Sometimes, the less said about a show the better. Not with the purpose of dismissing it, but to coax you into giving it a chance. I adored the series recommended today, and I don’t want to trivialize it.
At the beginning of Wolf Like Me (streams Amazon Prime Video, six episodes) there’s a quotation on the screen: “Blessed are the cracked for they shall let in the light – Groucho Marx.” There follows a scene in which Gary (Josh Gad) is breaking up with a woman in a restaurant. Or rather, she’s breaking things off with him, emphatically. She’s seething. “You’re outdated, antiquated, a dinosaur,” she says. She also explains what those words mean. Her main beef is that he’s “emotionally unavailable.” Gary’s baffled, but resigned.
Next, Gary is taking his daughter Emma (Ariel Joy Donoghue) to school. She’s carrying her science project and traffic is heavy. She’s worried she’s late. Then their car is hit by another car. The driver emerges, all apologetic. She’s Mary (Isla Fisher) and she says something to Emma to calm her down. In a sequence of events that might look like a “meet cute” but could be something else, Gary later keeps bumping into Mary.
Eventually she agrees to have lunch with him. Not dinner, lunch. And the first place they arrive at seems to appall her. When they do sit down and drink, Gary explains that Emma’s mother died of cancer, his daughter has been fragile ever since and he’s struggling. Mary’s cagey about herself but says she writes an advice column for a local newspaper. (The show is set in Adelaide, Australia.) They talk about music and she asks Gary to sing. He sings Don’t Dream It’s Over off-key, but Mary beams. When Gary leans in for a kiss, Mary legs it. Literally, she runs through Adelaide at a furious pace. It’s not the first time she’s run away from Gary.
What’s a little bit enchanting about Wolf Like Me (it streams in the United States on Peacock) is how, first, it’s absurd. There’s a kooky-quality to Mary and odd things happen. But as she and Gary get to know each other, the emotional baggage they carry becomes evident. Slowly, mind you. This is a gently paced but wonderfully honed comedy that has drama lurking all around it. It’s restrained but funny, and the handing of daughter Emma’s mental state is beautifully done.
Gad, who usually plays characters more buffoonish than Gary, has a lovely kind of reticence here. He’s mystified by Mary but intrigued in a way that suggests a man who is used to being told he’s emotionally unavailable. Mary is at first a sprite of sorts, talking rapidly about her interest in “pickling and pottery” and, of course, she often just legs it out of a situation. She’s manic while Gary is sleepwalking.
What is this thing, this story being told? Well, it’s a love story. One that is at first emotionally circumspect. It’s quite the moment when Gary says, “I find it very easy to be in your company.” And then it is tender, passionate, wary, bawdy and fragile, but you want it to be sturdy.
The show is, in a way, about magic – and to make that click, it needs to have its own magic. Gad and Fisher bring it. There’s a playfulness here that gives it energy. The Mary figure is fascinating. She’s a deliberate variation on the stock “manic pixie dream girl” figure who frees up complicated men to have fun and adventures. You can tell that at times Fisher is deliberately suggesting the stock figure, but that’s before Gary really knows her, and for both of them, their baggage is on display.
This is, by the way, essentially an Australian-made show. Gad is the only American involved and it’s written by Abe Forsythe, who also wrote the charming movie Little Monsters. The setting is important, too. Both Gary and Mary have gone to Australia expecting to benefit from the freedom, the open skies and the vastness of the landscape. And it matters that the main characters in this ambitiously odd romantic comedy are adults: Gary is no wolf looking for a replacement for his late wife, and Mary has a sagelike quality when she isn’t being a tad manic. Besides, that mania is a cover for something else. In a way, she’s warning Gary not to idealize her.
There is much going on, and the secret at the show’s core hasn’t even been mentioned here. (You will figure it out after one episode.) Surrender yourselves, dear readers, to this sweet, funny and slightly outlandish concoction.
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