Wilfred: Back to Work

Wilfred S02E00: "Progress"

"Special Preview Episode" is a weird name to give any full episode of a television show. What does that even mean? And is it or isn't it the first episode of the season? If it continues the storytelling from the previous season finale, why isn't it the season premiere? And if it's just a preview episode, are we supposed to take the events from it as a real part of the series? Can we just read the summary and get on with our lives and not lose anything?

But more importantly, how can something that's called a "Special Preview Episode" end up being one of the most entertaining episodes of the series? Tonight's episode of Wilfred, "Progress," carried that "SPE" label (and FX was fiery and adamant that it be called a "preview" episode and not a season premiere). It also addressed the question of Ryan's sanity that was raised many times throughout Season 1 and punctuated with a big fat question mark in the Season 1 finale, "Identity," when Ryan opened the door to his basement and saw nothing but closet. And in the end, the bulk of "Progress" was just a dream. But it was a dream with purpose.

We tend to frown upon dream episodes as a waste of time, and even though "Progress" ironically didn't live up to its title, it showed off why Wilfred has formed its own circle in the Venn Diagram of television genres. "Progress" was an exploration of the series' main theme of sanity rather than just plot. The episode lives tangentially to the rest of the series, yet accentuates everything the series is about. Hmmm. So that's what a "Special Preview Episode" is!

I doubt we'll carry very much of anything that happened in "Progress" along with us during Season 2, aside from the time advance of a handful of months into the future and Ryan's new job as in-house counsel for what looks to be an oncological pharmaceutical company. Jenna is still engaged to bromantic Drew, Wilfred has been away healing from his run-in with a fender, and Ryan is still having crazy town banana pants episodes. (Plus there's one more thing that we'll get to at the end of this.)

Instead, we should look at "Progress" as a brilliant standalone episode that speaks to the series as a whole but doesn't quite count as an ongoing chapter. Even though everything that happened in the mental institution was a figment of Ryan's imagination and everything that happened in the gloomy conference room was real, the two might not be unrelated. Ryan's penchant for imagining situations is the big question here, and in many ways his creation of the mental hospital, one he could not escape from, was a way for his mind to cope with his new job that he could not escape from. He hates being a lawyer. But once again, he's a lawyer. Do we call that progress? Wasn't he better off, happier, and not constantly craving a pill smoothie when he was out of work and smoking pot with a dog? In a lot of ways, the episode reminded me of something out of NBC's Awake, in which clues from one reality helped Ryan solve questions in the other. This is supposed to be a comedy, right? And the way the conference-room reality started blurry and nightmarish and trippy but ended up crystal clear and the looney bin went from clarity to washed-out to strobed was brilliant in its muddling of the truth.

A popular theory behind Ryan's conception of Wilfred as a talking dog is Ryan's way of making himself a man of the alpha variety. He can't do it on his own, so he's created a furry, pot-smoking id to help him solve his own issues of worthlessness and cowardice. It stands to reason that it would be Wilfred who would manifest in his dreams and rescue him from his dream prison, which in turn would push Ryan to man up in his real life and bounce from his job mid-meeting to dig up some truth. At this point, all signs are pointing to Wilfred as chatty pooch being a figment of Ryan's subconscious. Well, that and the fact that talking dogs don't exist. (Or do they if you imagine them hard enough!?!?!)

A new season means an explosion of star power. It's like a supernova did its thing all over the show. Steven Weber as Ryan's new boss, Rob Riggle as the token office throat-clearer, and an all-grown-up Allison Mack looking fiiiiiine as a brunette. The Office's Brian Baumgartner made a cameo as Wilfred in disguise, and Robin Williams revisited his role as Patch Adams. To my knowledge, Baumgartner and Williams are one-off guest-stars, indicating we won't be paying anymore visits to Ryan's dream land, but Mack, Weber, and Riggle are all on board for recurring roles as Ryan's new co-workers. They're all welcome additions—and perfect additions—to the cast. Also, I believe that was Abby Miller, last seen as Ellen May in Justified, waving at Ryan in the office.

On top of all that, the episode was typically hilarious. I'm never going to get sick of Jason Gann's performance as Wilfred; I think he's one of the funniest people on television today. And his doggy traits—in this case, his inability to resist chasing a Frisbee and his recognition of his weakness and subsequent struggle to keep his cool—never get old. I lost it at the Good Will Hunting gag, and the reveal of Bear as the driver of the getaway van was pure insanity (the good kind). Even with all the jokes and gags and laughs, the comedy played second fiddle to the mystery, but the two coexisted without a hitch, a remarkable feat. On the surface, Wilfred is just a comedy, but it's really so much more.

Okay, I know I said "Progress" should be viewed as an auxiliary episode, one that could (but shouldn't) be skipped when moving from Season 1 to Season 2 (if it wasn't skippable, why would FX call next week's episode the season premiere?), but there was one big event that can't be overlooked. At the end of the episode, in what we assume is reality, Ryan broke through the wall of the closet and got back down to the basement. To me, that says the question is no longer, "Did Ryan imagine the basement?" Instead, it's "Who put up the wall to keep Ryan from getting into the basement?" Ryan needs to keep digging for the truth, and someone doesn't want him to find it. Or doesn't want him to hang out with Wilfred. Because maybe the dog knows too much!

Paw Prints

– Wheelchair arm pipe inventor, please come forward to receive your Nobel prize.

– There's going to be a question of who needs who more. On the outside it seems as though Ryan needs Wilfred to help him navigate life and be the man he can be, but as Wilfred admitted to Ryan, "Without you I don't exist."

– We still haven't actually seen Wilfred in reality; how do you think he'll be?

– The shot with Jenna walking Wilfred (behind a bush) to see Ryan for the first time was fantastic. This is one well-put-together show.

– Let's also applaud Elijah Wood's performance as Ryan.

Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

Like TV.com on Facebook