Heir of the dog

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Television - TIM MARTAIN

WELL, hasn’t the Amer­i­can re­make of Wil­fred been a happy sur­prise?

Like many oth­ers, I feared let­ting an Amer­i­can pro­duc­tion com­pany touch this Aussie com­edy would turn it into a steam­ing pile of doggy doo. But from the very first episode it be­came clear that this US retro­fit was some­thing quite spe­cial.

The rea­son this re­make suc­ceeded where so many oth­ers have failed seems to come down to one very sim­ple but of­ten over­looked con­cept – orig­i­nal­ity.

The orig­i­nal Aus­tralian se­ries of Wil­fred, which screened on SBS, was cre­ated by Ja­son Gann and Adam Zwar, start­ing out as a short film in 2002.

The idea of a jeal­ous dog try­ing to frighten off his owner’s new boyfriend al­legedly came from a real-life ex­pe­ri­ence. Gann and Zwar added a touch of sur­re­al­ist hu­mour by in­clud­ing the twist that boyfriend Adam ( Zwar) was the only one who could see Wil­fred as a man in a dog suit. Ev­ery­one else sim­ply saw him as a dog.

Much of the dry, dark hu­mour was dis­tinctly Aus­tralian, fo­cus­ing on quirks of sub­ur­ban life and as­sorted cul­tural mark­ers – none of which was ex­pected to trans­late well to an Amer­i­can au­di­ence. When Kath & Kim was cloned and vom­ited out with Amer­i­can ac­cents for the US mar­ket, the re­sult was some­thing that al­most to­tally missed the mark.

The K& K pro­duc­ers at­tempted to ba­si­cally do a straight ac­tor sub­sti­tu­tion with a sim­i­lar story and sim­i­lar gags and it just didn’t work. But Wil­fred ’ s cre­ators, Gann and Zwar, main­tained some cre­ative con­trol over their idea and wrote the US se­ries them­selves. They also made sure they did some­thing new with it.

They have kept the same cen­tral premise of some poor sap see­ing a dog as a man in a dog suit – they even kept Gann in the suit with his ocker ac­cent – but then they have hung a whole dif­fer­ent story off that frame­work.

Eli­jah Wood’s Ryan bears some sim­i­lar­ity to Adam from the Aussie se­ries, but is suf­fi­ciently dif­fer­ent to make his in­ter­ac­tions with Wil­fred fresh and un­ex­pected.

Even the tone of the se­ries is dif­fer­ent. In­stead of the bleak weird­ness of the Aussie ver­sion, the US in­car­na­tion is brighter and bolder with­out be­ing over the top.

It also plays up the brazen ab­sur­dity of the sit­u­a­tion much more. What this proves is that by adapt­ing some­thing prop­erly – in­stead of just re­gur­gi­tat­ing it with an Amer­i­can cast – it is pos­si­ble to take an ex­ist­ing idea and make it into some­thing orig­i­nal and very, very funny.


Eleven, Tues­days, 9.30pm

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