Wolf Like Me has all the earmarks of a streaming success story. The Peacock series eagerly toys with genre, combining romance with dark comedy and elements of supernatural science-fiction. It gives Josh Gad and Isla Fisher, actors best known for their work in musicals and comedies, storylines with real emotional depth, subverting the audience’s expectations right off the bat. And it wraps up its story in just six, 30-minute episodes, ensuring that viewers can binge-watch it in one sitting, should they so choose.
But even with so much going for it, Wolf Like Me struggles to get off the ground. Creator Abe Forsythe, best known for 2019 zombie comedy Little Monsters, is working off a strong premise, but the series’ shifting tone and a weak script prevent it from moving beyond its central idea.
Wolf Like Me stars Gad as Gary, a single father struggling to provide for his 11-year-old daughter since the death of his wife. Gary’s wife died seven years prior, but the wound is as fresh as ever: rather than grieve and move forward, Gary has put all of his energy into his daughter, closing himself off from the outside world. The American expat is resigned to his lonely life in Adelaide until he meets Mary (Fisher), the enigmatic woman who runs a red light and smashes into his car at an intersection.
Gary and Mary immediately hit it off, but Mary’s emotional baggage — namely, a deadly secret she’s been running from for years — prevents her from getting too close. The two continue to alternately run into (quite literally: these characters need to have their driver’s licenses suspended) and avoid each other, until the dam finally breaks, and Mary is forced to reveal her true self to Gary. After years of wading through grief, Gary is forced to make a decision: should he open himself up to love, or continue to avoid vulnerability altogether, for fear of getting hurt?
Gary’s predicament is far from novel when it comes to on-screen romance, but, without spoiling too much, Mary’s identity gives Wolf Like Me a fresh way to approach this kind of cost-benefit analysis. However, the Peacock series takes entirely too long to get to that point. Mary’s secret isn’t revealed until the end of Episode 2 (at which point the show is already one-third complete), and Gary spends the next two episodes waffling over what to do, contributing to the sense that Forsythe, who wrote and directed all six parts, is merely spinning his wheels until the real drama begins. The poor plotting continues throughout the remaining two episodes, which escalate the stakes in a way that feels like the beginning of Mary and Gary’s story, rather than its end point.
Beyond its bizarre pacing, Wolf Like Me struggles to find a singular tone. Mary is an advice columnist, and most of the episodes feature a heavy-handed “Dear Adelaide” monologue that sums up what we’re seeing on screen in flowery therapy-speak. These high falutin moments are clearly supposed to be taken seriously, but that becomes difficult when the show immediately cuts to a scene of Gary driving into the window of an Italian restaurant, as a discordant mandolin slowly fades out. As if the shifts between comedy and drama weren’t jarring enough, Wolf Like Me adds classic romance tropes into the mix, like a sudden onslaught of rain or the gold-toned montages meant to signify happy days. This amalgamation of styles might have worked with more time to develop, but when jammed into just six episodes, it creates a sense of chaos too great to overcome.
While their efforts are largely futile, Fisher and Gad do their best to get Wolf Like Me back on track. The two have a natural chemistry, and viewers are never left doubting why these two damaged people would be attracted to one another. Fisher is particularly fun to watch in the first half of the season, when she’s able to put her physical comedy skills to good use as her character evades questions about her identity and background (the first episode ends with a three-minute sequence of Mary running through town, causing various traffic accidents and general mayhem). For his part, Gad’s performance, while initially tentative, improves over the course of six episodes, especially once the show embraces Mary’s secret and shifts into somewhat lighter territory.
All told, it’s difficult to recommend Wolf Like Me outright, but there is a silver lining for the Peacock series: the final two episodes expertly set up a potential second season. The question is, will Wolf Like Me live long enough to tell the story that should’ve been told in the first place?
All six episodes of Wolf Like Me stream Thursday, January 13 on Peacock.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the TV Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.