Dog bites show. Fabulous, in conjunction with Renegade and Shout! Factory, has released Wilfred: The Complete Original Series--and by that they mean not the American cable remake broadcast here in the States on FX, but the original television comedy that aired in Australia for two seasons in 2007 and 2010. Starring series co-creators Adam Zwar and Jason Gann, along with Cindy Waddingham, the Australian Wilfred is way more fun than its comparatively tepid American remake, creating an off-kilter, Aussie laid-back, surreal fantasy world about an easy-going, slacker who converses with his unpredictable, dismissive girlfriend's beer-swilling, joint-smoking, expletive-spewing, horn-dog mutt--to usually disastrous effect. Some tasty extras are included with these widescreen transfers.
If you haven't seen this (or you're not familiar with the American version, which differs in some significant ways), a brief rundown of the show's premise will help. After hooking up at a local concert, pretty Sarah (Cindy Waddingham) brings home frankly surprised Adam (Adam Zwar) for casual sex--a situation not at all to her angry, old dog Wilfred's (Jason Gann) liking. While understandably perturbed at almost getting C-blocked by the complaining mongrel, what doesn't seem to bother Adam--or even register with him--is the fact that not only does Wilfred speak to Adam in human language, but that Wilfred also behaves in a most human fashion: he smokes weed and eats nachos, he's jealous, cantankerous, horny, childish, gluttonous, fun-loving, and most of all devious. We the audience see Wilfred as a man in a patently-zippered dog suit (and maybe Adam does, too...), but no one else, including Cindy, seems to be aware that Adam and Wilfred are getting high together, or shooting pool together, or conversing together about the most rude things. Adam, an unemployed "media monitor" ("So...you just Google things,") is determined to stick it out with the mercurial Sarah (who recently lost the love of her life, Mark, in an accident), but Wilfred has other plans for gentle Adam.
I've been a steady viewer of the Americanized Wilfred since it debuted a few years ago on FX, and while I've certainly enjoyed it (the amusing, indefatigable Gann's the whole show in the U.S. version), there are elements to it that have always bothered me...an annoyance now made sharper after seeing the superior original series. The U.S. Wilfred wouldn't need much more than Gann's performance as a snotty, sometimes malicious, dope-smoking half-bred dog to generate laughs; however, the show's frequent ham-fisted attempts to "say something meaningful," along with Elijah Wood's poorly-conceived sidekick character, have always bugged me, continually pulling the episodes up short, and worse, dulling the laughs.
Having now seen the Aussie version in its entirety only brings out the American version's structural faults, performance issues and thematic deteriorations in clearer relief (with a U.S. version currently in production, and with co-creator Zwar already on record saying he's left behind Wilfred for good, I seriously doubt it will ever come back down under). Whereas the American version is, despite Gann's constant mugging and slapstick, a deliberate (and frequently obvious) attempt to be hipster morose and downbeat, the original version has this breezy, grungy, cheerful Aussie rudeness that American comedy culture used to embrace before humorless PC thought police made it a crime to laugh at anything that didn't toe the Party line (if rampant drug humor, dildos, fart jokes, the word "cunt" used over and over again, simulated bestiality with adults in goofy animal costumes, bad Irish accents, huge, wet dog turds, and animal rape jokes don't amuse you, you can safely skip the Aussie Wilfred). The American Wilfred is too safe, too literal, and too wimpy in execution, not only in getting across Wilfred's bad behavior--the worst thing you'll see in the U.S. version is Wilfred hitting a bong or humping "Bear,"...whereas here you'll see Wilfred in full S&M bondage gear, or perhaps his hilariously engorged member--but also in getting across the surreal fantasy nature of the piece.
In the U.S. Wilfred, the main thrust of series' arc is whether or not man-child Wood's elfin, sexless, depressive wonk (jesus he's such a boring actor) believes Wilfred is "real," and whether or not Wood believes himself to be "sane." In short, he's always trying to figure out what is going on with Wilfred, instead of just going along with whatever is going on with Wilfred, as good-natured-but-perennially-shat-upon Adam does in the Aussie version. The Aussie version never goes down that self-reflexive route; events just "happen" between a seemingly anthropomorphic Wilfred and Adam, and we the viewers take it all for granted as "real," just as non-plussed Adam does...before we notice the zippers and then start to giggle. By deliberating not commenting on the ridiculous incongruity of the situation (as the American version tiresomely does at every chance with hand-wringing, withering-on Woods whimpering about Wilfred's antics), Wilfred can pull out a shotgun on Adam, or genially have sex with a scared-but-resigned possum or a sexy cat (Imaan Hadchiti and Kestie Morassi), or whip his stuffed bear Ted in a sado-masochistic frenzy, and the laughs are unfettered by some falsely reassuring framework of whether or not it's all "real." Weird and strange things happen in the Aussie Wilfred, and in its refusal to explain them, we're presented with a truly rebellious, chaotic world--with a seriously fucked-up psyche and absolutely no moral center--in a manner that's funny and perverse and quite frankly, liberating. After all, our dreams and nightmares never have any concrete explanations, so why should Wilfred?
Too bad, too, that in the translation to American TV, the producers deemphasized the female part of the original triangle, going instead with a standard Odd Couple buddy show that focuses mostly on Gann and Wood. In the Aussie Wilfred, just as many laughs (some genuinely painful in their sharp insight) come from Adam's and Sarah's hapless romance as they do from Wilfred bare-knuckle fighting or digging a hole with a jackhammer. Zwar's Adam is a slight, unprepossessing guy with a barely-submerged sarcastic, even smug wit, who can't believe he's latched onto a looker like Waddingham's Sarah (Zwar and Waddingham's pushmee-pullyou chemistry together is just right). Adrift in a modern society that no longer has any agreed-upon rules of romance, eager-to-please Adam puts up with a tremendous amount of shit from his girlfriend, including her dismissive, condescending, even at times contemptuous attitude towards him, as well as her constant flirting...and even more (the show admittedly drops the ball when it first has her get pregnant by someone besides Adam that we don't see...and then magically ignores this fact in the following season). Sarah, meanwhile, has to deal with Adam's total lack of ambition, his insecurities and jealousy, his childishness, his ineptitude at everything from sports to sex, and his own self-composed condescension towards her more flighty, more unconventional outlook.
It's a credit to writers Zwar and Gann and the rest of the production team that we really begin to care whether or not Adam finally seals the deal with Sarah--a situation made even more amusing because we know it's utterly hopeless. After the odd, non-resolution of Sarah's infidelity and pregnancy (they just skipped it for the 3-years-later sophomore season go-around), the show gets down to the business of seeing whether or not Sarah and Adam can make a serious go of it. In the highly amusing Dog of a Town, Adam meets Sarah's parents to ask for her hand in marriage, so imagine his surprise when he discovers they're nudists...with Sarah jumping in, as well, quietly ridiculing Adam's shocked modesty along with her parents. Typical of the series' unbalanced, always off-kilter viewpoint, Sarah eloquently defends Adam to her parents (after she's been slagging him off)...and then goes off to London in Honey, You're Killing the Dog to fool around on Adam at art school before her marriage. Poor boob Adam almost finds happiness with a sympathetic, sweet pet social worker (Victoria Thaine), but he's talked out of it by manipulative Wilfred, who basically appeals to Adam's need to self-destruct by encouraging him not to dump Sarah.
Wrapping up the series true to form, the couple's happy wedding shows the characters coming full circle...in typically sick Wilfred fashion: SPOILER ALERT!as soon as their vows are exchanged, Adam is hauled off to jail for dog-fighting (Wilfred's idea, to get Adam money for Sarah's ring), and Sarah happily agrees to go off drinking and dancing with another guy. Screw everything you thought Wilfred was going to end up as; instead, everyone is exactly who they were when the series started: Sarah's a capricious, untrustworthy girlfriend/bride; Adam is a hapless, helpless wanker who should have known better; and Wilfred is the evil catalyst for the destruction of anyone who comes near his owner...or who gets close to him (of course he's the one that called the cops). In Wilfred's frequently hysterical, strangely surreal dream-like world, reality always reasserts itself. Like a nightmare.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.