What are TV's strangest shows?

00:43, May 28 2013

Television is, and has been, home to some pretty weird shows - and I reckon Wilfred (Four, Sundays at 10pm) might be one of the weirdest right now. The first episode started with Ryan (played by Frodo... I mean, Elijah Wood) attempting to overdose on prescription medication, before finding out that the pills he thought would kill him were actually placebos. Following this discovery, Ryan's hot neighbour asks him to watch her dog, named Wilfred, who Ryan sees as an adult man in a dog costume (played by series creator Jason Gann). Yes, you read that correctly.

Subsequent episodes follow Ryan and Wilfred as they hang out and smoke pot together, and get into situations that invariably find Gann doing dog things in a costume, like humping a soft toy, chasing a tennis ball, and digging holes in a garden - using a spade, of course.

Yes, it sounds utterly bizarre - and it is. But it's also a story of friendship, of learning, of the human condition simplified through the mind of a canine. Wood and Gann are great in their respective roles, and their performance is certainly key to selling such a strange premise to viewers.

It had me thinking this weekend, though, about shows, perhaps even some of my favourites, that could best be described as altogether peculiar. I'm talking shows that are more than just quirky. I'm talking shows that regularly venture into the ludicrous.

Staying with Sunday nights for the moment, I think it would be fair to say Mad Men is starting to dabble in the eccentric - especially after the latest episode, in which most of the SCDPCGC* staff ended up high on some drug, resulting in Don hilariously over-talking, Ginsberg throwing a craft knife into Stan's arm, and Ken performing a tap dance routine.

The week before, with Don's uncharacteristic (not to mention demeaning) domination of Sylvia, was strange too. And all of this follows last season's Far Away Places, in which writer Matthew Weiner had a fiddle with the chronological order of events (telling three stories that took place in the same space of time), and Roger took LSD. Strange can be off-putting for viewers, but on Mad Men, with a writer like Weiner in control, it works.


Another of my favourite serial dramas worked because of its writer: Twin Peaks is one of the strangest shows I've ever watched. From David Lynch's writing, to Angelo Badalamenti's score, to Kyle MacLachlan's performance as Agent Cooper, Peaks was a show that took eerie and strange to new levels. No surprise, given Lynch's involvement.

The Mighty Boosh certainly qualifies as bizarre. The British comedy show - created by, written by, and starring Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding - was just insane at times, but a joy to behold. British comedy almost has a flair for the outlandish, to be honest. Shows like Boosh, Red Dwarf and The Young Ones are part of a tradition of weirdness that goes all the way back to Monty Python's Flying Circus. Maybe even earlier, if you count The Benny Hill Show.

Weird can work on a show where it is used to good effect - to subvert our expectations or to turn traditional format on its head, or even to tell part of a longer story. It doesn't always work; Killer Karaoke is a weird show, but get past the oddball challenges and you're left with another asinine singing competition. Warehouse 13 does its best to be strange, but too often falls into procedural pitfalls.

But in the right hands, like on those shows I've mentioned above, bizarre can be riveting to watch.

So what are some of your favourite strange shows? Any obvious ones that I've missed? And what do you make of Wilfred and/or Mad Men's latest episode?

(*) SCDPCGC is what I'm calling the firm until Matt Weiner tells me otherwise.

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