June 21, 2013



WILFRED:  Thursday 10PM on FX

Thursday’s back-to-back double-episode Season 3 premiere of WILFRED provided a good picture of a show with, fittingly, a somewhat split personality, at times an existential, cosmic joke about the search for meaning in life and the nature of identity, and then again a rude comedy about a man’s friendship with an extremely inappropriate dog (or, if you prefer, an extremely inappropriate man in a dog suit).

Episode 1 (written by Executive Producers Reed Agnew and Eli Jorne, and directed by Randall Einhorn), picked up from last season’s finale and its teasing hints about the true nature of Wilfred (Jason Gann), a dog (?) seen only by aimless, occasionally suicidal Ryan (Elijah Wood) in a pot-smoking, coke-snorting, semi-human incarnation who does terrible things to a stuffed bear.  In that episode, Ryan unearthed a drawing he’d done as a child in which Wilfred was unaccountably peering out from behind a tree, even though it had been drawn many years before Wilfred could have been born.  Wilfred claimed to have done the drawing himself just to screw with Ryan, and since screwing with Ryan is one of Wilfred’s favorite pasttimes, Ryan accepted that.  In the premiere, though, Ryan found proof that he had drawn the picture himself 20 years ago, and that led to some rumination about whether Wilfred was a figment of Ryan’s imagination (Ryan’s view) or a magical being who’s lived forever (Wilfred’s theory).  As Wilfred claimed newly recaptured memories of his past existences with troglodytes and such, this took them to the house where Wilfred was apparently raised as a puppy.  There they met his literal clone (also played by Gann, who won’t give Tatiana Maslany any nightmares in the clone department), the self-described Lord of Shropshire aka “Stinky,” who’d been left all his owner’s great fortune and who lived in luxury with a caretaker (The Office‘s Angela Kinsey) who served his every need (his elevated description of his Dog Chow was priceless)–when she wasn’t abusing Stinky by taking photos of him in superhero garb.  Soon enough Stinky and Wilfred were indulging in illicit substances and what appeared to be stuffed-giraffe lesbian sex, and there was, as usual, no solution to the mystery of Wilfred’s existence.

The second half-hour (written by Story Editors Brett Konner and Cody Heller, and also directed by Einhorn) had Wilfred discovering religion, thanks to Ryan’s fumbling attempt to explain death and the afterlife to his pal and subsequent visitations by burglars taken by Wilfred to be Jesus and God.  This messed with Ryan’s attempt to befriend the local mailman (Happy Endings’ Zachary Knighton), who the newly-saved Wilfred believed to be a Satanist because he had a old pentagram tattoo.  And although Ryan’s lovelorn affection for Wilfred’s putative owner Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann) are now in the background of the show, she having married dopey Drew (Chris Klein), the pair made a return appearance to register that Ryan still has feelings for her.

Wilfred tends to draw more snickers than laugh-out-loud hilarity, repeating the same general beats of Wilfred blandly committing dreadful acts while alternately making Ryan freak out and soothing him, but at its best it can resemble a mix of Samuel Beckett’s idea of a sitcom and Judd Apatow’s of a children’s show.  Gann and Wood make a fine existential pair, Hope and Crosby on The Road To Nowhere, and the show can always be counted on for high-grade guest stars.

The series fits well with FX’s strain of experimental comedy, and since it has no intention of resolving its central puzzle, which would end the fun, it could seemingly go on indefinitely (FX has announced that while other of its comedies like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia will move to its new affiliated outlet FXX in the fall, Wilfred is one that will stay at home base), but that’s only if the ratings permit.  Last night’s premiere scored an ominous 0.3 in both its half-hours, and although that may be due to having Game 7 of the NBA Finals as competition, if the numbers don’t improve, Wilfred might find that his new knowledge about death and the hereafter has come just in time.  (The show seems to be produced for around the cost of a high-class YouTube video, though, which may help.)  At least for this summer, we have Ryan and Wilfred to take us collectively with them on their very weird walks around the unconscious and the inexplicable.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."