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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Wilfred: “Uncertainty”/“Comfort”

Illustration for article titled Wilfred: “Uncertainty”/“Comfort”
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Answers are supposed to be a good thing. A television show comes into being with certain central mysteries, and those mysteries are supposed to be resolved in order for the show to feel complete. This is an especially prevalent component of science fiction dramas (thanks a lot, Lost), but it's seeped into comedies as well, most famously How I Met Your Mother. What Wilfred's third season premiere asks is: What if answers aren't a good thing? What if the questions themselves are more interesting?

I almost feel silly writing that last line. Of course the questions are more interesting than the answers. Of course the journey is more interesting than the destination. These things seem so obvious. And yet, there's television. Or to put it a little more accurately, there's grand storytelling in mass media, which increasingly seems to hinge on putting questions out there for fans to speculate over, then answering those questions and inevitably disappointing those fans, who need answers both consistent and surprising.

Wilfred runs counter to this model, yes. But it's not just that Wilfred brings up the question of “What is Wilfred's nature?” and doesn't bother answering it. It's that Wilfred understands that modern stories often hinge on this complicated mythology and fan speculation, and it wants to take that concept and render it ridiculous. That active rejection comes to a head in “Uncertainty,” which is certainly an appropriate title, although I wonder if “Trolling” might have been better.

“Uncertainty” begins where the second season ended, with Ryan examining a photo that indicates he'd painted a picture that included Wilfred. His theory, painstakingly assembled on a TV cop-style corkboard, is that Ryan is crazy. Ryan describes what he's doing not as some desperate investigation into a critical part of his psyche and his future happiness, but in the analytic tones of a television fan describing his preferred theory of, say, who Jon Snow's true parents are. In the episode's first giggle-inducing moment, Wilfred, acting like this is the first he's seen of Ryan's investigation, walks over to the board, flips it over, and reveals his own theory: Wilfred is a magical being. These are the two biggest potential answers for the show's big question (although the magical being explanation can split easily: Wilfred as trickster or Wilfred as angel). Wilfred the character delights in the ambiguity: “The answers will come in time. For now you're just going to have to live with a little uncertainty.”

Ryan decides to test the theory to see which one of them is correct by following Wilfred's microchip to a Sacramento home. Both find evidence that disproves their theories: Wilfred finds a photo of himself as a puppy (which Ryan sees as a baby in a dog suit), and Ryan finds proof that Wilfred lived there with memories outside of Ryan's experiences.

That's good and smart stuff, but the house itself makes “Uncertainty” a fine comic episode. Inside the house is “Stinky,” a posh, expensive clone of Wilfred, played just like Wilfred except with a red bandana and an amusingly horrible fake British accent. Two Wilfreds is one of the simplest ways the show has destabilized its conventional upset-Ryan/smirking-Wilfred form, which is a sure way to comedy with this show. Stinky's entertainment room, filled with cocaine and stuffed giraffes, is cute (in that horrifying Wilfred way), and the repeated jokes about the word “dalliance” are simple, effective humor. Its intelligence, perverse stubbornness, and perverse humor are about as good as Wilfred gets.


The second episode of the night, “Comfort,” is a more conventional Wilfred episode, falling much closer to that upset-Ryan/smirking-Wilfred model. Jenna and Drew are back from their honeymoon, which gives Ryan the opportunity to tell Wilfred that people don't actually die when they leave for some time, and that death is a permanent experience. Then the mailman comes over to poop, which freaks Wilfred out. After this, Wilfred finds religion—he says it's because of death, Ryan thinks it's because the mailman is Ryan's friend now. It's a charming, if slight, episode.

Both episodes have a notably staged feeling to them. Wilfred has always had a stripped-down feeling to it, but it feels accented here. Perhaps it's just that I've been away from the show for nearly a year, and it was always like this, but I don't think so. The season premiere only had four actors in it, and one of those was a vet with just a line or two (compare this to last year, which had a full mental institution, a chase scene, an office, and Robin Williams!). Apart from that, it was just Ryan, Wilfred (and his clone), and the clone's caretaker. Although “Comfort” had several more characters and a crowded bar, it maintained the same feeling. The mail carrier party at the climax of the episode felt like a soundstage of a soundstage. This artificiality actually feels like a good thing for Wilfred, however. It gives the impression that the events portrayed onscreen are more like a play, put on for Ryan's benefit and our own. There are no answers, and the only thing that is real is that we know we're watching a television show about a man who sees a certain dog as a man in a dog suit.



“Uncertainty”: A-

“Comfort”: B

Stray observations:

  • The funniest line of the evening is also the most wince-inducing. “And thank god, these well-dressed German men broke into the attic, and those brave heroes rescued me.”
  • “I have been eternally dalliancing…”
  • “What the hell!?” “Oh, I thought that's what we were doing now.” Wilfred doesn't quite understand the importance of symbolic burning.
  • “Holy shit, Marley and Me is a…really sad movie. God why was I laughing the whole time.”
  • “You were right, Ryan. God is a fake-ass little bitch.” “I never said that.”
  • Fiona Gubelmann was, perhaps, the only thing that felt less artificial. She seemed less made-up, less perfect blonde, more figurative girl-next-door. And more freckly. It's a fascinating and welcome switch.