June 26, 2014

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “Wilfred”


WILFRED:  Wednesday 10PM on FXX

WILFRED, that metaphysical, existential compendium of stoner, fart and dick jokes, is going for its last walk, relocated to the FXX network for a shortened 4th and final season.  The producers claim that fundamental questions will be answered about the show’s central mysteries:  the nature of Wilfred’s (Jason Gann, also the show’s co-creator with Adam Zwar) existence as a mere neighbor’s dog, a god, alien and/or whatever, and the real or hallucinated ability of possibly insane human Ryan (Elijah Wood) to see and communicate with him as a mischievous, unstable, raunchy pothead in a dog suit.  The prospect of genuine resolution seems about as likely as Damon Lindelof ever satisfyingly explaining the mysteries of one of his shows, however, as Wilfred has always prided itself on pulling the rug out from under Ryan and viewers whenever it seemed like something was actually being revealed.

That was again evident in the first of last night’s back-to-back season premiere episodes.  Written by Executive Producers Reed Agnew and Eli Jorne, and directed, like the night’s second episode (and most episodes to date) by Randall Einhorn, it followed on, reversed, then reinstated the events of the Season 3 finale.  The death of Ryan’s father (James Remar), Ryan’s discovery of a mysterious statue of a dog/human, and Wilfred’s betrayal of Ryan to a trio of other guys in dog suits turned out to be part of Ryan’s dream/hallucination after he fell down a flight of stairs–until most of it happened again.  Premonition, coincidence or something more sinister?  Wilfred tends to be responsible for the awful things that happen on the show, and once it was mentioned that he was using Ryan’s e-mail address, it was inevitable that a message Wilfred sent Ryan’s dad would be what led to his death.  The episode also introduced a new clue and/or red herring, a mysterious cult that Ryan’s father and his legal partner (Harriet Sansom Harris) were involved with called The Flock of the Grey Shepherd.

The night’s follow-up episode,written by Supervising Producer David Baldy, kept Ryan on the trail–literally, the hiking trail–of The Flock, in particular of a location in an old photo he’d found in his father’s files.  More importantly for the series, though, the half-hour appeared to get rid of Drew (Chris Klein), the husband of Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann), Wilfred’s owner and Ryan’s true love, thus removing the main obstacle (apart from Wilfred himself) to their romance–although Jenna was going after Drew at the end of the episode, it seemed unlikely they’d be getting back together.  Naturally, this was all engineered by Wilfred, and in a characteristically brutal way–first by upsetting a swarm of bees that provoked a panicky Ryan to accidentally push Drew off a ledge, then by leading Ryan to a site (Ryan’s eyes were swollen shut by bee-stings) where Drew would overhear Ryan saying that Jenna had recently kissed him.  Was Wilfred truly trying to bring his owner and best friend together, or does he have something more cunning in mind?  With his record as a trickster, one imagines the latter.

The two episodes together suggest that this final season will concentrate more on the cosmic mysteries of Wilfred than the day-to-day disreputable buddy comedy of Ryan and his furry friend, and that’s too bad, because its puzzles about reality and existence have never been as much fun as the simple pleasures of watching Gann act vaguely dog-like in his ragged suit.  The show’s enigmas straddle the fence between satire and straight-faced brainteaser, and sometimes it takes itself too seriously in that mode.

Wilfred‘s ratings have never been strong–and will almost certainly be lower on FXX–and the surprise is that it’s stayed on the air as long as it has.  (Its clearly tiny budget must have helped.)  However Wilfred solves (or “solves”) its riddles, its strength has always been the quirkfest of the relationship between Wilfred and Ryan, at once exhilarating, suspicious, and disturbing.  Wood and Gann have committed themselves completely to the weirdness, and whether their characters turn out to be gods, men, canines or something in between, they’ve earned Wilfred a parting scratch on the belly.




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."