If we’re defining “funny” as the number of times something makes a person laugh per half hour, then Wilfred is the funniest comedy airing this summer. Funnier, even, than its FX counterpart, Louie, which has evolved into a wholly different kind of experimental exercise. “Pride” is yet another in a string of recent, outright hilarious episodes, even if its relatively thin story exposes some of the series’ fundamental weaknesses.
Ryan, not surprisingly, is having money issues. Thus, we open on an expository scene in which he’s offered a loan from his belittling sister Kristen, which he promptly rejects, knowing it will only encourage her self-righteousness. Meanwhile, Wilfred is screaming out from the basement for them to be quiet. The assumption is that he’s trying to sleep, or just venting his wholly understandable loathing for the deplorably smug Kristen. As Ryan heads downstairs to investigate, and without so much as a “this boat’s-a-rockin’” disclaimer, he, and us, are treated to a primo seat at the Wilfred and Bear inter-mammalian peep show.
Only problem is, Wilfred’s no longer turned on by Bear in the sack, so he and Ryan go for a drive to discuss their professional and sexual prospects. Mid-ride, Wilfred tries to solve both their issues by smashing the car into an adjacent SUV, in the hopes of scoring an insurance payout for Ryan and giving himself a chance to seduce a stuffed safari animal in the back seat named Raffi.
Up to this point, “Pride” is vintage, clever Wilfred. Things only take a turn toward formulaic when the other driver, Beth (a welcome, zany performance from Malcolm in the Middle’s Jane Kaczmarek), is revealed as an alpha-female businesswoman willing to forget the costly damage in exchange for a night of unforgettable cunnilingus. Wilfred, of course, instigated the arrangement, and is all too happy for another shot at, as he so eloquently puts it, “going to town on the deepest throat in the stuffed animal kingdom.” Genius.
Elijah Wood, who’s very funny early on in the episode (especially when berating Wilfred for pondering how to romance “a semen-drenched teddy bear” ), is, as if usually the case, less interesting to watch when he’s interacting with other humans. For the bulk of what ensues after he and Beth arrange their tryst, Ryan struggles to do much besides awkwardly stammer and delay the inevitability of Beth’s advances, and it’s all very cringe-y and straight sitcom-y awkwardness. I didn't know whether to feel bad for Beth that Ryan was so obviously evading her overtures, or annoyed that she couldn't sense him recoiling and contradicting himself.
Fortunately, Jason Gann—who co-wrote “Pride,” and thus can take credit for the strong premise and hysterically blunt one-liners, but also partial blame for dumping Ryan off somewhere in a more conventional comedy for 15 minutes—is present in every scene, even when embarking on his own independent mission to de-virginize a plush ungulate. In one of tonight’s biggest laughs, Ryan finds Wilfred bound in an S&M outfit straight out of 8MM, unzips his face mask and learns that, “Raffi wasn’t fresh out of the box. She’s returned.”
And Kazcmarek, as mentioned, is dynamite here. She takes the potentially thankless role of a stodgy mom hiding her inner pervert (think Joan Cusack in Shameless with just a touch of Demi Moore in Disclosure) and inhabits it with shocking, creepy gratuity. There are stretches where Beth exclusively intones a ludicrous, cartoonish baby voice and pleads with Ryan to plunder her “wabbit hole.” And every such instance is funny. As is Wilfred’s protracted wooing (nee, mauling) of Raffi, including a depiction of strategic fellatio so R-rated, and with such straight-faced expressiveness from Gann, that it may have been the series’ most audaciously funny moment so far.
I understand that Wilfred isn’t for everyone, is inherently a facsimile of the Australian original and, by virtue of its rookie status, has to earn the kind of goodwill neighboring out-there fare like Louie has deservedly engendered. And I fully concede that in its precarious waltz with knowingly hacky sitcom tradition, the show can feel a tad corny where it needs to be sharper. But anything that makes me howl this often, or renders my own tastelessness comparatively PG-rated, is appointment television personified.
- “We’re having a conversation here you adorable little piece of shit.”
- “It’s eat or be eaten.”
- “Nice box.”
- “Jobs are for immigrants.” (Harsh-a.)
- I do like that each week touches on themes of Ryan needing Wilfred around to push him into asserting control over his choices. It grounds things from being purely outlandish.
- Likewise, I dug the scene in which Ryan saw an outline of Wilfred imposed on his mirror image. Another of the show’s frequent nods to Ryan’s possibly split personality.
- “Right bunny, wrong hole.” Classic.
- Rowan will be back in his usual Wilfred-assessing slot next week. Huh-huh. I said slot.