Comic-Con 2011: FX's 'Wilfred' charms, horrifies and amuses
When FX asked me to moderate the "Wilfred" Comic-Con panel, I wondered what percentage of the room would be filled with people just hoping to get a closer look at "Lord of the Rings" alum Elijah Wood, and what percentage of the questions would be Frodo-related. And when FX sent me a copy of the incredibly raunchy and twisted - even by "Wilfred" standards - episode being screened before the panel (it airs next Thursday at 10), I wondered just how those Frodo fans would react to 21 or so minutes of (minor spoiler alert) a guy in a dog suit trying to seduce a stuffed giraffe.
I needn't have worried. Though the crowd response to the opening moments of the episode was a bit reserved, it seems that was the result of the audio being played too low, and once the volume was cranked up so everyone could hear Wood and Jason Gann banter and say and do inappropriate things, their laughter was frequent and at times explosive. (And, at other times, just plain horrified. And rightly so.) And though I was all prepared to keep a running tally of the number of "LOTR" questions, there were actually none - and only a couple of questions that even began with a Wood-worshipping preamble.
In fact, a few of those "I love you, Elijah" preambles were followed immediately by some variation on "but my question is for Jason," as it became clear that the crowd not only knew "Wilfred" fairly well, but that they wanted to hear from the guy playing the dog - and who had helped create the dog back in Australia - even more than they wanted to hear Wood speak.
I couldn't take notes during the period when I was asking the questions, though I did manage to work in a Fienberg-esque compliment about Fiona Gubelmann's awesome name. And showrunner David Zuckerman did talk a bit about how working on "Family Guy" helped prepare him for this show - not specifically because of the Brian and Stewie relationship, but just because he had experience at writing scenes where insane things happen and certain characters treat it like it's absolutely normal. Also, Gann decided to start randomly referring to Wood as "EW," which elicited a lot of high-pitched giggles from the other actors on the panel - Wood himself, especially.
In terms of the audience Q&A, the crowd did itself proud, with lots of questions that were either insightful or else elicited insightful answers, plus random profanity and jokes from Gann and Wood. Among the highlights:
When asked if we might see an episode told from Wilfred's point of view rather than Ryan's, Zuckerman said, "Keep watching." But Gann suggested that even if they go there, it won't be for too long or too often, since it takes pressure off the character of Wilfred and his believability if he's not the focus. Also, we will eventually get an explanation for why Wilfred has an Australian accent.
The inevitable "How are you like your character?" question for Wood led to some audience members yelling out that both Wood and Ryan are "improbably sexy," to which an incredulous Wood replied, "That kind of depression (that Ryan has) is not very sexy."
Wood hasn't done much comedy in his career, and he says even here he doesn't have the inherently comedic role. "My challenge is to create a sense of Ryan's reality. If something funny comes out of that, it's natural."
The inevitable "How is TV different from movies?" question led to some discussion of the show's accelerated production schedule, in which the season's 13 episodes were filmed in only 10 weeks - 10 weeks in which Wood is in virtually every scene, usually delivering lots and lots of dialogue. Dorian Brown, who plays Ryan's sister Kristin, recalled that during filming of the pilot, she asked Wood how he was handling the transition and the workload, and he said, "I'm just listening." But a few weeks later, Wood admitted, he told her, "It's really hard." The brisk schedule also means that even though certain scenes (usually Ryan and Wilfred getting high) seem ad-libbed, there simply isn't time in the schedule for improvisation.
The American actors, Zuckerman and director Randall Einhorn almost all used profanity to describe their initial reaction to either reading the American pilot script or seeing clips of the original Australian show. Gann, meanwhile, said that when he read Zuckerman's adaptation of his own work, “I felt like I just had a makeover and was scoring with a hot chick with big tits.” Wood also said the concept reminded him of the Jimmy Stewart movie "Harvey," as well as "Calvin & Hobbes."
Asked whether he felt confident about a second season (both "Wilfred" and "Louie" have been doing well for FX in the ratings so far), Zuckerman said, simply, "Yes" to great applause.
A little kid - whom Zuckerman later described as "adorable," and whom I hope came in after the episode was screened (but I doubt it) - asked a very good question about how Gann feels about Wilfred doing things that seemingly only a human could do, like digging a hole with a shovel. Gann said "I just articulate in human form a dog's behavior," and Wood recalled a scene in the pilot where Wilfred breaks down his fence with an ax. Initially, Ryan was supposed to take the ax out of Wilfred's hands, but then Wood and others began to realize, "If I took the ax from you, the ax would exist." Zuckerman said that in general a lot of thought is put into various Wilfred actions that often play out very quickly on screen, that the writers ponder a lot about what's really happening, and said "the show is a little puzzle," and that Einhorn is placing "a lot of little clues" into scenes. I then asked if he meant there's actually a hidden mythology about why Wilfred can do the things he does, and he said there actually sort of is.
It was a very lively session, one that made clear what Zuckerman said about people putting a lot of thought into this strange little show, and between the episode they screened and the very dark one that aired on FX tonight (involving Rashida Jones and euthanasia), I'm feeling very happy with "Wilfred" at the moment.