“Discontent is the first necessity of progress.” – Thomas Edison
Progress should be something we are all familiar with. Whether it’s on an emotional level or otherwise – medical, social, professional, mental, pretty much anything really – progress is something we as a race keep track of without even really thinking about it. Some of us make it our jobs to keep track of how things progress in our given field. Before even watching the premiere of Wilfred’s second season, I was wondering how this bizarre little comedy had evolved in its time off. It seemed very appropriate the theme of the first episode back from hiatus would be about progress. The first season was filled with a lot of laughs courtesy of some terrifically implemented dark humor and Jason Gann’s unbeatable performance as Wilfred, the man in a dog suit. However, there were several episodes that didn’t match up to that level of creative deviancy. When you reach a certain level of dark surrealistic humor you start to expect it every week, but Wilfred didn’t seem like it was ready to commit to what it did best, often succumbing to more a sitcommy vibe.
But then the first season finale, “Identity,” seemed to be the turning point. In my review of that episode, I suggested Wilfred was trying to be the Lost of sitcoms. It was building this weird mythology around Wilfred and Ryan, complete with mysteries that needed answering. For a half-hour comedy it was a bold move and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a permanent decision. The more strange you become, the more likely you are to alienate your audience. Yet when “Progress” aired, it jumped right back into the deep end of the surreal world it wanted to create. Ryan is getting psychiatric care – from Robin Williams no less – to help him come to terms with the fact he’s been sitting in a closet with a dog for three months, but he’s plagued by dreams of working in a boring, life-crushing office. And he still sees a man in a dog suit.
Thankfully, the strangeness never feels like it’s overpowering the show. It’s used at the appropriate times to bring about the desired effect, for comedy and revelatory moments. It doesn’t get much funnier than Ryan burning a cigarette into Wilfred’s leg to try and prove he’s not paralyzed. It’s twisted in the most perfect way. And as Ryan’s time in the institute carries on, we begin to understand the weird things that are happening are actually strong hints that Ryan has had things backwards the entire time. The boring office dream is reality; getting help from Robin Williams is the dream. And who’s the one to help him realize this? Wilfred, of course! Even in Ryan’s dreams, Wilfred is there to help Ryan learn the truth about life in the most unorthodox ways possible. And why shouldn’t this be the case? If Wilfred is just a part of Ryan’s mind, he can never truly be gone.
This says a lot about Ryan and his progress from last season to the start of this new one. He created Wilfred out of a necessity, which was he needed someone to pull him out of his funk and make him a new person. But he didn’t at all trust Wilfred. How can you trust something you know is a figment of your imagination? It’s a constant reminder that you’re not completely sane. At times Ryan has been quite opposed to accepting help from Wilfred. Yet, here is, receding deeper into his own mind. It’s hard to say if this is really progress or the lack of it, but Ryan has definitely sunk further into his insanity. He subconsciously prefers living a life with Wilfred than one without.
By showing the length this show is willing to go, Wilfred takes a huge step forward. If it continues to commit to this path it started down last season, it will find itself becoming an unstoppable force for comedy. FX has a great show here, and it’s a wise enough network to know when to let a non-traditional comedy off the leash to really find itself. It did it for Louis. I just hope the same treatment is given to Wilfred.