Wilfred: angel, devil... or just dog?

To some extent, every story ever told is about the nature of good and evil. Traditionally, there’s a good guy and a bad guy. Increasingly, however, we are seeing more complex characters on the small screen. For a good portion of cable programming it seems that the anti-hero is the new protagonist of choice. You might say that Wilfred has gone one step further, taking morality out the equation entirely.


Wilfred, which debuts tonight, June 23rd on FX, follows the post suicide-attempt life of Ryan, an out-of-work lawyer, who then meets his neighbor’s dog, Wilfred. Wilfred is a regular dog as far as everyone else is concerned, but to Ryan, he’s a full-size, smoking, swearing, leg-humping, movie-quoting man.

In a recent interview, the show’s co-stars Jason Gann and Elijah Wood mulled whether the character Wilfred (Gann), is good or evil. “Wilfred is an angel and a devil on his shoulder, giving [Ryan, played by Wood] advice and trying to bring him back into the real world,” says Gann.

In the pilot, we meet Ryan as he mixes a pharmaceutical smoothie and waves good-bye to the gorgeous girl next door. It’s a brief scene that tells us much about this unhappy man. As Wood describes him, “He’s kind of a broken individual. He’s someone that hasn’t really busted out of himself to live freely and to live with confidence and to define himself.”

The aforementioned girl next door, Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann) arrives the next morning asking Ryan to keep an eye on Wilfred while an exterminator exterminates at her place. Ryan first sees Wilfred as a fuzzy apparition on the sidewalk and we think — as does he — that the vision is a result of his drug-induced haze. We later learn that the pills, prescribed to Ryan by his sister, were placebos. Then it begins to seem like Wilfred is indeed some sort of angel, there to rescue Ryan from himself.

When asked whether Wilfred is intended to be a positive or negative force on Ryan, Gann replies, “As long as Ryan’s not killing himself I think he’s got to be positive because that’s where [Ryan] started.”

Soon, however, Wilfred turns to “bad” behavior, digging up the lawn (with a shovel), smoking a bong, and chasing a surly motorcycle-driving neighbor (Ethan Suplee). As frustrating as his actions are to Ryan, we begin to see that he’s just being a dog. Dogs, as we all know, do things out of instinct, fear, or conditioning. We might coo “what a good boy,” but really, dogs aren’t moral or immoral.

“You’re never quite sure where Wilfred stands and kind of what Wilfred really is to [Ryan],” says Wood. “It’s always sort of oscillating.”

It’s Ryan’s goodness that’s on the line here. “You’re a good boy,” Wilfred tells him. “You come when you’re called, you don’t rub your ass on the carpet.” Wilfred urges Ryan to do what he wants; in other words, being good isn’t good.

About two-thirds of the way through the pilot our two main characters have the conversation that just may be the heart of the show.  “I’m true to my nature,” Wilfred declares. “I act on instinct.”

“You’re an animal.”

“We’re all animals, Ryan.”

So there we have it. Is anything we do good or evil, or even significant? Or is the key to happiness simply to live by instinct? Dogs seem pretty happy. Just don’t take their toys away.

By Kristina Meek

About the author

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1 Comment
On: Thursday, June 23, 2011
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:

Awesome job/analysis/preview, Kristina! 

I so can't wait to check Wilfred out... and Ethan Suplee too, yes !


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