In the first season of the wildly weird, unexpectedly touching FX comedy Wilfred, a suicidal young lawyer named Ryan (Elijah Wood) befriends a dog named Wilfred, played by the Australian comic actor Jason Gann wearing a furry dog suit, a smudge of black on the tip of his nose. Ryan is the only person who sees Wilfred as a man in a dog suit, but besides that, Wilfred isn’t like other dogs – he smokes (copious amounts of) weed, for one thing – and he’s always doing things to get Ryan in trouble. Like performing oral sex on a woman Ryan’s dating so that he can continue to hump a stuffed giraffe in the woman’s son’s bedroom.
So “be-frenemies” might be a more accurate term. “Wilfred’s a combination saboteur and guardian angel,” says Gann, who originally portrayed the shaggy mutt in a short film that premiered at Sundance in 2003. Two seasons of an Australian TV series followed before producer David Zuckerman (Family Guy) decided to adapt it for an American audience – which immediately loved it, much to Zuckerman’s surprise. (FX sold 7500 Wilfred suits around Halloween.)
“I really kind of expected that we were doing a show that was a little too weird, a little too existential,” he says. The last episode of Season One ends with Ryan discovering that the door that leads to the basement where he and Wilfred (and only he and Wilfred) spend much of their time actually leads to … a closet. When he opens it, out pops one of Wilfred’s tennis balls.
“The very existence of Wilfred is a question in and of itself,” says Wood, who had never done a TV series before. “I don’t think we’re interested in fucking with people just to fuck with them, but it is interesting to leave people on unsolid ground.”
In Season Two, which premieres June 28th with a guest appearance by Robin Williams (“He told me he was a fan of the show when we were doing press for Happy Feet,” says Wood), the ground should get slightly more solid: a third person will enter the mysterious basement, and Wood says there will be “some real life progression for Ryan – which creates other problems.”
And Wilfred will also evolve – in a way. “We’ve got a lot more dog-isms – dog-type behavior articulated in a human form,” says Gann. “That’s what we call them in the writers’ room. I think, how many things do dogs actually do? But the writers always seem to come up with more.”