One of the issues I’ve often had with Wilfred is that its “weirdness” seems to be taken for granted. Of course Wilfred is weird, after all, the premise is strange and weird things happen, right? My problem with that mode of thinking: the weirdness of Wilfred is often predictable, in straightforwardly transgressive fashion. For example, in last week’s disappointing episode, Wilfred really wanted to smell Amanda’s vagina. That was the joke. (It is perhaps informative that David Zuckerman, Wilfred’s creator in the US, worked on Family Guy, another show that struggles with transgression-for-its-own sake versus line-crossing hilarity.)
There’s an example of this kind of transgressive humor working well early in “Avoidance.” Wilfred and Ryan are discussing their first sexual experiences. Ryan tells a fairly conventional, sweet story, and Wilfred follows it up by saying his story was similar—except that he just jumped on a dog who’d been hit by a car.
But for moments like that, where Wilfred reveals just how ethics-free he is as a dog, can’t be the only form of weirdness or humor, otherwise they lose their impact. They have to be balanced by something—conventional light-hearted humor, wordplay, or pratfalls, to take a few possible examples. In “Avoidance’s” case, a “Doggie Dancing” class gives the show an opportunity to be a different form of weird, and everything is better for it. A musical montage, placed in the center of the episode, of Wilfred and Ryan learning to dance together is exactly the sort of joyous, bizarre diversion that makes everything else better (it helps that Elijah Wood and Jason Gann are more enthusiastic than skilled).
That joy makes the darkness of what follows stand out. Ryan massages one of Wilfred’s pulled muscles, and triggers an orgasm. After that, when Wilfred demands dancing and his “treat,” Ryan assumes he means a handjob, which makes it seem like Wilfred is trying to rape Ryan, which is about as dark as Wilfred can go. And then, at the end, when everything’s been resolved—a big, Family Guy-esque dance number, to wipe the palate clean.
One of the particularly interesting things about “Avoidance” is that by making the conflict between Ryan and Wilfred one of action instead of speech. Instead of Wilfred patiently teaching Ryan the week’s lesson—that he shouldn’t avoid a former friend that he feels betrayed by—Ryan learns through action. This isn’t just a better pedagogical technique, it’s also much better storytelling.
“Avoidance” may not be Wilfred at its very best, but it’s Wilfred at its most pure. This was an episode that got the show’s formula right.
- “Drinking’s all he has, Ryan!”
- “No, I’d dress up. I could totally pass as Harry Potter.” Nice little meta-joke here.
- Kristen hasn’t reverted, happily, and is pretty amusing as a far-too-interested suitor for Ryan’s old friend James.
- “Churros only happen after you dance. That’s the first thing you learn in conservatory!” Who shakes the sugar and cinnamon off of a churro?? That’s the worst thing ever. Which, I guess, is the joke. Anyway, I want a churro.