After a while, it’s hard not to wonder if Wilfred will eventually run out of philosophical/introspective themes. “Service” is a good one, although it’s not really as binding an ingredient to this week’s episode as, say, “Truth” was last Thursday. Nor is this season’s eighth installment as probing into Ryan’s psychological breaks. Like any series telling an ongoing story through distinct, individual chapters, Wilfred zigs and zags around its primary concern—just how crazy is Ryan, and will he survive?—and works overtime to reward viewer dedication with a more or less consistent tone and, in this case, dependable laughs-to-pathos ratio.
“Service” is only flittingly dramatic, but incredibly nasty and hilarious. It also manages to quarantine us (with Wilfred as proxy) alongside the usually grating Kristen and daffy-but-cartoonish Catherine (Mary Steenburgen, once again thoroughly enjoying herself as Ryan’s nutjob mother) for 22 minutes without completely exhausting our goodwill. In fact, Kristen is sympathetic for once. No wonder she’s high-strung—a lifetime of feeling obligated to remain level-headed and in control while everyone else in her family falls to pieces will do that to a lady. And Ryan makes a particularly foolish succession of choices on this particular day, especially deciding to break Catherine out of her group home for a mother-son joyride. As ever, the impulse is a selfish one. Ryan doesn’t want his clearly erratic mom to experience the ecstasy of freedom. He hopes she could handle the autonomy and prove herself competent, thereby proving that he too isn’t insane, but merely over-managed and misunderstood.
Kristen isn’t the only one who, though usually an antagonist, indirectly suffered the repercussions of Ryan’s actions in “Service.” Wilfred goes from devil on his buddy’s shoulder to relatively blameless hostage in an escalating misadventure. From his canny jingling of the car keys to several short-stops that nearly send Wilfred through the windshield, Ryan feels in full control of the dynamic between himself and his canine subconscious. That alone should be a red flag, but Ryan’s visits to Catherine and Dr. Cahill (John Michael Higgins, again being let out of TV Land imprisonment) seem to instigate his inner teen, and he behaves purely on impulse.
Rest assured, Wilfred gets his licks in, mining humor from an ongoing gag involving his feasting on dead body parts (a great, perfectly undignified exit for Steve Weber’s Jeremy) and warm placenta. Wilfred’s bloody chompers and “Did I do that?” grin nearly out-dirty the show’s recent deluge of dog-on-Bear cunnilingus. There are also a handful of lighter, dog’s-life routines that keep Wilfred in view as vaudevillian comic relief. His barely concealed rage at Catherine’s insensitivity to his paw needing to rest atop hers is only topped by his incredulity at Ryan disrupting a rigid eat-sleep-shit routine. Who can’t relate to that?
Amanda is nowhere to be seen this week, an absence written off with a simple, “She’s bummed from the breakup” explanation. But really, the whole point of Ryan calling things off was to focus on getting better, and spending an episode with Catherine and Kristen is the best way to zag from all that revelation in “Truth.” “Service” is, foremost, less about Ryan and Catherine’s Thelma & Louise moment than a son making an essential first step in his latest attempt at self-discovery. The final pre-credits scene, in which Ryan, unguarded by Wilfred, and Catherine—back on her meds—share an actual lucid few minutes together is Wilfred at its bigsoftie best. The added flourish that they’re painting Rhea Perlman on a park bench? Just perfect.
- Rowan Kaiser will resume his usual Wilfred mantle next Thursday. Thanks to Rowan for entrusting me with his weekly missive, and to you guys for being patient and engaged in his absence.
- I’m sure Kristen feels perfectly safe temporarily entrusting her newborn with Ryan and Catherine
- Kristen even got one of the episode’s biggest laughs, breaking from her conversation with Ryan to assure her OB, “Scott, that is not my vagina.”
- Does anyone ever really use a load sock?
- Lots of dicey racial humor in this one (mauling black teens to look like Seal, “mulatto” babies et al.), but somehow this show has a gentleness with those jokes, and it’s pretty clear all the offenders are unwell anyway.
- Best unexpected punchline of the night: When people steal Wilfred’s words of wisdom, he says, “Hey hey hey, it’s Fat Albert!”
- Nice little verbal-gesturing exchange on what could have been a cliché joke about Dr. Cahill having been raped.
- Henry used to yell at Catherine about “spoons or whatever.” That may as well be what all married couples fight about.
- I couldn’t pick up on the phonetics of Wilfred’s “Cosmo” moment, but did he say his name was Wilfred Frosseur Mueller?
- Anyone who’s ever owned a dog probably got a pretty big kick out of that closing-credits bit. Good thing they snuck in a Hilary Swank joke to make it universally funny.