We always shudder at the thought of the Americans adapting a work we love.
Kath and Kim, Fawlty Towers, Life on Mars. The road is littered with them.
Shudder no more, the adaptation of Wilfred is faithful, and it has Jason Gann at the centre of its universe without any compromise on his character (ok, maybe there’s one, but more on that later).
The FX adaptation, made in conjunction with Gann and Australian production company Renegade, ‘gets’ the premise: that Wilfred is seen as a walking, talking man-in-dogsuit by one guy, but by everybody else as a four-legged pooch. The two exchange all manner of thoughts on life and the universe as part of a love-hate friendship. The third character is Wilfred‘s female owner, the object of the single guy’s affection.
In the Australian version co-creator Adam Zwar played the live-in boyfriend of Wilfred‘s owner, resented by the jealous Wilfred. In the US version Lord of the Ring’s Elijah Wood plays his neighbour, Ryan.
The first thing you’ll notice is the money on the screen. Handsome shots, aesthetic lighting, middle class suburbia. It’s a world away, literally, from the indie-feel of the SBS series which was more raw, located in the inner burbs of Melbourne.
The series is also sweeter, setting up Ryan as a doey-eyed romantic, longing for neighbour Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann), all to the tune of “Raining in my Heart.” But that soon shifts when Jenna asks him to dog-sit Wilfred. Cynical Wilfred strides in and begins making demands.
“Got any DVDs?” he asks. “I like Matt Damon.”
Before long he is menacing Ryan, whom he considers more mouse than man. This ‘Doggie Darko’ has a lot of wisdom for his 7 years.
Wilfred retains the qualities which have made him a cult success in Australia. He is anarchic, irreverent, unshaven, drinks beer, smokes bongs, farts, roots, eats nachos, swears and speaks with an Australian accent. The only omission in its Pacific translation is not dropping the “C-word” that was defiantly dropped once every episode on SBS.
The series also adds a new character, Ryan’s sister ‘Kristen’ (Dorian Brown) who badgers her spineless brother, incapable of keeping his life on track.
The series shifts focus from a trio (as in the Aussie series) to a bro-mance duo, with Jenna as something of a supporting player. But maintaining the dynamic between the two males retains the heart of the show.
Gann is assured and menacing as Wilfred, clearly revelling in the network backing of his character that was borne at TropFest.
Elijah Wood is suitably adorable as Ryan, helping us to believe the conceit of the talking mutt. Man’s best friend has a new best friend. He is more earnest than the understated Zwar, but it still works in a series that makes the most of the canyon between the politically incorrect pooch and Americans who aspire to perfection.
Everyone involved in translating this to US television deserves a big, wet lick.
Wilfred airs 9:30pm Tuesday on ELEVEN