Academic Writing

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


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Has anyone been watching FX’s new show Wilfred?  I've been watching since it premiered back in June and I have to say it’s probably one of the stranger shows on television right now.  I wouldn’t quite say I love it, but I do find it funny and I am definitely intrigued by it.

Admittedly, I am a sucker for good marketing and anything Australian, so when I saw the hilarious promos for it on FX this past Spring, I knew I was going to give it at least a try.  Wilfred stars Elijah Wood as Ryan, a depressed (and depressing) guy who can’t seem to do anything right, he’s even failed at his multiple attempts at suicide.  However, everything seems to change for him when he meets Wilfred, his neighbor’s dog.  Here’s where things begin to get weird.  The entire world sees Wilfred as a loving, albeit mischievous, dog.  However, Ryan sees a grown man wearing a dog costume (played by the creator and original Australian Wilfred, Jason Gann).  Having quit his job as a lawyer and refusing to accept gainful employment, Ryan agrees to dog-sit for Wilfred whenever Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann) needs him to.  I wouldn’t say that the two become fast friends by any means. 

Wilfred is a walking, talking id.  He has no self-control and acts on nearly all of his whims and fancies.  He’s over-sexualized, constantly having sex with “Bear,”  a giant stuffed bear he keeps in Ryan’s basement, always getting high, and often steals and loots other people’s belongings.  More specifically, he is the id to Ryan’s super ego.  Unable to stand up to anyone, be it his overbearing and nasty sister or any of the other characters that he encounters, Ryan goes through life doing as others tell him until he breaks.  Through the most unconventional means, Wilfred encourages him to stand up for himself, often in a way that wreaks havoc. 

Wilfred reminds me a lot of Fight Club.  If you haven’t seen it (which would be ridiculous) stop reading now, because I’m going to spoil the ending.  In Fight Club you spend the entire movie watching and cringing as Tyler Durden causes trouble for Edward Norton’s unnamed character.  Durden starts fights, fires and creates general chaos in the life of “The Narrator.”  Not until the end of the movie do we find out that Durden and Norton’s character are one in the same and that Durden was the embodiment of all of the desires and actions that Norton’s character could not act out on his own.  Ultimately, it was Norton’s character who was doing all of these acts and Durden was the embodiment of his id, to which he attributed the behaviors. 

Similar to Fight Club, Wilfred acts out everything that Ryan cannot or will not.  However, given that he is a dog, it’s unlikely that Wilfred is actually doing many of the things for which he is blamed.  For instance, in the pilot episode, after Ryan and Wilfred loot the house of a guy who lives down the block, Wilfred returns and places Ryan’s wallet at the scene of the crime, implicating Ryan in the crime and which will ultimately incur the wrath of the victimized neighbor.  Ryan blames Wilfred for doing that, but would be impossible to have actually happened.  In this scenario, and others similar to it, it’s likely Ryan is self-sabotaging without even knowing it and using the rascally dog as the scapegoat to him acting out on his impulses, something which he had for so long suppressed.  In this sense, Ryan becomes his own worst enemy.  Like Freud said in his theory on the Return of the Repressed (See my Black Swan review for more), as Ryan has for so long repressed his impulses they are now returning in the form of a monster, one which might ultimately lead to Ryan’s destruction.

Wilfred is definitely unusual and it does keep me coming back week after week.  Is meant to be a comedy (which means I am probably reading too much into this) and while is often funny, doesn’t always hit the mark.  However, when looked at through the psychology of a tortured young man who is trying to break free of his shell it becomes perhaps a little more meaningful than the creators intended it to be.   

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