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Review: FX's 'Wilfred' has a dog complex

Sit. Stay. Smoke. Now that's a good … man.

In "Wilfred" (9 p.m. June 23, FX; **** stars out of four), it's the human who learns new tricks from a dog, not the other way around. Stuffed with absurd situations and piles of bad taste, "Wilfred" is the strangest new show on TV. And the funniest.

Elijah Wood stars as Ryan, a depressed lawyer who is so messed up from trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations that he attempts suicide by drinking a smoothie of anti-anxiety pills. So it’s no surprise that when his sexy neighbor, Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann), asks him to dogsit for her, he thinks he’s hallucinating as Wilfred (Jason Gann) strolls into his house (on two legs, by the way), fluffs a pillow on the couch, turns around a couple of times, then plops down for a chat.

To everyone else, Wilfred’s just a regular pooch.

“It’s all about perception,” Wilfred (Jason Gann) tells Ryan in the series premiere. “You’ve got to change the way you’re seeing things.”

To that end, Wilfred leads Ryan down a dark path of shady exploits that include breaking into their neighbor’s house to steal his pot plants and leave steamy calling cards in his boots. To further the lesson about cutting loose and living dangerously, Wilfred intentionally leaves Ryan’s wallet at the scene of the crime.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, but slowly—and painfully—Wilfred teaches Ryan how to stand on his own hind legs.

Adapted from Gann’s original Aussie show by “Family Guy” writer David Zuckerman, “Wilfred” works on many levels, the least of which are the jokes about bodily functions.

Then there’s the question of why Ryan sees Wilfred as a guy in a dog suit. Is it a figment of his imagination (like in the Jimmy Stewart film “Harvey”) or does he have a badass alter ego (like in “Fight Club”)?

No one questions Ryan when he assigns human qualities to the dog, because pet owners often treat their animals as people. But it’s also fun watching Wilfred do all the “dogisms”—from walking in circles before sitting down to chasing a motorcycle to burying his snout in a waitress’ chest. (And other things I can’t mention here.)

Gann’s hilarious as Wilfred, both with the broad comedy and subtle voice inflections, looks and dogism movements. Wood plays mostly straight to Gann’s silly, but he does so perfectly. His timing is impeccable. Gubelmann and a surprisingly broad list of guest stars (Ethan Suplee, Chris Klein, Ed Helms, Rashida Jones) also promise bring the funny.

Finally, and this is my favorite part of the many layers at play, Wilfred’s wisdom never gets preachy or corny, because he uses such tough love on Ryan.

It might be difficult for Ryan to hear the truth, but as Wilfred says, nothing should be easy. "I'm not going to bite you. Biting's the easy way out."

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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