Television

Meet My Talking Dog

Wilfred and other gems from the IFC.

Wilfred. Click image to expand.
Jason Gann as Wilfred

The Independent Film Channel—the network that brings you the scattershot sketch comedy of The Whitest Kids U’Know, the brawny chatter of The Henry Rollins Show, and, as I type this, yet another airing of Slingblade—has a Web site that has recently upped its commitment to serving video series of a very particular flavor. Once you set aside the site’s triumphant hosting of “Trapped in the Closet,” R. Kelly’s epically strange multi-chapter R&B video, you’ll notice a uniformity of thematic concerns and goofy haircuts addressed in the two-to-seven installments of its signature minishows. I imagine that the IFC.com viewer is found wherever American Apparel unitards are sold, but while these Web series unquestionably function as lifestyle accessories, they’re also trying to pose, in their studiously disheveled way, some questions about young love in pseudo-bohemia.

New to the scene is Young American Bodies, which moved to the site this week after debuting on Nerve.com. It hails from the school of “mumblecore,” a subgenre marked by nonprofessional actors delivering naturalistic performances, earnest directors employing low-fi production values, and cameramen suffering from the shakes. “Mumblecore narratives hinge less on plot points than on the tipping points in interpersonal relationships,” Dennis Lim wrote in the New York Times awhile back, his analysis happening to capture in a nutshell the texture of this cashew-sized show.

On Young American Bodies, people with names like Kelly and Dia and Maggie talk, in person or via webcam, about relationships. The substance of these conversations—about pending engagements and promised homecomings—is not worth relating, but it does seem noteworthy that the tone is upbeat even when the talks are Serious. Where characters in similar shows natter on about love and sex in a brooding and melancholy fashion, the mouths on these bodies natter on in a cheerful and sunny way, as if the director, Joe Swanberg, knows that this is just a racy little comic strip. This constitutes an advance. When these people have finished talking, they take off their clothes and they do it. The sex here is neither artistic nor pornographic, but it’s pretty enough and mildly arousing in a way that suggests episodes are being used as an overture to foreplay in neighborhoods from Greenpoint  to the Mission.

Meanwhile, hinging less on interpersonal tipping points than on wry mayhem and post-Tarantino banter, Getting Away With Murder represents the perhaps-inevitable synthesis of Say Anything … and Grosse Point Blank, the John Cusack role falling to one John Gilbert, who looks like a slightly darker, earthier version of indie actor James Urbaniak. Gilbert’s character, Seth Silver, is a shaggy-haired professional killer, a hipster hit man.

At 25, Seth still lives at home with his mom, an absurdly over-mothering mother in the grand tradition of Jewish mothers, a kind of Sophie Portnoy in zebra print. His best friend, having learned of Seth’s secret job after popping the trunk of his car and discovering the corpse of a hooker, cannot understand why the guy has such trouble asking women on dates. (“You know, for a hit man, you’re a huge pussy.”) When Seth finally does take a woman out, the dinner is interrupted by a work obligation. He kills four gangsters, one of whom barfs on his pants leg, which he describes to the lady as his own vomit, regurgitated in a panic attack. With Seth’s situation requiring him to be a sensitive man and a stone-cold killer, Murder emerges as a quick-cutting parable of the artistic yuppie’s divided self. He’s an American psycho in Elvis Costello glasses.

The show’s rival in drollery is Wilfred, an Australian import about a talking dog. To be precise, Wilfred is about a man dribbling dirty gems of passive aggression and fatalistic philosophy while wearing a dog suit. One night, after seeing a band, soignée Sarah brings fine young Adam back to her place, where he meets her pet, who’s seated in an armchair with his legs crossed politely. The dog offers Adam a rip from his homemade bong. Adam and Sarah disappear into the bedroom for a while, and then Wilfred taunts Adam into staying up late doing dude stuff—eating nachos, watching Face/Off, literally talking about bitches. “I hooked up with this little piece outside of the 7-Eleven a while back and that was all right,” Wilfred remembers. This is the beginning of a beautifully uneasy friendship, with the dog as the man’s rival, double, mentor, and id, not to mention a sort of floppy-eared ghost of boyfriends past. Despite its existence as a stoner comedy—great plumes of ganja waft through the episodes, which come online daily at 4:20 p.m.—the absurdism of Wilfred is actually quite clearheaded. Actor Jason Gann plays the pup with a scowl that Russell Crowe might envy, and he does so in the service of a relationship comedy that, with every silly gesture, goes digging for emotional truth as if it were a bone.