Terry Morrow: 'Wilfred' fetches new fun for FX

Ryan (Elijah Wood), left, has a new best, but imaginary, friend, Wilfred (Jason Gann), in a new FX comedy.

Ryan (Elijah Wood), left, has a new best, but imaginary, friend, Wilfred (Jason Gann), in a new FX comedy.

FX is a man’s best friend.

From the gritty “Justified” to the deadpan of “Louie,” the cable channel has been marking its territory as a reliable distinction for men over the past couple of years. And now, with the dark buddy comedy “Wilfred” (10 p.m. Thursday), FX has reached its stride — offering one of the most intelligent, reflective and truly laugh-out-loud half hours of the year.

Elfish Elijah Wood plays Ryan, an awkward, doe-eyed attorney who’s badly in need of guidance and friends. After a failed suicide attempt, he thinks he’s having a mental breakdown: Wilfred, the dog of the woman next door, appears to him as a man dressed in a canine outfit and speaking in an Australian accent. The rest of the world sees Wilfred as just another dog.

Through Wilfred’s mentoring — sometimes insightful, at other times inadvisable — Ryan starts learning more about himself and the world around him. It’s a delightful coming-of-age-too-late story that is held together singularly by the presence of Wilfred, a co-dependence to the story that makes and breaks the series.

Based on an Aussie series of the same name, “Wilfred” is a wonderfully constructed comedy hinging on the presence of writer/actor Jason Gann, who plays Wilfred. Wood makes for a strong enough companion/student to Wilfred, though Wood has his own awkwardness that makes for an occasionally forced performance.

“Wilfred” won’t give everyone the warmy fuzzies.

This is a different kind of dog tale. The nasty little canine parties too hard — he loves his pornography and his marijuana — and that’s a large part of the juvenile appeal. Unlike Comedy Central’s “Workaholics” or FX’s own “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia,” which embrace the slacker life as a redeemable part of daily living, “Wilfred” has a heart and soul underneath its outrageous bravado.

Wilfred is one tough, uh, dog when it comes to friendship. He’s quick to let Ryan know his strong points. “You come when your called, and you don’t drag your (backside) across the carpet,” he tells Ryan of his best attributes. But, later, when Ryan incurs Wilfred’s anger, he barks, “You better sleep with your eyes open!”

Just buying into the notion that a grown man in a dog suit can be taken seriously is a triumph for “Wilfred.” And, yet, the series is able to do it rather easily, without giving pause on how ridiculous the scenario is.

That’s the real dog trick here. “Wilfred” is capable of taking on its greatest challenge with ease.

The rest?

It’s clever word play and a feel-good premise that shows cable programming for men has learned a few new tricks.

Score: 4 (out of 5)

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