there to ask a simple favor: Would he keep her dog company while she’s out for the day?
Enter Wilfred, who is bad news from the start, but not in an outdated Marmaduke sense of mischief. “Got any DVDs? I like Matt Damon,” Wilfred announces, making himself comfortable on a bewildered Ryan’s couch. “I ain’t gonna bite ya,” he assures Ryan, in his thick Aussie accent. “Bitin’s the easy way out.”
Soon enough, Wilfred and Ryan fire up a bong. They have lunch at a restaurant, where Wilfred mounts the waitress. (When Ryan pries him off her leg, Wilfred informs him, “You are a [EXPLETIVE] wingman.”)