Dating is hard. Trying to date as a single parent? Even moreso. Or how about trying to date when you're harboring a very complicated secret the likes of which could prove dangerous — or deadly — to anyone you let down your guard enough to get close to? Those are the biggest dilemmas posed over the course of the dramedy series Wolf Like Me, which premieres on Peacock in its entirety this week and revolves around two people, a widower and a woman with a mysterious past, who are convinced they're unlovable for various reasons only to find acceptance at a time when they least expect to. It's a story concept that could potentially give itself over to rom-com hijinks or even thriller vibes; instead, Wolf Like Me puts a much bigger focus on the emotionally resonant moments between its leads (played by Josh Gad and Isla Fisher), which all contributes to a more subdued and pensive take on loss, grief, and acceptance — culminating in the establishment of a new type of family for everyone involved.
Gad, who previously worked with series director and writer Abe Forsythe on 2019's Little Monsters, gets even more of an opportunity to exercise his dramatic chops in the role of Gary, a man who lost his wife to cancer years ago and has been raising their daughter Emma (Ariel Donoghue) solo ever since in Adelaide, Australia. When a seemingly chance car accident leads to father and daughter crossing paths with the free-spirited Mary (Fisher, surprisingly not using her native accent in spite of the setting), it's clear that the two adults have a connection, and that Mary also has a way of getting through to the anxiety-riddled Emma like few other grown-ups have proven able to. It wouldn't be inaccurate to refer to the show as a romance, albeit a romance between two people with lots of hurt and pain in their past — but the real crux of the series feels wrapped up in how the three establish a new pack, if you will.
It's difficult to adequately review Wolf Like Me without talking about what feels like one of its most important plot elements — if you've seen any of the trailers, you're well-aware that Mary carries a pretty big skeleton in her closet and it's that which is revealed fairly early into the show's six-episode span, but if you've pieced together all the clues it likely won't play as a bombshell moment. As Mary fully divulges the truth of her circumstances to Gary after a harrowing night — one that everyone mistakenly believes they spent together having sex — there's a not-so-subtle reference to one of the most classic horror movies of all time woven into her particular origin story, one that blends a wink of humor with seriousness when she also confesses that she's faced big loss in her life. Mary's most deeply-rooted fear, more than anything else, is that she'll hurt the people she cares about the most — but Gary, after having a very realistic and human reaction in response to this new revelation, eventually does come around to the place of embracing what makes his potential new girlfriend different than most. The only dilemma after that, however, becomes how to turn around and broach the news to Emma about who they might be bringing into their lives.
The debate surrounding release formats has roared to the forefront over the last several years in terms of discussing the method of how certain stories are delivered to the audience. When David Lynch returned to the world of Twin Peaks, there were about as many people discussing whether the long-awaited revival series should have actually been a feature film as there were dissecting callbacks and Easter eggs. As someone who has made the leap into primarily writing about television within the past year or so after being a lifelong viewer, it's also been fascinating to observe the ways in which shows are offered up to us — whether in smaller portions that leave us hungry for more, or all at once so we can cram ourselves full without having to wait in between. Setting aside consuming metaphors, there are particular series that really do hearken back to the experience of watching films — if said films were divvied out into smaller sections with act breaks in between. Going through Wolf Like Me's season, which clocks in at six episodes consisting of 20 minutes apiece, I couldn't help but wonder if this story had originally been intended for a different format; it tells a complete and straightforward arc without overly relying on narrative twists and turns, and if the credits between each installment were plucked out there'd be an unmistakable throughline.
Apart from its curious, feature-feeling structure, however, Wolf Like Me is a series that works because of its casting — Gad and Fisher know how to navigate the tightrope between scenes of escalating comedy and poignant emotion, and do both expertly — and it also deals in much heavier themes than might be obvious from the outside looking in. Viewers looking for a frothy, diverting rom-com will probably need to scroll on past, but as for those who find themselves curious enough about the premise to give this one a shot... well, there are much less entertaining ways to spend an afternoon than by mainlining this show. Held up next to others of its kind, Wolf Like Me may not do enough to cement itself in memory, but it's an unexpectedly heartfelt tale about a person overcoming the inherent fear of rejection and loss in order to try for love, and what happens when someone with those same fears is willing to reach out and meet them halfway.
All six episodes of Wolf Like Me are available to stream January 13 exclusively on Peacock.
She also talks about her upcoming TV series 'Wolf Like Me' and the fun of getting to work with Josh Gad.
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