Shows about couples that seem to be destined to come together are filled with bumps in the road and lots of ups and downs. But we don’t know if we’ve seen a show like Wolf Like Me before. Why? Because both people in the central relationship come with significant baggage, but one member’s baggage is pretty different than what most people have. Read on for more.
Opening Shot: A man’s very unemotional face; he says “oh,” after the woman sitting across from him at the restaurant says she’s breaking up with him.
The Gist: Gary (Josh Gad) seems to be unfazed by getting dumped by this women, whom he’s been dating for three months. She says he’s emotionally unavailable, and seems to have no sympathy for his struggles with his 11-year-old daughter Emma (Ariel Joy Donoghue).
The two of them live in Adelaide, in South Australia. And Emma is indeed a tough nut to crack. She’s extremely anxious over getting to school in time to display her solar system project, and she has also more or less frozen out her dad. She’s so anxious that she tells Gary to turn off the main route to school in a traffic jam, and almost immediately, they get t-boned by another car.
As Gary runs to get Emma’s wolf stuffie to calm her down, he sees the woman from the other car go to Emma and immediately calm her down. The next day, that woman, Mary (Isla Fisher), visits Gary’s house to check in on Emma and give her the Carl Sagan book Contact. She starts to run away when Gary invites her in, but he convinces her to stay. He cuts his hand, and when she goes to get him a bandage, she sees Emma’s meds in the medicine cabinet.
As they get to know each other, Gary tells Mary that Emma’s mom passed away, and they both talk about why they moved from the US to Australia. Mary, who writes an advice column called “Ask Adelaide,” claims she suffered a loss, but the more Gary asks, the more nervous she gets. She breaks a mug and runs away as he cleans it up. He catches up and they agree to have lunch the next day.
At lunch — at a basement bar she picks — the two open up to each other. He tells her that he can’t seem to figure out how to break through to Emma, and it’s the worst it’s been since her mom died when she was 3. Mary opens up about how much music means to her, and mentions that she has a lot of baggage. After hours of wine and drinks and conversation, Gary leans in to kiss Mary; Mary resists, not because she doesn’t want to, but she knows she can’t get emotionally involved with someone.
When she learns that it’s almost evening, she abruptly leaves and sprints back to her house, knocking people over and causing cars to crash along the way.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? In a lot of ways, Wolf Like Me resembles You’re The Worst in that the central couple has a lot of baggage that they bring to the relationship. But in the case of You’re The Worst, the baggage are vices and toxic personality traits. Here, one half of the couple has standard baggage and the other… well, the other doesn’t.
Our Take: You almost never hear the term “slow burn” when it comes to dramedies, but Wolf Like Me is definitely a slow burn. The title of the series, created, written and directed by Abe Forsythe, gives away some of what that slow burn is about. But, even though the first episode is distractingly strange, the fact that Forsythe doesn’t reveal everything right away compels the viewer to keep watching. And the more we watched, the more we liked.
It’s certainly a bit absurd, but no more absurd than other Aussie sitcoms of the past, like Wilfred. It’s essentially a basic romantic comedy, where these two people keep meeting by chance and falling for each other. But instead of being the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Mary just happens to be a werewolf. Does it seem like an odd mix? Sure. But Gad and Fisher sell it via their excellent individual performances and the chemistry they have in scenes together.
Gad especially plays against type; if you’re looking for some combination of Olaf and the oafs he’s played in various sitcoms and films, you’ll be disappointed. Gary is depressed and at his wits’ end when it comes to Emma. In episode 3, he reveals part of his baggage and the likely reason why his daughter has frozen him out, and that monologue is among some of his best dramatic work. He’s mostly there to play off of the eccentricities of Fisher’s character Mary. Not that Mary is a laugh riot; her situation causes her unimaginable pain, as well. But as the secret becomes clearer, Fisher becomes the more dominant presence. And Gad plays off that very well.
Sex and Skin: None, at least through the first three episodes.
Parting Shot: Mary locks herself in her basement via a thick door, and we start to hear all sorts of wild noises coming from there.
Sleeper Star: Donoghue is great as the beyond sad Emma; as the season goes on, we see that her issues go way beyond just being angry with Gary, and she seems to be almost inconsolable.
Most Pilot-y Line: Wolf Like Me is shot in Australia. It takes place in Australia. Isla Fisher is Australian. Yet, she plays an American. Why? Though, we will admit that we weren’t distracted by that as much after the first episode.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Wolf Like Me is more drama than comedy, but it works either way, despite its strange premise. Much of that is thanks to Gad and Fisher, but it’s also because Forsythe has ground the show’s more supernatural elements in reality.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.