Wilfred: Australian Version

You may think you have seen the messed-up comedy about an anthropomorphic dog called Wilfred before, but if your experience only encompasses the recent US remake starring Elijah Wood, you would definitely be missing out if you let this new release pass you by. My review relates to the Aussie original’s two seasons, freshly released as a pair of DVD box sets. Rarely has a series entertained, amused and disturbed me quite as much as Wilfred.

In common with the US version, viewers and the central male character witness Wilfred as a tall man in a ridiculous, floppy-eared dog suit. Jason Gann does the honours, and he obviously impressed the Americans as they kept him on, Australian accent and all. Other people appear to see Wilfred as a regular, 9-year-old mongrel, seemingly unaware of what a crude, crass and downright manipulative character he is.

Wilfred - the original Australian version comes to UK DVDIn the original, Wilfred is owned by Sarah (Cindy Waddingham). When new boyfriend Adam (Adam Zwar – co-creator of the series along with Gann) moves in, Wilfred takes an instant dislike to him and thus begins a war for Sarah’s affections and over Adam’s place in the household.

Adam portrays himself as a self-employed ‘media monitor’ (someone who trawls the Internet to build up profiles on people), but in reality he is an unemployed, tank top-wearing loser, meaning that he spends most of his time aimlessly kicking around the house with Wilfred, getting into scrapes whilst Sarah is at work.

This set-up might not sound like a bundle of laughs but it really is, thanks in part to a wonderful performance by Gann, and by Zwar’s effortless embodiment of a pathetic excuse for a man, albeit one we gradually warm to. Thanks to Gann, Wilfred’s devious, needy and devil-may-care persona is comedy gold, especially when combined with the silly suit and black makeup on his nose.

He swaggers around the house like he owns it, bossing Adam about and doing lots of very human things whilst at the same time constantly reminding us that he is in fact a dog.

We are party to a man in a dog suit digging holes in the garden with a spade or a motorised jackhammer, chasing postmen, cars and other animals (more actors in furry costumes), and carrying out less refined canine acts of a toilet-related or sexual nature. Dog owners will probably find these activities funnier than non-pet owners, though the absurdity of a dog-suited man humping an oversized teddy bear should give you an idea of what to expect!

Naturally a certain level of disbelief-suspension is required for some of the humour to work, particularly when Wilfred is doing things like playing pool, puffing on a bong or drinking cans of beer. It looks funny anyway, but when you imagine a dog doing those things the comedy works on several levels. Sarah’s obliviousness to it all makes it all the more zany.

Much of the humour is base, whilst other elements rely on engineering uncomfortable or compromising scenarios, whilst more innocent aspects centre on Wilfred’s daft penchant for misquoting words and phrases, much to the annoyance of a massive pedant like Adam.

Whilst the US version of the series frequently dwells on the question of whether Wilfred (or at least Wilfred’s unorthodox behaviour) is all in the male character’s mind, the Australian edition never touches on the subject. We are presumably meant to assume that Adam has a natural affinity with animals, like a screwed-up Doctor Dolittle.

In some senses the Australian Wilfred is less restrained (believe it or not) than its counterpart, not least in the regular use of the C-word, occasional nudity and more frequent toilet humour.

The first season generally centres on the house-bound love/hate triangle between Wilfred, Adam and Sarah, but the scope opens up in the second season and the characters are allowed to stretch their legs by going on trips, for example to the see Sarah’s unusual parents and to a ski resort where our gang encounter a dodgy Swedish couple with a highly suspicious agenda. The second season also looks brighter and more colourful than the dingy first season, presumably because the budget was boosted on the back of the series’ popularity.

Bonus features in both seasons include a trailer, crew montages, a making-of, Wilfred Bits and lastly outtakes and bloopers. These are all pretty light-weight but it really does not matter much when the episodes themselves are so entertaining. Whilst the Australian original appears to have finished after two seasons, a second year of the US version is in production and hopefully it will continue to carry the torch for this marvellous creation, albeit in a somewhat different guise.

Wilfred - The Original Australian Seasons 1 and 2 (2007-2010) are out now in two DVD box sets (two discs apiece), courtesy of Fabulous Films. Each season has a running time of 200 minutes approx, carries an ‘18’ certificate and retails for £24.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com

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