A television show's third season is often an important transitional one for the show. It's the point at which shows usually switch from experimenting with different stories and characters to see what works and what doesn't. Earlier seasons tend to be more universal, like a story involving a dog who loves stuffed animals perhaps inappropriately. Later seasons become more specific: Wilfred the dog has an existing, unseen but oft-described relationship with the stuffed animal, Bear, and his motives based on that relationship affect the course of the episode.
Tonight's two episodes, “Suspicion” and “Sincerity,” represent that manner of specific and general, respectively. The first episode relies almost entirely on existing relationships: Wilfred with Bear, of course, Ryan and his sister, Ryan and his father, and Wilfred and baby Joffrey (did we know that Kristen named her baby Joffrey??). As such, it feels less like the metaphorical theater that Wilfred can feel like, and more like diving into a complicated network of relationships. It just so happens that those relationships are primarily those of a dog to his stuffed animal and his baby friend.
This isn't necessarily a positive or a negative development for show. Sometimes it can lose the creative energy that made it so special early on—like Community and Parks And Recreation (especially if you consider the fourth season more transitional) did—and sometimes, it's more of a “finding its groove” process, like The Simpsons did around its third season. In the case of “Suspicion,” I think it's generally a positive. Wilfred's bizarre relationship with Bear has been one of the show's most consistent joke forms, and the revelation that he sees Bear as Ryan sees him gives it a slight dramatic heft (though that's not explicit in this particular episodes). So it's worth the try to put Bear closer to the center of the episode, to see if the side joke can become a main plot.
That story goes like this: Ryan wants to prove that he should be Joffrey's legal guardian if anything should happen to Kristen, so he ends up babysitting the child. Wilfred, who's single after marrying Bear last week, is excited about seeing his bro again, but Joffrey finds himself entranced by Bear. Wilfred perceives the relationship as sexual, and maybe engages in an elaborate scheme to break the two up. That elaborate scheme happens to correspond with Ryan's desire to find out what's wrong with Kristen's new boyfriend.
The ensuing shenanigans fit the conventional Wilfred form, where characters may be manipulative geniuses or they may be following basic instincts. But two things make “Suspicion” better than average. First, that mess of weird relationships helps, particularly Wilfred with the baby and with Bear, which helps make the episode funnier. Second, the show is increasingly aware of its conventions, or at least, increasingly confident in poking fun at them. “Suspicion” ends with Ryan calling his father and accusing him of being the manipulative genius who set this all up. His father, rightly, says that Ryan sounds crazy, and then quite sympathetically says that it was nice to talk to Ryan. Is that real, or just more manipulation? The writers seem to love to leave us on that question, and I think they're right to, as it establishes Ryan's dad as an ambiguous metaphorical/literal actor in the show's world, just like Wilfred.
“Sincerity,” on the other hand, is a more conventional early-season episode. Although Jenna's around briefly, and Amanda is mentioned, the episode is still based on the show's high concept premise, that only Ryan can see Wilfred as a man in a dog suit, and that this allows an comedic examination of how dogs behave, and how people behave around dogs.
In this case, it's about “dog weirdos,” the people who dress their dogs up, treat them as though they're children, and in the biggest crime of all, speak for the dogs using baby talk voices. “He's not saying that. She's speaking for him. He didn't do a smelly poo-poo for her. He did it for his brother.” Unfortunately for Ryan, he discovers that an old crush of his, Kim, is a dog weirdo. Yet he's committed to his path of trying to consummate that crush, to Wilfred's detriment, as he takes Wilfred to doggy training school, and then escalates his seduction by making Wilfred wear socks, and eventually attempting to speak for Wilfred in order to get Kim to stay the night.
If this all sounds super sitcommy, well, it is. But I think it succeeds largely because Kim, as portrayed by Jenny Mollen, manages to inhabit the role perfectly. She looks the part of an attractive old crush, and throws herself into saying all-too-common internet cute pet terms like “adorbs” with gusto. There's a good story here about Ryan being equally repelled and attracted by a woman who doesn't have his own insanely high sense of self-consciousness.
Unfortunately, “Sincerity” is weakened somewhat by its B-plot, where Wilfred gets excited about going to school thinking he's going to be a cool kid. Instead, he's bullied and cyberbullied by the other dogs. Or at least, he says he is, since Wilfred narrates the whole thing. Jason Gann can and has been able to pull off a lot impressive feats for a guy in a dog costume, but a plot about cyberbullying proves just a little too far.
If there's one thing that ties these two episodes together, it's Ryan making baby-talk voices at climactic moments. First, he speaks for a new bear in order to try to get his sister to forgive him, then he grabs Wilfred and tries to do it with an Australian accent in order to get laid. That's an odd way to tie two rather different episodes together, but that's a third season for you.
“Suspicion” - B+
“Sincerity” - B
- “Still shittin' whenever? Niiiiice!” Babies and dogs.
- “God, why am I listening to sibling advice from a guy who ate his sister's ears.” “Ear.”
- “In fact, earlier tonight I had to make an emergency visit because one of the women was suffering from an infection of the nether regions. Yeah.” Favorite joke of the night, there.
- “But… you just said they were tough.” “I bet that's why you're surprised.”
- Every time Wilfred mentions Amanda, I just miss Allison Mack.
- In case you didn't notice, the voice on the phone was credited as “Henry,” who I assume is Ryan's dad. The actor in question does both voice acting and live-action, so it's possible he could be Ryan's dad in person, or he's just a placeholder on the phone.