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Caring for 'Wilfred' the dog becomes a life-changing event

In a television landscape littered with surgically enhanced shrews screeching at one another and off-key singers who think they're as talented as their parents say, it's startling to find a scripted show that makes viewers think about the theater of the absurd.

"Wilfred," premiering Thursday on FX, is a quirky show that has Elijah Wood (the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy) in his first starring role in a series. He plays Ryan, a depressed lawyer and the only person who sees Wilfred as a man (Jason Gann) in a dog suit. Everyone else sees Wilfred as an actual dog.

"What fascinated me is the element of who Ryan is," Wood says. "Ryan is at a precipice for change. He gets to a point where he can't go any farther. There's an extreme potential for a sharp turn left or right, and that's what Wilfred represents to him."

There isn't much like "Wilfred." Expect comparisons to "Harvey" and "Donnie Darko," though neither quite fits. Jimmy Stewart may have been touched in "Harvey," but he wasn't crude. Wilfred, however, veers between bonhomie and nastiness.

The pilot opens with Ryan rewriting his suicide note three times. Then, he's struck with a revision to the suicide note and stops to gaze longingly and wave at his hot neighbor.

Death does not come, quietly or otherwise. And this is as good a time as any to warn children, viewers with delicate sensibilities, or anyone uncomfortable with sex and drugs that this is not appropriate.

For those who appreciate the randy and the bizarre, it's hilarious. This show, an American version of an Australian cult hit, was the result of a hazy night.

"There was a bong present in the original improvisation, and it became the short film," says Gann, who hails from Australia. "It's been 10 years since that fateful night. You don't imagine something like this."

That fateful night had them talking about a dog that terrorized its owner's boyfriends.

"And I just started improvising as this dog," Gann says. "And it wasn't a concept. It was just funny, and Adam Zwar, the original co-creator with myself, we just said, 'That's a short film, baby. We gotta write that down.' So we wrote down a seven-minute short, and a week later we shot it. Within a year, it was at Sundance, and it's just a bad joke that's gone too far."

Wilfred is the dog of the pretty neighbor, Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann), who asks if Wilfred can stay with him while there's an exterminator in her house. Once Ryan allows Wilfred in, Ryan's life must change.

Ryan's sister, Kristen (Dorian Brown), is an obstetrician who is trying to run his life. Their dad had pushed Ryan into becoming a lawyer, and we don't know yet what pushed Ryan over the edge.

Wood recalls reading the script for the first time.

"I thought it was so hilarious and so unlike anything I'd ever read and anything I could imagine seeing on television," he says.

"I just became so excited at the prospect of what we could do with this world and with these two characters and the places that we could explore," Wood says.

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