“Uncertainty” is an apt title for the season-three premiere of Wilfred, as the series, now more than ever, seems to be piling on the beguiling theories and revelations revolving around the titular foul-mouthed canine’s true identity. The end of last season revealed that Ryan (Elijah Wood) had drawn a picture of Wilfred (Jason Gann) when he was a child, which, given the dog’s age (seven in human years), would be nearly impossible. Is Ryan insane, imagining the perverse man in a dog suit, or is Wilfred, as he so confidently suggests, some sort of magical, immortal being that’s been around for centuries, influencing the lives of various depressed human beings? Throughout its run, Wilfred’s most intriguing moments have come when Ryan’s sanity and easily manipulated conscience are poked and prodded, especially by Wilfred, and there’s more of an emphasis on his wavering mental stability in season three, which does well to elevate the show’s level of whimsy beyond dopey stoner comedy to full-on black humor.
What occasionally prevents Wilfred from being as affecting as it could be is its irrepressible need to wedge in awkward, feckless antics between its most poignant moments. The premiere opens on a surprisingly serious note, with Ryan finally coming to the conclusion that he must be mentally ill, and that his boorish, scruffy companion is a figment of his imagination. Ryan rarely offers insight into his own psychological disequilibrium, and Wood’s delivery of the speech is as heartfelt a monologue as we’ve seen from his emotionally apprehensive character. Yet, Wilfred all but derails the scene when he dismisses Ryan’s claims and begins to drink a cocktail made of antifreeze to prove his immortality. This immediately backfires, resulting in a trip to the vet and a stomach-pumping, and the duo is back at square one.
The show too often disrupts its curiously resonant psychoanalysis with foolhardiness and vulgarity.
The odd coupling of Ryan and Wilfred gives the series the majority of its emotive weight, but the pair’s on-again/off-again incompatibility also causes an equal amount of frustration. The bad-mannered Wilfred leads the abject Ryan to junctures of possible self-discovery, then promptly yanks away the foreseeable truth, halting any sort of significant development for both parties. “Uncertainty” falters when, on the heels of identifying Wilfred’s birthplace and original owner, a bizarre subplot featuring another mutt cloned from his DNA causes Wilfred to shift his attention from his past to the opulence his cloned counterpart enjoys. Another episode, “Comfort,” deals heavily with religion and the idea that dogs can’t understand the concept of death. An interesting setup, proposing a potential breakthrough for the stringently anti-faith Ryan, but Wilfred’s sudden obsession with all things holy turns out to be just a ruse intended to wreck Ryan’s budding rapport with a friendly mailman, who just happens to be a Satanist and a pillager of “undeliverable” packages.
The only positive aspect of Ryan’s tiny world is his neighbor and love interest, Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann), and Wilfred routinely finds pleasure in bringing the two together and then pulling them further apart, like when he sends her text messages to meet Ryan at a Hooters-esque bar, where she witnesses him shamefully taking a shot from a glass between a waitress’s breasts. The other important woman in Ryan’s life, however shallow and verbally abusive she may be, is his sister, Kristen (Dorian Brown). The recent birth of her son awakens in Ryan the desire to be a better role model for the youngster, simultaneously proving his worth to Kristen, who’s long doubted his competence. In the episode “Suspicion,” Ryan offers to be his nephew’s legal guardian, but he blows the opportunity when, led to believe by Wilfred that Kristen’s latest boyfriend is cheating on her (Wilfred smells the scent of female “nether regions” on him, and it doesn’t belong to Kristen), he starts to investigate the man, who, in turns out, is a good-willed doctor who does pro-bono OB/GYN work for troubled women on the side.
Wilfred’s writers have proven adept at digging deep into Ryan’s head and rattling its contents: Ryan places blame for losing the guardianship position not on himself or Wilfred’s misbehavior, but on his damaged relationship with his own father. But while seeing Wood’s wide spectrum of moods and mannerisms is a pleasure, the series too often disrupts its curiously resonant psychoanalysis with Wilfred’s foolhardiness and vulgarity. Unfortunately, for every profound realization Ryan makes about himself, there’s about a dozen instances of Wilfred having sex with a stuffed animal or urinating on the floor.