Wilfred: Season One (UK - DVD R2)
Chris checks out the DVD release of the first series of the original Aussie version
Adam (Adam Zwar) can hardly believe his luck when he’s invited home by Sarah (Cindy Waddingham), a gorgeous young woman he meets at a Powderfinger concert. But his joy is quickly turned on its head when he is introduced to Sarah’s pet dog, Wilfred (Jason Gann). To the rest of the world Wilfred is an ordinary canine, but to Adam he’s a man in a dog suit – a jealous and partially psychotic man who seems determined to make Adam feel as uncomfortable as possible while dreaming up cruelly inventive way of sabotaging the new lovers’ relationship. This bizarre situation forces Adam to question his sanity and proves without a doubt that a dog is not always a man’s best friend. (Taken from the official synopsis.)
I'm not afraid to admit that until this set landed on the doormat I was unaware of the fact that Wilfred started life as an Australian series. I was vaguely aware of the US version with Elijah Wood, but it's not something I had actively sought out. After watching this series I probably never will, because there's no way it could be as good as the original. To put it bluntly, Wilfred is bloody funny stuff, especially if you're a dog owner. The writers have got Wilfred's anthropomorphic characteristics spot-on, and I identified many of my own dog's traits in Jason Gann's portrayal. (There's a fantastic scene where Wilfred is tied up outside a store while Adam and Sarah have a beer, and his reactions to the various patrons who try and pat him should be hilariously familiar to any dog owner.) While the very idea of a guy in a dog suit drinking, smoking, getting stoned and using language that would make a sailor blush is funny, it's Gann's delivery that really makes the character. Whether his frequent malapropisms ('Alex' Baldwin), his tendency to 'root' everything in sight, or even the way he mumbles 'tugga dugga dugga' after every mention of Adam's name the performance is, frankly, inspired.
Speaking of Adam, his character is an intriguing one. Although a lifelong loser he's easily the most likeable of the three leads and the only one who really seems to possess a moral compass, but he's almost certainly mentally ill. If you're anything like me when you first start watching the show you'll take it at face value - that Wilfred really does say and do all those outrageous things and only Adam and the viewer are in on the joke. However, as the series progresses it's possible to view it another way, which is that Wilfred really is just a normal dog onto which Adam projects his own feelings and occasional bouts of murderous rage (probably because of the 'incident in the family'). The beauty of the show is that it's possible to look at it either way, although to be fair a number of scenes with Wilfred on his own would seem to indicate that there's more going on than just Adam's psychoses. Even so, it's nice that Wilfred offers this level of depth.
The other lead, Sarah (played by Cindy Waddingham), is a beautiful, free-spirited girl who's also a total flake and, truth be told, a bit of a bitch. Although things start out innocently enough over the course of the series her true personality asserts itself; she frequently admonishes Adam for Wilfred's indiscretions, belittles his achievements and flirts with other guys (even becoming pregnant by another man). There are also strong hints that she is in a cyclic relationship with men, drawing them into her web of psycho-sexual drama before discarding them when she grows tired of the game. About the only constant in her life is Wilfred, who can do no wrong in her eyes. Of course going back to my earlier point about taking things at face value, another way to look at things is that all of Sarah's character flaws are entirely understandable given that she's dating a head-case like Adam.
I don't watch a lot of Aussie TV (not since Neighbours when I was about thirteen) so I can't compare Wilfred to other shows from the Land Down Under. It doesn't specifically remind me of anything from the UK or US either. The humour is blacker than a coal miner's arse crack and the performances are wonderfully understated. The interaction between Zwar and Gann is priceless and the show is full of wonderful colloquialisms (think ripper, crooked, root, that sort of thing) and the sort of casual profanity that only sounds endearing in an Aussie accent (only they can make cunt sound cute). However, the real key to success is the way that the central characters rarely acknowledge the fact that Adam sees and hears Wilfred as a man in a dog suit rather than as a normal dog. What's amazing is that this matter-of-fact acceptance never seems odd or out of place - like Adam you just accept it and get on with things.
In a word, ugly. This 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer isn't going to win any beauty contests as the whole series looks pretty rough, with a muted palette, less than perfect contrast and unimpressive detail. There are also compression issues, with frequent blocking that causes backgrounds to break up (and there are a couple of scenes where the quality really dips). It's very definitely a low budget TV show, but on the plus side the drab look actually suits the material quite well, so it's not a total loss. In any event you aren't going to be watching this series for its video quality, so it's not a deal-breaker even if it does look like pretty poor. I Know I have been spoiled by Blu-ray, but still...
There's even less to say about the audio. It's your standard Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track that delivers functional dialogue but not much else. Every line comes through loud and clear and there are a few decent music tracks, but there's no surround utilisation so ambience is limited. There is very subtle bass reinforcement in some scenes, mainly for the music, but again there's nothing to challenge even the most pedestrian of movie soundtracks. It does the job and I have to assume that it's a fair reflection of the original broadcast audio, but barnstorming it ain't.
The first disc includes collection of six short outtakes, which are pretty funny for what they are, along with a fairly lengthy trailer. Each episode is also accompanied by a stills gallery. Disc two includes a couple of crew montages, which run about four minutes apiece and feature cast and crew discussing the origin of the short film and how it came to be made into a series. There are also some more stills galleries.
If you like your humour on the dark side (and then some) and brutal Wilfred should be right up your street. Gann and Zwar are perfect double-act and the show has a lot more depth and intelligence than the premise would suggest. Technically the DVD isn't particularly strong, but I have a feeling a fair amount of that can be attributed to the original material. The extras hint at something interesting but are simply too sparse. Still, don't let those deficiencies put you off - this is a great show that deserves to be seen by a wider audience.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 12th March 2012
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo English
Extras: Outtakes, Crew Montages, Trailer, Stills Galleries
Easter Egg: No
Director: Tony Rogers
Cast: Jason Gann, Adam Zwar, Cindy Waddingham
Length: 200 minutes