Anyone who was fortunate enough to have caught the enjoyably surreal Elijah Wood sitcom Wilfred hidden away on BBC3 last year may be surprised to learn that its source material actually dates back to a darkly unassuming Australian TV show from 2007.
The show’s premise involves hapless Adam (Adam Zwar) who finds himself invited home by Sarah (Cindy Waddingham), a sexy young woman who he meets at a Powderfinger concert. However, his elation quickly turns into confusion when he is introduced to Sarah’s pet dog, Wilfred (Jason Gann) -who he is surprised to visualise as a man in a cheap dog suit.
Things go from bad to worse when he realises that Wilfred is insanely jealous and almost certainly psychotic -and is willing to pull out all of the stops in his efforts to make Adam’s life as awkward as possible and sabotage the lovers’ burgeoning relationship before it gets started. Wilfred -Season One & Wilfred -Season Two (Fabulous Films) gathers together both series of the under-the-radar Australian original.
Wilfred began life as a short film of the same name, and quickly scooped the Best Comedy award at Sydney’s Tropfest film festival. The short was the launch-pad for the series itself, and actually forms the first seven minutes of episode one. Suffice to say, it doesn’t take long to realise that this is an entirely different beast to its US counterpart -despite the dual-presence of creator/Wilfred Jason Gann who performs the same costume-clad role in both series.
In truth, it is difficult to describe the original without comparing it to the remake -which won’t be much help to the uninitiated. For such a determinedly strange show, the US version feels positively mainstream after viewing the original, with the Australian episodes plumbing some fairly uncomfortable depths for laughs. While Elijah Wood’s character’s existential turmoil plays a key role in the remake, the original is all about Wilfred’s manipulative behaviour, and the excellent Gann’s portrayal of Wilfred is noticeably more menacing in this version.
When the dust settles, this new release is a fascinating companion piece to the US remake, although the jury is out regarding which one is actually the superior show. That said, with the US version not scheduled for DVD release until August, now is definitely the time to get acquainted with the rough-around-the-edges original. Barking mad.
In the 15 years since his celebrated feature-length debut Twenty Four Seven, Shane Meadows has emerged as one of the UK’s finest filmmakers, notching up a handful of latter-day classics in the process. Meadows has regularly channelled the events of his troubled youth into his films, and 2006’s phenomenal This Is England was one of his most unashamedly personal projects yet. The film was an improbable critical success Stateside, but rather than capitalise on the opportunities that offered him -Meadows had always shrugged off the ‘Midlands Scorsese’ tag pinned on him -he churned out the uncharacteristically sloppy double-whammy of Somers Town (2008) and Le Donk & Scor-Zay-Zee (2009).
However, just when fans were beginning to question Meadows’ approach, he returned with the triumphant TV drama This Is England ’86 -possibly his finest work yet. Out now is a second follow-up: This Is England ’88 (4DVD), which sifts through the emotional wreckage left in the aftermath of the 1986 storyline.
Set over the Christmas period, life isn’t particularly festive for Lol (Vicky McClure) who is haunted by her past and struggling to cope with the new responsibilities of her present. Meanwhile, her former partner Woody (Joseph Gilgun) has moved on, and now has an unlikely new girlfriend in tow, and a bright future ahead of him as his boss urges him to climb the corporate ladder. However, Woody has effectively severed all ties with his former friends, and when ex-best friend Milky (Andrew Shim) returns home after a spell away, everyone’s skeletons come tumbling out of the closet.
Although Meadows had spoken of making a This Is England ’90 in the near-future, This Is England ’88 was something of a surprise when it crash landed in the pre-Christmas TV schedule. Unfortunately, after the emphatic one-two-punch delivered by its awesome predecessors, ’88 feels slightly underwhelming, and it is hard not to view it as something of a stop-gap. While the melodrama is bleaker than ever, and Joe Gilgun and Vicky McClure once again deliver tour-de-force central performances, the three episode arc feels strangely wearying, with little of the dark humour that alleviated the gloom in the previous instalments. All in all, This Is England ’88 is a good series, just not the great one that I was hoping for. Roll on This Is England ’90!
Described by creator Adam Reed as ‘James Bond meets Arrested Development’, acerbic animation Archer goes from strength-to-strength, and The Complete Season Two (20th Century Fox) is out on DVD this month to continue the fun. Set at the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS) in New York, the series follows the exploits of suave international playboy-turned-master spy Sterling Archer (H Jon Benjamin), who unravels a series of global conspiracies under the watchful eye of his domineering, over-sexed mother, Malory (Jessica Walter). With the third series airing this week on obscure satellite channel 5*, it’s a great time to familiarise yourself with this edgy, farcical comedy.
With an impeccable voice cast and a succession of sublime scripts, Archer is arguably one of the finest animated shows in recent memory. If you thought that the first series was good, Reed raises the bar with this top-notch second outing, and the increasingly surreal storylines ricochet between far-flung locations, with the self-absorbed Archer blundering from loopy misadventure to loopy misadventure.
Choice episodes this series include: Malory dragging her agents to a luxury winter resort town to protect a Swiss billionaire’s nymphomaniac daughter from a kidnapping threat; Archer and his sultry ex-girlfriend Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler) travelling to the Louisiana bayou to foil an eco-terrorist threat; and Archer battling breast cancer and busting open an Irish crime syndicate responsible for flooding the market with fake anti-cancer drugs.
However, as funny as the scenarios are, Archer’s main strength is still its aggressively strange banter, which reaches new levels of weirdness with every passing episode. Dementedly funny stuff.