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A barking comedy

I'D BEEN meaning to review Wilfred since it started two weeks ago but other things kept getting in the way: like programmes that were potentially more substantial and serious, or programmes that were on earlier in the evening -- 9pm, rather than 10.30pm, which is when Wilfred goes out and is quite late if you have to get up extra-early.

Or simply programmes that weren't on BBC3, which generally doesn't offer a lot to interest or engage anyone under 25.

But finally, and with nothing else to distract us, here's Wilfred.

The first thing to say is that it's odd. Sometimes it's amusing, too. But mostly it's just odd. Very, very, very odd.

Wilfred, remade for the American market from a successful Australian series, is a dark and surreal comedy about one man -- depressed, suicidal Ryan, played by doll-eyed Elijah Wood -- and his dog.

Actually, one man and his girlfriend's dog, which Ryan is minding while she's away.

Everyone else in the series sees Wilfred as just a dog. Ryan, however, sees him as an Australian bloke in a silly dog suit, played by the series' co-creator Jason Gann, who was Wilfred in the original version as well.

Even by dog standards, Wilfred is pretty disgusting, urinating in the wrong places, eating Ryan's food and spitting it out when he doesn't like it, and rubbing his bum against every soft furnishing in the house.

Crucially, Wilfred does startlingly non-doggy things, like drinking beer, playing the electric guitar, smoking a bong, and generally hanging out with Ryan and giving him life advice.

Sometimes Wilfred screws Ryan around, such as when he tells him the man running the doggy day care centre he'd dumped him in for the morning was making him do unspeakable, pervy things involving peanut butter (use your sick imaginations).

Wilfred is plainly a metaphor for Ryan's nervous breakdown but one that comes with some clever, funny lines.

When Ryan scolds Wilfred for making an offensive remark about Asians and tells him not to be racist, Wilfred snaps back: "How can I be racist? I'm incapable of seeing colour."

But the funniness and cleverness are continually outstripped by the oddness, which seems to be there to disguise the fact that, for all the surreal touches, there's really a lot less going on than meets the eye.

The original was a smash in Australia (but then so was The Paul Hogan Show) and the remake has received very good reviews in the US. But Wilfred strikes me as a series that's easier to be seen to like than to actually like, for fear of not "getting it".

I get Wilfred; frankly, there's not a lot to not get. I just don't think it's all that funny.

For the weak of stomach, the hardest part of Inside Nature's Giants is watching the animal being dissected, guts spilling all over the place. However, the most upsetting sight in last night's edition, about how camels in Australia cope with life in the parched landscape, was seeing a marksman shoot one through the head.

Camels, explained Richard Dawkins, were introduced to Australia in the 19th century but took to the environment so readily that they swiftly became a threat to indigenous wildlife and have to be legally culled to keep their numbers down.

They're evolutionary marvels. The iconic hump, a mass of fatty tissue, both absorbs the intense heat and protects their internal organs from being cooked. Their long, springy, energy-conserving legs and shock-absorber toes mean they can cover vast distances. And, of course, their capacity to consume and store water is legendary -- although it has nothing to do with the hump.

Most remarkable of all is the cooling system in their heads which chills the blood as it enters the brain, preventing it from broiling.

I was also intrigued to learn that camels, which have backward-pointing penises, mate sitting down.

I bet Wilfred couldn't manage that.

wilfred HHIII inside nature's giants HHHHI