You can thank Jason Gann, as the title character on the FX comedy Wilfred, for lifting the veil on the sex lives of dogs.
The actor/writer stars as a perverse canine, whom his friend Ryan (Elijah Wood) sees as a man in a dog suit. Gann, who co-created the Australian television series on which the show is based, appeared at Comic-Con International with executive producer David Zuckerman, showrunners Eli Jorne and Reed Agnew, and co-stars Fiona Gubelmann (Jenna) and Doran Brown (Kristen). Wood joined the discussion via satellite from Los Angeles.
The presentation began with a screening that delved deep into Wilfred’s ethos on sex and breeding. Airing this month, “Stagnation” (Episode 11) reveals quite a bit about the character’s sex life. The episode opens as Wilfred makes use of a small hole in the fence to scratch an itch. But Wilfred gets a little carried away and Ryan has to hose him off. “That glory hole shit out there, that was beautiful,” Wilfred says.
Things only get more twisted as Ryan allows his new roommate to bring a purebred bulldog into the house. Wilfred is love-struck at first whiff: He croons on the piano, stands by the window with a boom box doing his best John Cusack impression, and he refuses to believe that the love may just be a result of his dog physiology.
Ryan prevents the love from blossoming and sets off a battle with Wilfred over the meaning of love. Wilfred tries to exact revenge by threatening to keep the bloodlines clean between Ryan and his sister Kristen. Wilfred concocts a scheme to teach Ryan his lesson and make him understand the dangers of pure breeding.
“Stagnation” is a standalone episode, taking a small break from Ryan’s ongoing struggles with unemployment and the love lost between he and his neighbor Jenna. The show regularly bounces between crude jokes and existential dilemmas, a tone that Zuckerman brought when he adapted the show from the Australian original.
“The suicide angle was a product of David Zuckerman. Maybe this can be his therapy session,” Gann said, referring to the panel and to the American version’s opening sequence.
“I was blown away by the situation that the character Adam was in,” Zuckerman said. “What kind of guy needs a character like that in his life?” They renamed Adam as Ryan for the American version and gave him a grim origin. “Seemed like suicide was a good place to start. It was actually much darker, the original pitch.”
Wilfred has expanded from the Australian original as well. “The character in the Australian show had a lot less dimension to him,” Gann said. He was very angry and didn’t care much for the character Adam. Wilfred in America has developed so much. … I really feel free now in this show to really push the boundaries … because I get to bounce off Elijah. … The character Wilfred it feels like we’ve found him.”
To that end, Gann gets a lot of room to explore his dog side. He and Wood work off each other, and Gann improvises as Wilfred during shooting.
“I feel equally inspired by what Jason does,” Wood added from Los Angeles. “We spend a lot of time with each other on and off set, and there’s a lot of comic banter that’s not related to the show, but that feeds into everything. It feels like a very creative environment. … In some ways, my character is informed by his.”
“The character has evolved in a lot of ways,” Jorne said of Ryan. “We’re always taking Ryan on this journey, and there’s a psychological aspect to his character: Is he getting better? Is he getting worse?”
Keeping Wilfred fresh can be equally difficult. “Each year, I think, ‘Man, how many more funny things can a dog do?’” Gann said. “We’re running out – the well’s running dry. The glory hole is running dry.” But, “It’s the subtleties within the ‘dogisms’” and the nature of the character that gives him legs for the run of the season.
Wood doesn’t quite know what’s next for the show, or his character. “We don’t think in parameters,” he said. “Thus far we haven’t seen any end to where we could potentially go.” However, Ryan’s dilemmas could expand. “It wasn’t just Wilfred in the Australian version,” that Ryan saw, “there were cats,” Wood explained. “We’ve explored a lot of things that are also happening in Ryan’s mind. When you open up that as a possibility, you kind of could go anywhere.”
Wilfred airs Thursdays on FX.