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"The thing that lies at the foundation of position change is service to a fellow human being." Lee Iacocca
Same as a lot of non-network comedy series, FX's Wilfred runs a shorter, 13-episode season and, since it started its second with a special preview, there are actually only four installments of the comedy left after last night. The previous two, "Avoidance" and "Truth," made it look like Wilfred was not only back on track by being more and more off the wall but it was also appropriately ramping up for the end of the year. Then the tease for "Service" showed Mary Steenburgen back as Ryan's mother Catherine and it seemed like things were only going to continue to get crazier and even more complicated for our leading dog and his man. Remember, Steenburgen's appearance in "Compassion" (Season 1, Episode 9), besides opening up the world, showed that Ryan's problems have deep seeded roots in the Newman family, meaning this thing with Wilfred isn't going be an easy fix.
"I don't want to cast a darker shadow on an already tragic day but I think someone may have eaten part of Jeremy's brains."
Oh, and about Catherine, well, I said it once before but it bears repeating meow, uh, now. "Service" opened back in Ryan's office and even though we get some Rob Riggle and Steven Weber, Allison Mack's Amanda isn't present for the meeting. She must be embarrassed by all the tapping and scrapping. Wilfred manages to shimmy his way in just in time to discuss The Bachelorette before Weber's boss begins his big speech That story about his 'Peepaw' trapped in a mine for 15 days only to climb out and own it was some inspirational shit! Jeremy 'calling the wife,' however, was a little less inspiring. And by 'calling the wife,' I mean shooting himself in the face. Dude. This abrupt transition (and disposal of what once seemed like a key Season 2 setting) sends an underwear wearing Ryan to the basement and bong without Wilfred who only rolls in mid depression session.
"Yeah, and judging by the rigidity of your load sock, you've been taking care of yourself quite a bit."
Kristen calls just before Wilfred comes bounding in and she's hoping Ryan might have it in himself to get out of the house and help her with this whole pregnancy thing since he already forgot about that day's checkup thing. She may be a bitch but it's not too much to ask for your brother to show up on delivery day. Besides, sometimes you have to get out and do some good in the world, like maul a black teen in hopes of inspiring him to be the next Seal. Wilfred isn't able to move Ryan from the basement cut a phone call from Mom has them, and Kristen, rushing over to the mental institution to visit. Oh, Mittens. You were so... Rhea Perlman. Wilfred's doing his best to console their mom, as long as she lets his paw stay on top, and soon she's thinking of other things besides the dead cat. Like if her grandchild will be mulatto? Or if Kristen is still black love exclusive? And then Ryan has the genius idea of insinuating that Catherine might actually be able to help with the baby.
"Ryan, I know the timing couldn't possibly get any worse but I think someone may have dug up Mittens and eaten part of the corpse."
After all, most of Mitten's kittens lived. Too bad the doctor at the mental institution doesn't think it's such a good plan. In fact, I think his (great guest star John Michael Higgins) words were terrible and managed care. And then raped. Hah... hm. He does manage to pass Ryan the information for a good therapist, something that should probably come into play in the near future. Ryan doesn't have the heart to tell his mother that she's a nut job and instead, while looking over some old photos of him painting, the gift she gave him, they start spitballing about running away and being free. Wilfred tries to tell his friend how crazy the trip sounds but he's a sucker when it comes to dangling keys. Shotgun! The dog bits are always welcome since Gann pulls them off effortlessly and "Service" ends up having a few more than most episodes. Just the next sequence finds the pooch enjoying the wind with the top down and then testing his perfect balance against the physical force of the car.
"There's still turds in it! Dibs! What the hell dude, I called dibs!?"
The road trip does off an interesting alternate perspective on a dog's enjoyment of car rides, namely, they don't like them. Of at least Wilfred doesn't which could just be the result of it messing with his schedule and I'm not going to lie, that sunspot nap sounds pretty sweet. Soon the Newmans start reminiscing about previous long rides together and Catherine has a little brain-toot, calling Ryan by her ex-husband's name. That won't be the last time that he's called Henry this week, continuing to build up the still unseen negative influence on seemingly the entire family. It has to happen this season right? Anyway, Wilfred tries to get Ryan to stop pretending that hitting the road is all for his mom's benefit but it's hard to take his advice to heart because he despises car rides and just wants to return home. And it's Wilfred. This time though, he may have a point since Kristen's call prompts Ryan to go hunting for her meds, only to find a purse full of kitty litter. Gann's delivery of the 'turds' line is hilarious.
"I'm not Snickers, you crazy bitch! Henry! HELP!"
Actually, and I don't say this enough, but Gann had a really fantastic episode overall even if "Service" itself was not entirely satisfying. He manages to make the most of the stand-still story and add whatever laughs there are to be found. Ryan can't convince his mom to turn back but luckily they are pulled over. Or unluckily since there's a bag of stolen apples under the seat, not to mention the hot pen she's got in her hand. However, it might have been the whole hit and run thing that really exacerbated the situation but it's Victorville Stilts Shop or bust! Wilfred also says his full name (the first of two times) but for the life of me I couldn't understand what Jason Gann was saying. Wilfred Fozzie Imula? Ryan knows they're in big trouble now, even though Catherine's enjoying the hell out of her first run in with the man in 38 years. How Thelma & Louise. With a dog. Anyway, after being called Henry another time, she's finally convinced to pull over and let him take the wheel. He thought to himself, as she speeds away.
"Listen. I hate to be a 'Debbie Downer,' especially in the midst of all this joy, but I think someone may have eaten Kristen's placenta."
Kristen arrives to help track down their missing, mentally unstable mom and once his sister's done giving Ryan a good bit of shit, he spots a sign that should lead them directly to her. Free kittens. How sad. Like mother, like son, all Catherine can think of is a wacky way out of her crazy life in order to stop being a burden on everybody. The baby decides this depressing moment is the perfect time to interrupt and, even though Kristen would rather not have it in a hick's backyard, it begins to exit Ryan's sister slop hole. After a pep-talk from his pup, he finally gets out and does some good the world, becoming an uncle and convincing his mother that she really does need that managed care. All of Gann's bloody mouth moment were gross but his delivery on this last was especially disgusting. I almost threw up. Fittingly, the episode ends with (institutionalized) mother and (rejuvenated) son painting a lovely portrait of... Rhea Perlman. The basement tag was a brief dog gag with Wilfred having a Hilary Swankmare and running in his sleep.
"Ryan, it was so real..."
Somehow, even though "Service" contained a lot of events, the episode didn't feel all that eventful. Ryan lost his job, became an uncle and helped his mother through (a downplayed but surely) devastating time. The episode certainly didn't feel as inventive, original or outside the, uh, litter box as Wilfred is at its best like it was last week ("Truth"). And the fact that "Service" was scheduled late in the season and contained a guest star with a lot of potential, the fact that it was a such conservative installment only makes the it all the more disappointing. It stalled the rising action and all the crazy momentum that had been in created the previous few episodes, making it feel a little like filler instead of an integral piece of the second season puzzle. It was nice for the pressure to be off of Ryan (and Wilfred) a little, with his needs taking a back seat to his family members with their problems forcing him out of the funk. But it's too late to be tame. We're past tame and "Service" felt like treading water.
Wilfred needs to stop playing it safe not because the end of the season is nigh but simply since the show's at its best with all and any reservation put way in the rearview. It's time for Henry and he better be good. Like Bill Murray good. I'll take Ted Danson. What? There's a strong Cheers vibe already. Wilfred returns with Episode 9, "Honesty," next Thursday at 10 p.m. ET on FX.