In “Wolf Like Me,” Josh Gad plays Gary, a widowed father, struggling to raise his troubled 11-year-old daughter Emma (Ariel Donoghue). When Mary (Isla Fisher) literally crashes into their lives, Gary’s astounded to see how quickly Mary can reach his anxiety-riddled kid. Soon an emotional love affair takes off. But, Mary can’t escape into the fantasy family because she’s carrying around a potentially deadly secret that the six-episode show’s title hints at. But no matter how fast or far Mary runs, the universe keeps shoving Gary into her path.
Abe Forsythe, best known for writing “Little Monsters,” a charming 2019 movie that imagines zombies threatening a kindergarten class, brings werewolves to the classic rom-com in “Wolf Like Me,” whose six half-hour episodes all drop on Peacock on January 13. Forsythe’s writing brings out the best in Gad. Usually relegated to over-the-top caricature, a role he’s performed well over the years, Gad here stretches his wholesomeness to showcase a range of pain, confusion and anger. Fisher shines here as well. It’s been over a decade since her fabulous turn as Rebecca Bloomwood in “Confessions of a Shopaholic.” But Fisher’s always possessed the talent of a leading lady in projects like “The Great Gatsby” and “Arrested Development.” Here, she plays up a tender heart hiding behind wall of quick-witted jokes.
Donoghue, as the suicidal and depressed Emma, proves an impressive talent to watch. Holding her own with veterans in a subdued role would be a challenge for any actor. She flashes a sliver of hope waiting for Gary to be honest about his feelings, and her panic attacks are frighteningly authentic.
As an advice columnist, Mary attempts to understand both Gary and herself through her practice. Instead of responding to letters sent to her, Mary writes letters based on her own life experiences under the signature M. In voiceover, she removes the specific details of her struggle to connect with Gary and writes a broader letter that might be about anyone with a secret they fear will be discovered. Her columnist handle is Adelaide, named for the town she hoped would provide answers to her dangerous predicament.
As Adelaide, she waxes about the rewards of confiding in a person who wants to love her. She recites one of these letters impromptu as Gary first spills his heart out to her. This is the place they both first share the cracks in their veneer. Throughout the series, the phrase “that’s how the light gets in,” appears just as characters throw up walls. The series opens with the quote from Groucho Marx, “Celebrate the crack in life, because that’s how the light gets in.” Cut to poor Gary getting dumped after three months for not being able to open up emotionally. Later, Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” expresses the same thought beautifully when Molly fails to trust her feelings for Gary. Cohen croons the lyrics, “Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering, There is a crack, a crack in everything, That’s how the light gets in.”
The show maintains a similar tongue-in-cheek tone throughout. When Gary’s daughter attempts suicide, her aunt brings her a stuffed wolf as a guardian angel of sorts. Gary, who wears a poorly constructed mask of happy parenthood, spends the first two episodes literally running after Mary, in an attempt to hold on to the comfort and ease she so suddenly brought to his life. When Gary discovers her secret, Mary packs a go-bag in a hurry and bolts right past an image of Zeus in swan form attacking Leda. This image creates a personification of Mary’s fear of hurting Gary.
Traditionally, werewolves were used to make sense of the unexplainable. Gruesome deaths deep in the dark forest heaped on men tragically turned into toothy beasts at the behest of the full moon. Tragic for everyone involved and impossible to catch, the people believed lycanthropy was a witch’s curse. Forsythe modernizes the myth. There is no witch. The universe, a delightfully present character throughout the series, isn’t punishing Mary. Instead, any character inflicted with pain is tasked only with healing the wound and trusting oneself.
“Wolf Like Me” is about the secrets humans carry deep within, the kinds that sneak up on us mid-conversation; humiliation so painful it’s hidden even from the person tortured into withholding it. These secrets and fears cause the carrier to think of themself as a monster, and though the show does deal with werewolves, “Wolf Like Me” isn’t interested in monsters. It’s simply dealing with the painful truth that vulnerability, one of the most painful human experiences, is the glue that binds us.
Like “Little Monsters,” “Wolf Like Me” tends to linger too long. Perhaps the blame goes to Forsythe for trying to give his performers space to emote, but nearly a minute and a half of reaction shots expressing a foregone conclusion can be wearying. Gad and Fisher possess wholesome chemistry that makes the heart swell. It’s a lovely exploration of the human journey to accept and love our inner monsters.
“Wolf Like Me” begins streaming on Peacock on January 13.