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Media Essay - Wilfred

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Essay title: Media Essay - Wilfred

“Pictures came and broke your heart… put the blame on VTR.”

[Trevor Horn, 1979].

Since the very first Australian broadcastings in 1956 and the introduction of colour in 1974, television has been an immensely important and influential form of media in Australian society. Television has the power to entertain as well as educate. It can make one laugh, or make one cry, and it can open up a viewer’s eyes and mind to a whole different world, that they perhaps didn’t even know existed. All this while slouched sluggishly in the back of a lounge.

“When I watch television, I do not simply sit in front of the apparatus and watch whatever ‘flows’ onto the screen. There are specific programs I like, whose return… gives me particular pleasure.” [Alan McKee, 2001, (p.2)]

Television as a form of media incorporates an extremely vast array of sources and mediums that a viewer can gain entertainment, insight an knowledge from.

Television programs can be classified into genres as a way of grouping them according to conventional characteristics such as content, narrative structure and visual style. Genres are continuously developing and evolving as programs persistently cross over and even create new genres. Though a program is often classified as being part of a particular genre because of its conventional characteristics it is commonly the programs that challenge and step outside these conventions that are the most successful. Wilfred is a useful example and illustrates this point.

Wilfred is an Australian production based on the short film, of the same title, by actors and writers Adam Zwar and Jason Gann. The program is now a series aired on SBS Television (Monday 10.00pm). The program can be broadly classified into the genre of comedy, also known as television comedy. Television comedy generally focuses on those sub-genres of comedy which are more common and successful on the small screen, that is, television. These can include situation comedy (‘sit-com’), sketch comedy, stand-up comedy, improvisational comedy, animated comedy and domestic comedy, and many others. Wilfred can be classified mainly into those sub-genres of sitcom and domestic comedy.

These two sub-genres often go hand in hand as they are perhaps the two most closely related sub-genres within comedy. Sitcom involves reoccurring characters, familiar to the audience, in humorous situations. Often the characters as well as the situations are common, everyday situations or occur in settings that a common to the audience. These situations often originate from confusions or complications. Domestic comedy is quite similar to this, however, traditionally domestic comedies are generally more based around family relationships and moral growth.

Wilfred follows the life of a psychologically disturbed dog, who through issues such as depression, anxiety, loneliness and fear of abandonment suffers from behavioural problems. Perhaps the most peculiar thing at first is the fact that Wilfred is obviously a man in a shabby looking dog suite. However, this fact soon becomes overlooked as the viewer is drawn into Wilfred’s world. The setting draws away from the conventional and traditional domestic household of husband, wife and children and portrays a more modern style of living through Adam and Sarah, an unmarried couple with no children, living together, and with an unusually particular focus on Wilfred, the household pet. Wilfred is a very imperfect character, which is becoming increasingly common within modern domestic and situation comedies. Though he is arrogant, manipulative and self-righteous, the viewer is persuaded to warm to his insecurities and misguided passions. A closely resembling example can be seen in the BBC series The Office, in the character of David Brent.

The very concept of the program and particularly the fact that its’ main character is a dog (at least a man in a dog suite), challenges the conventions and common perceptions of the comedy genre. Elements of the characters can be seen as typical and conforming to the genre but this idea is continuously overridden as the viewer is reminded that Wilfred is actually a dog.

Also contradictory to convention is the content and issues portrayed and exposed in Wilfred. Research by the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) from the year 1994 to the year 2000 indicated that the top major issues of concern about Australian television included violence, sex scenes and nudity, coarse language, sexist and racist stereotyping, drug use, content that provided role models for children and content that promoted antisocial/immoral values. [Margaret Cupitt, 2000]. It is interesting to find that these are the most prominent subjects recognised throughout Wilfred.


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