Easily last summer’s strangest new TV show, ‘Wilfred’ returned to the FX network this past Thursday. As if just to mess with our minds, the network is not calling this a season premiere. No, it’s a “Special Preview Episode” that just happens to air in the regular time slot, exactly one week ahead of the official premiere, which will be this Thursday. Yet the “Preview” is still numbered as the first episode of the season, while the premiere will be the second. None of this makes any sense to me, but then, very little of the show has ever made rational sense.
As we last left things, Wilfred had jumped in front of a car to help Ryan (Elijah Wood) in a ploy to get Jenna’s job back, and was left with both physical injuries and amnesia. Ryan returned home to retrieve a Will that Wilfred had written, only to find that there’s no basement in his house. Did he hallucinate all of the time he spent with Wilfred in that basement? Has he lost his mind?
Ryan believes so. In episode ‘Progress’, we learn that he’s spent the last four months in a mental hospital (the same one where his mother stayed?), in the care of Dr. Eddy (Robin Williams). Although medicated, he’s been having stress dreams about being trapped in the miserable corporate job he used to work at before his suicide attempt. Nonetheless, he hopes that he may be cured of his delusions, and looks forward to Jenna’s first visit and seeing Wilfred for what he really is – just a dog.
No such luck. He still sees Wilfred as a man in a dog costume. Wilfred’s amnesia appears to have cleared up, but he’s in a wheelchair and acts helpless. He offers Ryan answers to the big questions of what he really is and why only Ryan can see or talk to him, but Ryan refuses to listen.
In a last-ditch effort to cure Ryan, Dr. Eddy tries to forcibly administer shock treatment. Ryan resists, and Wilfred (who wasn’t really crippled) somehow manages to bust him out of the hospital. Events turn increasingly surreal and confusing until Ryan suddenly wakes up in his office, as if he’d been there the whole time and everything he’d experienced over the last several months was a dream. Ryan makes excuses and races home. He opens his closet door, clears everything out, and busts down the wall to find that there really was a secret basement in his house. He locates Wilfred’s Will, which is blank except for the words “Keep digging.”
Does this mean that Ryan has given in and embraced his mental illness? Did he actually spend time in a hospital? Does he really still work at that job? How much of what happened in this episode is real and how much isn’t? Unfortunately, none of this is clear.
Like many episodes of the show, ‘Progress’ isn’t so much funny as it is weird. There’s only one legitimate joke in the whole episode, when Ryan finally recognizes that Dr. Eddy is in fact Robin Williams, star of ‘Good Will Hunting’. (Remember, Ryan and Wilfred spend a lot of time watching Matt Damon movies.) As Wilfred tasers him, Williams exclaims, “Shazbot!” It’s a hilarious breaking-the-fourth-wall meta gag, but that’s kind of it for laughs in the episode.
So why is it that I keep watching this show? I don’t know, but there’s something perversely compelling about it, even when it’s not (or doesn’t even try to be) funny. There’s certainly no other comedy like it on the air, that’s for sure.