Season premiere review: ‘Wilfred’ – ‘Progress’

FX decided to bring “Wilfred” back a week in advance of the rest of its Thursday premieres, and I have a review of tonight’s episode coming up just as soon as someone gets this Tic-Tac from under my wheel…

I wasn’t entirely sure why FX decided to separate the “Wilfred” premiere (which they’re referring to as “a sneak preview,” even though it fits into the show’s continuity between last year’s finale and next week’s episode) when I first realized the show was coming back a week earlier than the others. Then I watched “Progress” and began to understand a little.

It’s not that it’s a bad episode – it does, after all, feature Bear as a getaway driver – but that it goes to a place even darker and stranger than what we got at the end of last season – and is ultimately more of a tease for season 2 than a proper start to it. We find out that the basement is real – though not who or what erected the dry wall to trick Ryan into thinking it was a closet(*) – and we establish that Ryan has a new legal job (with co-workers including Steven Weber, Rob Riggle and Allison Mack) and that Jenna and Drew are still together. But most of the episode turns out to be a dream sequence. We still don’t know exactly what Wilfred is, but Wilfred in a wheelchair or Wilfred wearing a Brian Baumgartner suit were just in Ryan’s imagination, and we still have to see what their relationship will be like in the wake of the car accident from the season 1 finale.

(*) Simplest explanation, I suppose, is that Ryan himself did it. There are enough other “Fight Club” parallels to this show that even if we accept that Wilfred is “real” on some level, it would still be plausible for Ryan to be unconsciously acting against his own interests.

Nor was Robin Williams real as Ryan’s therapist. This was Williams in his bearded, subdued mode (“shazbot” aside), though I couldn’t help spending most of his scenes – including Ryan being taken in for ECT(**) – imagining a version of “Wilfred” being made 30 years ago starring a post-Mork Williams as the dog and a young Mark-Linn Baker (circa “My Favorite Year”) as Ryan. You’d have to lose most of the sexual and scatalogical humor (poor Bear simply wouldn’t exist in this version), but it could’ve been done.

(**) Even though the electro-shock scene was also part of the dream, I say it counts in making the trend of former child stars getting ECT on-screen official, once you count “Wilfred” with “Homeland” and “Mad Men.”

In discussing the season’s early episodes on this week’s podcast, Dan and I got to talking about the laughs (or lack thereof), which is a similar conversation we were all having late last year. My ultimate feeling is that the chemistry between Elijah Wood and Jason Gann is so good that I don’t need to laugh out loud. (It wasn’t until this season’s third episode that I felt the show really regained its comic footing.) But David Zuckerman and company are juggling a lot of things here: the comedy, the friendship, the psychodrama, whatever the mythology is, etc. “Progress” was just dipping a toe back into these strange waters, but it feels like the season doesn’t properly begin until next week, and I can see FX wanting a non-dream sequence episode to be the one that airs on the night getting all the promotion.

That said, it’s still a strange bit of scheduling, and I’m anticipating a number of “I didn’t realize it was back on tonight!” comments in 3… 2… 1…

What did everybody else think?

(Also, for those of you curious about the headline, watch this:)