Saturday, September 29, 2012


I want to believe good writers are just people who know how to be good at writing. When I find something awesome, like a book or a series or a movie even, I want to believe there's some good writers behind it, and they'll keep being good and making awesome stuff and I can trust them. If a series, for example, has an outstanding pilot, and an even more marvelous first season, I want to believe the show won't stop being as awesome as it is.

Unfortunately that's not always the case. Let's talk a bit now about Wilfred.

Wilfred started as a TV show in Australia. You know, that magical place where platypuses swim joyfully and there's funny people like Tim Minchin and The Axis of Awesome. Jason Gann and Adam Zwar wrote and starred the show. I have only seen the US version though, so I'll be talking about that one.

So, Wilfred. Pilot episode. There's this guy Ryan, who tries to kill himself and fails. Next day, he's to take care of Wilfred, her neighbor's dog. Only Ryan can't see any dog. He sees a big man in a dog suit. Who speaks. With an Australian accent. And no one else sees nothing but a regular dog. No one hears Wilfred talk.

Who's a good boy? Yes you are!

Now this right here is pure comedy gold. And it happens in only a few seconds, too. Jenna knocks on door, asks Ryan to take care of dog, apologizes wholeheartedly. Ryan looks at the animal, still amazed that he survived the night, looking like he didn't sleep in years. And then there's this tall man, dressed in this grey, hilarious dog costume, who quickly gets in the house and barely says hello.

I couldn't stop laughing. And it's not just the absurdity of a dude in a dog suit. That's just YouTube funny. Wilfred is rude, and he is careless, and he is wise. He is an entire character, and a great one at that.

There's no explanation whatsoever about what makes Ryan see Wilfred as this guy. It just happens. Guy can hear the dog talk. He seems surprised, yes, but not as much as a real person would be. Wilfred simply takes it naturally.

And it doesn't stop just at having a funny plot. The show is painfully funny all the time. Most of the first season's best moments feature Wilfred acting like a dog, and explaining his beast behavior in human words. And then again, Wilfred is really wise. He gives advice to Ryan about his life. Ryan is a seriously depressed, unemployed lawyer, who starts feeling better about himself by following this dog's guidance. Ryan starts following the wild way.

Now here's how the first episodes are usually structured: There's a tiny problem that represents a big problem Ryan has suffered his whole life. Being controlled by his sister, hating his job, not being able to deal with crappy neighbors, lying 'bout stuff, you name it. Then Wilfred, amazed that humans can get so frustrated for such silly reasons, tells Ryan what he should do, what he feels is the natural thing to do. Ryan ignores him, 'cause Wilfred's solutions are too crazy to even think about, and tries to handle it as any adult with common sense would. Then everything goes out of control, because Ryan's solutions are always about ignoring the problems that need to be taken care of, or because Wilfred simply makes everything worse on purpose to put more pressure on him. Right when the tragedy's about to happen, Ryan finally does what Wilfred said and everything quickly gets better.

So Wilfred is some kind of guru. He just pops into this dude's life and starts giving helpful advice. His solutions generally make sense, and are about being brave and honest and true to oneself. Yet he's not your typical guru. He's manipulative, he's rude, he's prone to commit crimes for pleasure, he drinks, smokes pot and he lies a lot.

All actors are spectacular here, all characters interesting, but Wilfred's simply unbelievably great. A dog, a person, a friend, a prankster, a guru. Possibly a hallucination. As a writer, this is the kind of stuff that leaves me wondering why the hell didn't I come up with that myself.

Bad, Wilfred, bad!

And then a lot of weird things start to happen? Like, Wilfred's suddenly supposed to have a plan and purpose? At first Wilfred's just a doggy man, and there's a strange wisdom about him, and he helps Ryan to be happier, to get a better understanding about the world. His role felt pretty natural to me: Wilfred was there in the show to help Ryan.

But as the series continued, everyone kept talking about Wilfred's secret purpose. The show became more of a mystery story, where the enigma is what exactly is Wilfred, and what was he trying to do.

I always try to remember that fictional worlds have their own rules. Writers need to remember that those rules can't be broken without consequences. Characters, for example, need to have motives and expectations. In most cases at least. They shouldn't do stuff without any discernable reason. If they do, they disappoint. And one of Wilfred's rules was: Wilfred looking like a human is not that unusual, Ryan strangely accepts it. And it was a golden rule, one that made everything shine. One that gets broken if people starts asking what Wilfred is.

I was comfortable about Wilfred not being completely explained. Maybe I'm the only one, but I was. I thought there was nothing to explain, really, Wilfred needed to be seen by Ryan as a person because it was fucking funny. Ryan saw him as that because it was fucking funny. But then the show started asking who Wilfred is, and why does he exist.

First it was Ryan contemplating his possible madness, with his mother being in a mental institution and all. Now this right here is basically the main theme of the first season's finale. At one point he opens a door and finds a closet behind it, and there was a lot of suspense. I didn't get it. Why did the series presented as thrilling a scene where a guy opens a closet door? I finally understood the obvious, during the second season, but the fact that I didn't get it at first glance was a signal: the show had stopped communicating with me.

Maybe it's a matter of personal taste: I am simply not interested in Wilfred's mythology, and the second season was only about that. Everything really hit bottom at some weird episode where the conflict between the main characters was about Wilfred's semen and Ryan's completely unexplained fear of talking about it.

Maybe it was the character that reveals to be completely crazy out of the blue, apparently just because the writers wanted her out of the picture, when they were the ones who forcefully first removed her and then put her back in the picture in the first place.

Maybe it was that the second season's finale childly refused to show important points in the plot, simply skipping them and having characters summarizing them afterwards.

Maybe I just liked the beginning too much and I childly refuse to accept any changes that maybe aren't THAT bad.