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"Discontent is the first necessity of progress." Thomas Edison
Last night Wilfred returned for its second season. Well, sort of. The series, created by Jason Gann, Adam Zwar and Tony Rogers, adapted from their Australian series of the same name and developed for American television by David Zuckerman, actually kicked things off with a 'Special Preview Episode' called "Progress." But let's be clear, besides calling it a 'preview,' the episode is essentially the Season 2 premiere, airing in its normal time slot, and this is going to be a standard recap. That means the episode will be discussed in detail, with potential spoilers, just like all of the installments that will follow and make up Season 2 proper. Thanks for making that so confusing FX! Now. Back to the business at hand. Doggie business.
For those of you who didn't watch the first season of the wonderful new series from FX, Wilfred is about a sick young man named Ryan (played by Elijah Wood) who, fed up with his job and the man he has become, decides to take his own life. Only, the suicide doesn't take and the next day he meets his beautiful neighbor's dog and he's the only one who seems to see Wilfred (Jason Gann) as a man in a dog suit. Over the course of the season, in many ways he became Ryan's power animal and in many more, a source of trouble. Is Ryan insane? Hm. Either way, it seems like forever since Ryan returned home at the end of the first season finale, "Identity," to find a coat closet in place of the basement where he and Wilfred spent all their time together. Oh, and of course, there was also that damn tennis ball. Quite a way to wrap up your debut season and leave fans salivating for the second.
"What do you think you are trying to tell yourself?"
On top of the top notch writing, it's the formal touches from director Randall Einhorn (who has been behind the camera for most of the show's American run) that really makes Wilfred stand out from the pack. I love the little things like the score being warped just a little as the introductory quote falls away and introduces Ryan, with the tennis ball, in the middle of what appears to be a dream. How the dream-reality dichotomy plays out is nothing short of brilliant but we'll get to that latter. For now, he's sitting in a boardroom, shot in a soft, shallow focus, with guest stars Steven Weber, Rob Riggle and Alison Mack. He seems to be in a trance before Mack slides him a note, telling him to wake up.
We now learn that Ryan is in a mental institution being treated by the week's big guest star Robin Williams as, well, Dr. Williams (?) and it's been four months since he last saw Wilfred. But that's about to change as his canine pal is coming for a visit, hopefully so Ryan can finally see Wilfred as he really is. You know, a dog. Only he doesn't. When Jenna and Wilfred roll up, the latter still a man in a dog suit, crippled from the car accident in "Identity" and it's pretty much same old, same old. What follows is an extended sequence between the dog and his man where a lot of the shows central questions are thrown around a little on the nose. Of course, there's a point to addressing Ryan's issues in such a direct manner cause we soon discover that not everything is as it seems with the episodes' structure.
"Let's start with an easy one. Why are you the only person who can hear me speak? Ryan, you're not..."
During the 'on the nose' exchange between Ryan and Wilfred there are still a few absolute gems that had me roaring with laughter, especially the line about getting high in a coat closet for three months with a dog. I mean, who hasn't been there? Ryan refuses to accept Wilfred's view of things and he, once again, runs away from the problem thanks to the aid of a tic-tac. Back in Dr. Williams care a lesson about Wilfred is once again reinforced: appearances can be deceiving and things that seem sweet and sunny are probably pretty sinister (which is why I trust Wilfred and Ryan's sister Kristen and have my doubts about Jenna). Williams' Doc doesn't seem to keen on questions, instead just wants to up the dosage on Ryan's meds.
And right when Ryan is starting to confess his Shutter Island suspicions to Wilfred during their next visit, the dog throws a wrench in the recovery by selfishly requesting that his human mate grab him booze as well as give him and Bear (Bear!) a ride to a concert. A concert they don't have an extra ticket for. Even Wilfred's heartfelt monologue about watching Matt Damon movies together - not to mention reinforcing that the dog-as-man's existence is dependant on Ryan - cannot sway his former best friend and instead, Ryan tries to prove Wilfred's faking his condition by taunting him with a game of frisbee. This act of cruelty quickly has him nabbed by whitecoats and sent back to see Dr. Williams in a scene ripe with pathetic fallacy. Again, it's rare a television comedy go to such theatrical and stylistic lengths but here it totally works.
"I just want to stay out of my head and live in the real world."
Unfortunately for Ryan, this time the turn to Dr. Williams results in the appearance of perhaps the most famous guest star of this past television season: electro-shock therapy! Man, that electro-shock therapy really gets around and this time it's going to be used as a nice reset button for Ryan so he can forget all about his doggy problems. After Good Will Hunting him (a great joke, but I wish they hadn't spelled it out), Dr. Williams is revealed to be the actual Robin Williams and, by golly, this is the dream world! Insert Lost post-title THUD! Good thing for Ryan that Kevin from The Office, sorry, Wilfred pulling a Mission Impossible saves his best buddy from the dream treatment just in time and they make a getaway in the 'hot-China'd' van with Bear behind the wheel.
So basically the show is as crazy as its lead character and not only is that fitting but I'm totally on board and loving every minute of it. Ryan's realization that the mental institution side of the ep is actually the dream world rockets him back to the boardroom where his odd interactions with his co-workers Weber, Riggle and Mack are soon explained. I especially like Mack rolling the ball back to him across the boardroom table right before he packs up his things and bolts. This is the man Ryan doesn't want to be, the cut-throat lawyer ("The Archaeologist") who was perfecting a suicide note when we first met him. It's a pretty big moment for him to walk out of that room and head to the coat closet. Some faith and a few swings of a baseball bat and we're back to smoking bongs in the basement. I think.
"You need to wake up, get down to that basement and read my will... Keep digging."
I was initially a little confused as to why FX would deem the installment a preview instead of the premiere (or really what the difference is between the two), especially since it now permanently hangs in that awkward ether of being either Episode 0 or 1 of the second season. But, after watching "Progress," I must admit it kind of works. Similar to the way Archer used a mini-series ("Heart of Archness") to bridge the gap between Seasons 2 and 3 and returns things to status quo, Wilfred is now back on solid episodic footing for the start of Season 2.
It's all a technicality but kind of a clever way to manipulate the schedule and release an awesome episode early for fans who have been chomping at the bit, or the bone, for the show's return. Their wait was certainly rewarded with a big treat (okay, done with the dog puns) as "Progress" was perhaps the most insane yet impeccably written, directed and acted episode of the series to date. I can't think of another comedy that uses form and style as heavily or effectively as Wilfred (maybe, Community) so saying the show is cinematic is an understatement. It's Lynchian. "Progress" was a fantastic way to kick off the new dog year and I can't wait for the first episode. Wilfred returns with Episode 1, "Letting Go," Thursday at 10 p.m. ET on FX.