Only a few months ago, movie audiences were confronted with "The Beaver" and collectively ran for the hills. The film's lead character was played by a personally tarnished Mel Gibson, down on his luck, looking to regain his family's love and seeking retribution from a beaver hand puppet with an Australian accent.
Though the film tanked at the box office, perhaps its performance had more to do with moviegoers' opinions regarding Gibson's rocky personal life than with their cumulative dislike of personified animals.
As a counter example, take a look at the new FX comedy series, "Wilfred," which premiered last week as the lead-in to "Louie" and boasted the best ratings ever for an FX comedy program.
"Wilfred" stars Elijah Wood as a depressed man who attempts suicide, only to find salvation in the company of his neighbor's dog. To Wood's character, the dog appears as a disheveled Australian dressed in a dog suit, played by Jason Gann, also a co-creator. It's based on a 2007 Australian comedy of the same name, which Gann also starred in. The US version nabbed showrunner David Zuckerman, formerly a writer for "Family Guy" and "American Dad," to take the helm alongside Gann, and also enlisted Wood as its star.
Most impressive, perhaps, is that "Wilfred" outshone the premieres of every other established FX comedy last week -- the well-liked "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and "Archer" among them -- netting 2.6 million viewers, according to the Nielsen Company.
The show aims to be both dark and uplifting, goofily funny and poignant. And like "The Beaver," it has also received mixed reviews from critics. The Washington Post complained about the overabundance of snark, calling the show "cool to the point of being cold." The Hollywood Reporter, on the other hand, raved that there's "more than a little hilarious genius in this series," and praised the "philosophical, existential and surprisingly intimate moments" shared between the two main characters.
On "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," Elijah Wood explained that the roots of "Wilfed" were planted, somewhat predictably, in a haze of pot. "It was actually conceived whilst the creator was stoned," Wood told Fallon, earning extra points for using the word "whilst." Wood has referred to the show numerous times as one of the funniest projects he's ever been a part of.
Whether or not "Wilfred" can sustain its initial audience remains to be seen. Another recent FX comedy, "Terriers," premiered on FX in September 2010 to critical acclaim, but plummeted in the ratings and was cancelled after its first season. Many "Terriers" fans blamed FX's marketing tactics for the show's failure. A gnarling dog looking angry was featured on many of the promotional billboards, leading many to assume, on first impression, that the show was a drama about dog fighting, rather than a subtle detective buddy dramedy.
FX heard so many complaints about its marketing campaign for "Terriers" that FX President John Landgraf felt the need defend his marketing team, along with his decision to cancel the series. "From my standpoint, the marketing department of FX has taken a little bit of unfair knocks for the lack of performance of the show," he told Deadline in 2010. "I don't think there is anybody to blame."
But there's not much confusion about "Wilfred." The show's promotional spots seem clear: this is a quirky comedy featuring a guy in a dog suit who hangs out with Elijah Wood. And smokes cigarettes. No questions there.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, "Wilfred" has a string of guest stars planned for this season, including Ethan Suplee, Ed Helms, Rashida Jones, and Peter Stormare.
The next episode will air Thursday night on FX.