As I discussed in my review for “Fear”, Wilfred is showing signs of becoming a great show. It often takes a bit for comedies to get their footing, especially ones with a premise as far-fetched as Wilfred, but the show was showing good signs of “quality” television. Ongoing plots were manifesting, a new (recurring?) character is introduced, and the show began finding new ways to be funny. Despite all of these good signs though, last night’s episode “Acceptance” was a bit of a regression.
Uneven is the word that keeps bubbling to the surface when I think about last night’s episode. It opens with something I like to call “sitcom speak”: one character briefly summarizes the situation, sharing character details (so and so is a ditz, that guy’s a jerk) and setting up the premise for the episode, then pasting a lame joke at the end to cover up the information spewing that just occurred. While a necessary evil for any show with ongoing stories, most really good shows seamlessly and unobtrusively include information that the viewer might want to know. “Acceptance” does a terrible job of setting up the plot, and the conversation between Ryan and Wilfred about Ryan’s sister Kristen feels so forced that Jason Gann (Wilfred) seems to give up acting mid-sentence. It’s probably a major credit to Elijah Wood and Gann that this was only the first time a conversation between a man and a guy in a dog suit felt stilted and forced, but it’s still disappointing. If the show had utilized Kristen at all since the first episode, the conversation could have been avoided; but because the audience probably wouldn’t remember her character by name, we’re treated to a minute of plot summary disguised as conversation.
After the awkward opening scene, we get to the comedic meat of the episode, which is admittedly some of the best so far in the series. After Kristen (played by Dorian Brown) hurts her ankle tripping over Ryan’s guitar (brought out from the increasingly symbolic basement by Wilfred), Ryan is required to prove himself responsible by carting Kristen around for work. This prompts Ryan to leave the separation-anxiety-ridden Wilfred at a doggy daycare run by Ed Helms. As the show’s first major guest star, Helms is a fabulous choice as the possible “dog molesterer” Daryl; his straight-laced yet creepy fit perfectly with the ambivalent tone of show. After Ryan picks up Wilfred from daycare and realizes that he is traumatized, Wilfred explain how the daycare owner uses dogs’ love for peanut butter for his own dark purposes. After Ryan convinces himself that Wilfred is making it all up (Wilfred is probably a figment of his imagination, right?), Ryan overhears a child at the barber exclaim that her doll is “real to me”. This all leads to a ridiculously funny montage of Daryl preparing his peanut butter while Ryan runs to save Wilfred, cape and all. The resolution is utterly ambiguous, we never really know if Helms’ character really sexually abuses Wilfred, but that’s exactly the point: we should never know if Wilfred is real. It’s only important that Ryan thinks so.
Unfortunately, the major issue with the episode was that its 18 minute premise was shoved into a 22 minute episode. When the resolution to the main (and only) plot occurred and went to commercial, I honestly thought it was the end of the episode and almost got up–then I realized there were still six minutes left! To fill that time, the show threw together a bunch of disjointed scenes about Wilfred and Ryan starting a band and getting high. Stuff like this makes Louie (which airs after Wilfred) seem all the more commendable: if the plot doesn’t warrant a full episode, Louis C.K. pairs it with a short vignette that stands on it’s own rather than dragging it out. Every episode so far has ended with a brief 30-second clip of the pair smoking, which has largely been unfunny, but to hope to get this much time out of those scenes is downright lazy. Why couldn’t they have used this time to utilize Helms further, give a brief appearance to Ethan Suplee’s character, or even acknowledge the major plot twist from the end of last episode? The show gesture toward ongoing story lines and characters, but can they be considered ongoing if they’re ignored for entire episodes at a time? This practice already come back to bite Wilfred in the beginning of this episode, and I’m afraid of the plot summary devices we’ll see in the future if this trend continues.
“Acceptance” is a minor setback to be sure; it’s still funny and most viewers probably won’t care if those funny moments are flanked by dull filler material. But “Fear” raised the bar for the show, and hopefully it will get back in rhythm next week.