About the only thing FX’s back-to-back comedies Wilfred and Louie have in common is that their titles are the first names of their central characters. Otherwise, they could not be more different.
Wilfred stars Elijah Wood as sheepish depressive Ryan, the only person to whom a dog named Wilfred talks. Indeed, to Ryan, Wilfred just looks like a guy in a big canine costume; he’s played by Jason Gann, the Australian actor-writer who co-created this show as well as the Australian version from which it was adapted. Wilfred is a snarky jerk who likes to sit around taking hits off a bong, urging Ryan to join him. Ryan does, and the entire show plays to a slack, stoner rhythm.
Ryan, lonely and horny, accepts the edgy friendship of Wilfred, who actually ? belongs to Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann), an ? attractive neighbor who, like everyone else, sees Wilfred as a frisky hound. Wood does ?a lot of the soulful staring he did on the big screen as Frodo, to lesser effect here. Each episode is titled after a state of mind that becomes the theme of the half hour — ”Happiness,” ”Trust,” ”Fear,” etc. But the dog-costume sight gag becomes tiresome quickly, and the punchlines tend to be obvious ones about doggy sex.
There’s a good chance that Wilfred is merely a figment of Ryan’s weed-addled imagination. If so, I hope Ryan simply sobers up — the series is so weightless, it might disappear in a puff of smoke.
By contrast, Louis C.K. continues to turn his life into vivid, surprising, alert art in the new season of Louie. Writing, directing, editing, and starring in this low-budget look at a single-dad stand-up comic, C.K. manages to be both aggressive and disarming about the frustrations of being a parent and a single guy. It’s by no means original, at this point, to express ambivalence about one’s kids (if someone else hadn’t already written the instant best-seller Go the F–k to Sleep, he might have), but C.K. is probably the only comedian who can make that commingled feeling of love-frustration-rage that a parent experiences work as raucous comedy.
The switches between Louie’s stand-up-act footage and the scripted comedy are more integrated this season, and his self-criticism is hilariously acute. As a writer, he has one woman agree to date him because ”he could be someone at some point” (i.e., famous), and as a performer, C.K. pulls off the pathos behind that situation.
I understand why Wilfred would lead off this FX hour of comedy — Elijah Wood is a bigger star than Louis C.K. — but when it comes to quality, the hour has nowhere to go but up. Wilfred: C? Louie: A?