Heir of the dog
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.
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