What little overarching plot Wilfred has was leading toward tonight's early-season climax: the episode where Amanda comes and meets Ryan’s friends. (I think it’s fairly obvious that the finale will include our first glimpse of Ryan’s father.) Amanda has been one of the best aspects of the second season, a charming, amusing character in her own right. She doesn’t exist, like every other character, simply as an extension of Ryan’s needs in a cast filled with J. Walter Weatherman.
Well, she didn’t exist only to teach Ryan lessons. In “Control,” she does. This is disappointing.
Jenna and Chris are back, and Ryan’s hanging out with Jenna, consoling her when a video of her drug-induced meltdown goes viral. Amanda sees them hugging, leading to an awkward initial meeting, which Ryan decides to smooth over with a dinner party. Naturally, smoothing doesn’t work, Jenna and Amanda are at each others' throats, and it’s all Wilfred’s fault, when Ryan decides to fix everything with a few lies. Wilfred tells him he can’t “control” everything, Ryan doesn’t believe it, but then he does once the lies are exposed.
We’ve seen this before. Most of the episodes in the first season were about Ryan learning these little lessons. He needs to be less uptight, less worried about how other people perceive him, and less manipulative, we get it. Going back to that well creates a few problems. First, it makes the show, which at least makes stabs at serialization and changes, seem like it’s forgetting what it’s done before.
Second, it makes everything about Ryan, which quickly grows repetitive. That has the impact of turning other characters into props. In the case of Chris Klein’s lunky Drew, that’s fine. He’s a fantastic meathead of a prop, with the best line of the night: “One time my roommate and I had a big argument about whether it was Monet or Manet. Turns out it was both! That’s the great thing about art.”
Jenna, on the other hand, has rarely been anything other than the prop of a Love Interest, and not a terribly interesting one at that. Fiona Gubelmann has demonstrated more depth at times, but despite being a main cast member, she hasn’t had that opportunity often. Allison Mack as Amanda, as I mentioned earlier, has been more than a prop, but bringing her to meet the other characters loses that.
Specifically, the plot turns into a “catfight,” where two women immediately dislike each other because, well, that’s something that women do on television. So Amanda becomes a shrill source of tension, instead of an entertaining character in her own right. She is only interesting inasmuch as she forces Ryan to deal with an awkward situation, which seems a waste of Mack’s talents.
The most disappointing aspect of that: there was a fantastic chance for Wilfred to subvert its form, to redeem Amanda’s character, and to drop a hilarious twist at the end. Ryan’s little lie about why Amanda disliked dogs—because one attacked her once—is demonstrated false. Instead, she had a much worse story: about how she loved her grandfather’s dogs until the devoured his corpse after his death, which she saw when she was a kid. Had Amanda later revealed that she made that story up in order to smooth things over—that she was just like Ryan, but more effective—it would have been a remarkable shift. I really expected it at the end, and was surprised and disappointed at Wilfred playing it conventionally once again. This is one of my bigger problems with episodes like this: Wilfred seems to want to be entertainingly weird more than outright funny, but by following a by-now well-worn path, it’s not actually weird while being not especially funny. It can be better.
- “Take my coat” Wilfred says, putting his fake fur on Ryan. Probably the best dog humor of the night.
- “Looks like your lie about Amanda being bitten in the ass is going to come back and bite you...come on, Wilfred, you’re better than that.” Is it a joke, or is it a meta-joke about how Wilfred doesn’t like jokes?