As the medical pot debate rages across the nation, it's no surprise that this week marks the debut of another national, weed-laced TV sitcom. But what may be surprising is how, unlike Weeds, this one appears to be both funny and accurate, and capable of furthering the nation's discussion of the topic.
The Lord of the Rings' blockbuster celeb Elijah Wood stars in the new medical marijuana-friendly Wilfred, premiering on the cable network FX on Thursday, June 23 at 10 p.m. According to Cheryl Shuman, the medical cannabis consultant to the show, Wilfred marks a new milestone in the rebranding of the movement. "The big thing Wilfred does is establish credibility," Shuman said, "and show how far we've come that a studio's willing to pay to make sure that depictions of medical marijuana are authentic."
In Wilfred, written and produced by Family Guy's David Zuckerman, Elijah Wood plays Ryan, a suicidal young man and medical pot patient whose life is saved by a surprise friendship with a talking dog. To everyone else, Wilfred, played by Jason Gann, looks like a lapdog, but to Wood, Wilfred is a six-foot-tall, 200-pound dude in a dog costume who smokes weed recreationally.
Ryan smokes pot for depression and some other emotional issues, and Wilfred features a replica of a Los Angeles medical cannabis dispensary, accurate down to the Bhang chocolate bars — award-winning edibles manufactured in Oakland. It's the pinnacle of medical marijuana product placement to date, Shuman said.
"The character of Ryan is a true medical marijuana patient in the script," Shuman continued. "He's had emotional issues and depression issues. We had quite a few discussions about it and [Wood] did tell me he felt absolutely supportive of patients' rights and didn't understand why there were the issues that there were."
Shuman is a twenty-year veteran of Hollywood, a cancer survivor, and a medical cannabis patient who is on a mission as the director of celebrity, media, and public relations at Kush Magazine to rebrand the movement's image. She said she got to review scripts from Wilfred and sometimes correct mischaracterizations. In one scene, the script called for a dispensary budtender to say something along the lines of "We all know medical marijuana's a crock of shit anyway." Shuman said she had to threaten to pull every authentic product from Wilfred's dispensary set. After a battle with the show's writers, the director took it out.
The show's still controversial, though. Wilfred refers to women as "bitches" in one scene, in keeping with edgy, weird programming like FX's hit It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. "I think it's funny; it's outrageously funny," Shuman said. "It's that guilty pleasure when you laugh at something you shouldn't laugh at but you can't help laugh at, and your stomach's hurting because you're laughing so hard."
It took a big producer like Zuckerman to convince superstar Elijah Wood to come aboard, Shuman said. Wood had no problem representing a medical marijuana user, even though associating with the drug remains taboo, even in Hollywood. "The show itself is owned by the FX network which is owned by Fox, who has not always been known to be so friendly toward our people," Shuman noted. "There is a good 75 percent of the creative community, including actors, producers, directors, etc., who are closeted cannabis consumers. I know that easily because I work with those people."
Shuman didn't comment on any drug use by Elijah Wood, though Frodo would qualify under the "chronic pain" designation for the wound he sustained at the hands of the Nazgul and that big spider. "I have to say he's one of the genuinely nicest, most kind people that I've ever met," she said. "He threw a wrap party at his expense at his house. He sat down and had lunch with the crew just like a regular guy. He is fabulous."
With its bawdy humor, Wilfred might not be a flagship for the medical marijuana movement, but "what Wilfred does is push the topic of conversation onto our dinner tables and to our water coolers," she said. "Obviously people know we're not promoting a dog smoking pot," she continued. "No matter how torn you are, how revved up you are, or political you are, everyone can use a laugh, and when you're dealing with people, it's much easier to open the dialogue from a laughter standpoint."