With a new season of Wilfred coming on FX, it’s about time that the show receives the proper respect that it deserves.
The story of Ryan (played by Elijah Wood) and Wilfred (played by Jason Gann) is not unlike many epic plots of a boy learning about the world with his pet animal there for support. We have a man. We have a dog. We even have a few goals.
The twist is, the man is self-destructive, the dog is a man in a shaggy dog costume, and the goals are the love of a woman already taken and some sort of sanity. This isn’t exactly the American Dream when it comes to the idea of “a boy and his dog,” but that’s the point of Wilfred. It’s taking the idea of The American Dream (having a good job, a good home, and a good family) and turning it upside down to see just how rotten those ideals can be if they’re forced onto the psyche.
With that idea, we pit Wilfred against other Person-Pet partnerships to see just how hilariously askew these relationships are.
Timmy & Lassie (Lassie)
As the most famous depiction of a boy and his dog, Lassie set the standard for understanding dog-speak as a a series of films and a sitcom since 1943. Instead of speaking English, Lassie seemed to be able to get her point across to any human she came into contact with. “Ruff, ruff-ruff, ruff!” could mean anything from “When the hell are you going to feed me” to “Timmy fell down the well and is being attacked by underground mole people from Mars.”
This standard has become so tried and true that comedy routines and shows still parodize Lassie’s language to this day.
Timmy & Fido (Fido)
As far as parodies for Lassie go, the horror comedy movie Fido made waves in how it evolved the idea of “a boy and his dog” into “a boy and his zombie.”
Fido, released in 2006, is the story of how zombies were domesticated in the 1950’s using hi-tech electronic collars. The fact that the boy is named Timmy makes sure we understand the parallels of zombies and dogs. Unfortunately, the story moved on to more insane plot twists than what should have been done as a zombified Lassie tribute, with zombie sex and surrogate zombie fathers.
Vic & Blood (A Boy and His Dog)
The closest comparison Wilfred ever had to another television show or movie has been A Boy and His Dog. The parallels are so close that it has already been fully documented. We just need to recap.
A Boy and His Dog stars Don Johnson (yes, from Miami Vice) as Vic, a young man trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, and Tim McIntire as Blood, his dog that seems to have a mind-meld with Vic. We can tell this by the conversations that Vic and Blood have that no one else can hear about food, women, survival, things that men would normally talk about. Unlike Wilfred, however, Blood looks like a real dog, not an unshaven Australian guy in a dog costume.
While a dog speaking to his human is unique in many regards, what makes the story of Vic & Blood so compelling is that, even with this mental attachment, the end of the world, and an underground society of people in clown make-up, the connection between a boy and his dog doesn’t waver. Blood waits for Vic at then entrance of The Underground, and Vic shares this loyalty by cooking up his woman to feed to Blood.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman (Peabody’s Improbable History)
Humans can be pets, too. This was the case between Mr. Peabody and his pet boy, Sherman, in their segment “Peabody’s Improbably History” on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.
The series showcased Mr. Peabody and Sherman going on time-traveling adventures to muck up important moments in history in order to make them right again so that Mr. Peabody could go teach Sherman and the audience some moral or another. It almost seemed useless for them to go off in their time machine in the first place.
Still, a lot can be said about how a talking dog can open our minds to even the most basic ideas that humanity seems too ignorant to figure out for themselves, past, present, and probably future. We need a talking dog in glasses and a bow-tie to show us the way.
Calvin & Hobbes (Calvin and Hobbes)
The parallels of Wilfred to Bill Watterson legendary comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes, are too close to push aside.
Sure, Calvin is a little boy while Ryan is a full-grown man. Sure, Hobbes is a stuffed tiger while Wilfred is a mutt. Sure, Calvin uses his imagination while Ryan uses recreational drugs. All of these differences make us come to one resounding conclusion: you can’t move on until you grow up, so why not enjoy growing up and figuring out what makes you tick. In that regard, there may actually be more hope for Ryan than Calvin.
Lobo & Dawg (Lobo)
There’s really no large parallel for Lobo and Dawg in regards to Wilfred. I just find the need to mention Lobo whenever I can, which isn’t as often as I’d like.
However, it must be said that there is a love/hate relationship between Lobo and Dawg that should seriously be considered between Ryan and Wilfred. Lobo dismisses his ownership of Dawg with more aggression than Ryan does with Wilfred (Lobo stomps Dawg to death in one case. There’s no way that would fly with Wilfred. PETA would be all over that.) Still, there is a perverted bond in both of these instances of a man/interstellar badass and his dog.
Zim & GIR (Invader Zim)
After Jhonen Vasquez gave comic books a new direction with his Johnny the Homicidal Maniac series, he went where no one thought he would even be allowed to go: children’s television. We’re sure glad he did, because that was how Invader Zim was born on Nickelodeon.
Invader Zim is the story of an alien runt with a broken-down robot who is hell-bent on proving his worth to his species by taking over Earth. His robot, GIR, dresses up in a green dog costume, rarely listens to Zim, and constantly thwarts Zim’s efforts of domination in hilariously innocent ways. It’s as if Wilfred was animated by evil insect people from Mars.
Sadly, the story of a deranged alien boy and his pet robot was more popular with man-children like me than the audience Nickelodeon was geared toward, real children, and Invader Zim was scrapped after 27 episodes.
Chunk & Sloth (The Goonies)
No breakdown of boys and their pets in entertainment is complete without mentioning Chunk and Sloth from The Goonies. That is, if I wasn’t trying to be PC about it.
Yes, Sloth is only a giant, deformed, mentally incapacitated man. He isn’t an animal to be played with or scolded for dropping a deuce in the house. Still, the partnership that Chunk (aka Lawrence Cohen, played by now-lawyer Jeff Cohen) and Sloth (aka Lotney Fratelli, played by the deceased Raiders DE John “Tooz” Matuszak) cannot be ignored. Chunk rides around on Sloth’s back as they swoop in to save the rest of The goonies from the rest of the Fratelli family.
At the end of the day, Chunk takes Sloth in to his home like a stray puppy. It’s a cute relationship, and begged for a Chunk and Sloth series.
Stewie & Brian
As one of the newer person-pet duos on television, the relationship between Baby Stewie and Brian the Dog in Family Guy is eerily similar to Ryan and Wilfred. We have a talking dog in Brian, although he talks and everyone can hear him, so it’s not as if Stewie is crazy. We have Stewie, who no one takes seriously and is constantly misunderstood.
In a way, Brian and Stewie exchange the titles of id and ego constantly. What makes that interesting is the fact that Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane voices both characters. That’s a pretty deep war with psychosis in someone’s head.