Over its four seasons, the FXX comedy (or is it dramedy?) Wilfred has kept its viewers guessing at the nature of its titular, sardonic canine character. Is the man in a dog suit played by Jason Gann some kind of mythical spirit? A hallucination? Or maybe just evidence of a mental breakdown for lead Elijah Wood’s Ryan?
With the show’s fourth season also serving as its final one, Wilfred has come tantalizingly close to making a definitive statement, but will it go all the way by the time the Aug. 13 finale airs?
To help dig at the answers, Spinoff Online spoke to Wood as part of a recent press call, and the actor opened up about the show’s journey in surreality, Ryan’s journey from depressive stoner to right-hand man and the answers of Wilfred‘s finale.
The Wilfred producers seem to take glee in messing with expectations, including the non-revelations of last week’s “Answers,” in which a potential insight into Ryan’s psyche turned out to be a drug-fueled zig-zag. “Reading the script, it was honestly I think my favorite script that I’ve read, maybe in the entire show,” Wood said. “And it’s honestly representative of some of my favorite elements of the show. When the show can get as surreal and twisted psychologically as this episode gets, it’s my favorite area for exploration — especially when it allows for a visual way to explore sort of psychological things.
“The thing that kind of blew my mind about the particular episode is that we actually delve into so many things that I think we as viewers, and to a certain degree Ryan, is concerned with, like seeing Wilfred step out of his suit. Basically, articulating all these things that are sort of deep in Ryan’s psyche, seeing them actually play out and to be able to come back from that as just something that he imagined in the hallucination is totally incredible. And I think ultimately what it is it’s a manifestation of his own psychological concerns and fears more than anything. It plays to his paranoia about what Wilfred is in its deepest sense really.”
That cracked sense of reality helped provide Wood’s initial attraction to the show. “I think the pilot is the first thing that I read,” he recalled. “It was the strangest thing I’d ever read, and also the funniest. But I’d certainly never seen anything like it or read anything like it. … But it also reminded me of Harvey a little bit. I’m a real fan of Harvey and Jimmy Stewart’s performance and the sort of notion of what that film is about that it’s sort of up for interpretation what Harvey is. And I kind of felt the same way about Wilfred. It could be about a man’s break from reality by choice.
“And I also just on a very simple kind of level, the idea of the absurdity of a man in a cheap dog suit talking to another man whilst everyone else sees a dog was just something that really appealed to me. So, I just totally fell in love with it and then ultimately consequently having conversations with [producer] David Zuckerman about where he wanted the show to go excited me even further.”
According to the actor, Wilfred’s lasting appeal comes down to his relationship with his co-star. “And a large part of that is what Jason does and what the characterization of Wilfred [is], and what he brings to that is always so extraordinary,” Wood said. “As the actor who works opposite him, I’m constantly challenged and surprised by what he brings to the table, and I think that that relationship is sort of core.
“I think it’s also, the scope of the show is beyond simply being about focusing on the absurdity of a man in a dog suit and this guy, and I think that appeals to people, too, I would imagine. That there’s depth to it. I think what I’m most proud of the show, and where I feel like the show is at its best, is when it’s balancing the absurd comedy with real drama and kind of a pathos and doing that really deftly.”
Over four seasons, Ryan’s journey has gone from the brink of suicide to something resembling a functioning adult. “I think the Ryan we met initially was … he had really kind of hit an impasse in his life where he didn’t know where to go and he was sort of ready to end it,” Wood said. “The character that he is now I think has developed a sense of strength and an understanding of what he needs to be happy, and in some ways that it’s not about being happy, which I think is probably the greatest thing that he can learn. … And I think, ultimately, when you see the resolution of the show he really comes to an understanding of his place in the world and who he is and, more importantly, to be OK with not knowing.
“I think that’s probably one of the greatest lessons of the show and for him in his life is that you can’t necessarily have all the answers. The sort of seeking for happiness and the pursuit of that and the pursuit of sort of clarity is ultimately futile. That is, it’s kind of about progressing through life and not knowing and the unknown being really good.”
But will viewers get to know what’s real and what isn’t in the finale? “I think, to a certain degree, once it’s fully contextualized at the end, perhaps that will have some bearing on it as a whole,” Wood teased. “I’m really pleased with how it ultimately comes to an end, and I think without revealing anything I think it has a sense of being definitive whilst still plays with ambiguity, which I think is really important. To a certain degree, answering … it’s not even about answering questions.”
Either way, Wood is hoping fans take some solid moments of hilarity from the final run of episodes. Meanwhile, he took at least one thing with him from the set. “I have the Gatorade bong,” the actor laughed. “There’s one of two, I think Jason has the other one. And actually a good friend of mine has a good portion of the basement. I was most sad to see the basement go. I think all of us felt a really strong connection to the space.
“But a friend of mine actually took a lot of the furniture and it’s a replicate in the basement in his house, which is pretty awesome. So, I can actually go to my friend’s house and sit in the basement.”
Wilfred airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FXX.