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Coming off the series' best episode last week, “Conscience” was right behind it in terms of laughs. As the title suggests, Ryan is struggling with the angel on one shoulder and the devil-in-a-dog-costume on the other, a struggle that leads to some uproarious moments. The episode did have some dry spots, but it was saved by again making one-liners and witty dialogue the primary source of comedy.
The episode's driving force was Jenna's boyfriend, Drew. Played by Chris Klein (American Pie), the character was a humorously annoying blend of frat-guy jock and smarmy salesman. The kind of guy you would hate to be around, but would love to watch others have to endure. Which is exactly what our pair of protagonists are doing, as Drew brags to Ryan about putting a man out of business, and demoralizes Wilfred by dominating him physically. (Does Jenna really have the right to call Drew out on his bragging when she just got a hospice shut down in the last episode?) Klein brought an insanely high level of energy to the character. Especially in the ping-pong scene, in which he also nailed Drew's obsessive need to win and poor sportsmanship.
Wilfred enlists Ryan's help to break up Jenna and Drew, which leads to Ryan's crisis of conscience. Whether it was more from his lust for Jenna or submission to Wilfred, Ryan soon gives in; despite his moral compass telling him he is headed in the wrong direction. The aforementioned ping-pong match is how the two plan to do it, and it ended up one of the highlights of the episode. In addition to Drew's testosterone fueled, celebratory rampage, Wilfred went far in making the scene a memorable one. His comments from the “sidelines” were great, especially his quote from Karate Kid; “Get him a body bag!” Though things don't go according to plan, their scheme still achieves the desired result, and Jenna ends things with Drew.
While on the subject of Jenna; it has to be pointed out that she was the only deadwood in “Conscience.” Which is not unexpected at this point. The character seems to only be around to provide a plot when needed, and has yet to garner any laughs. She's not detracting from the series, but there's always room for more jokes, and Jenna can't even seem to get any written for her. It's an all too common fate for female characters in comedies, but nonetheless disappointing when it happens again. I don't mind looking at Fiona Gublemann in a bikini, not at all, but it would be nice if she was there for more than just eye candy and to serve as the unrequited love interest. Perhaps it is the actress, as Ryan's sister, Kristen, has killed in her two appearances. Though it does seem more like a lack of material, not talent.
seeing off a broken-hearted Drew, Ryan's better angels turn the tide
in their favor, and he realizes he must make amends. This leads to
Ryan and Wilfred locked into a power struggle of their own. Their
battle for the “Alpha” role in their relationship culminates in
the episode's funniest moments. Wilfred's half Hannibal Lecter, half
mad scientist character led to another hysterically over-the-top
scene. Much like during their confrontation in the rain from the
last episode, it was the actors' commitment that made it so
enjoyable. The asinine content is only slightly humorous, but it
becomes gold when paired with Gann's maniacal laughing and Wood's
eye's going wide with fear. (Wider than usual that is.) Wilfred's
confusion at Ryan's altruistic nature brought about the episode's
funniest line, “I will never understand humans. This is
why we we will ultimately defeat you.”
It can be difficult for established actors to intentionally overact,
but these two seem to have the skill mastered. Wood most of all; his
facial expressions have been one of the key aspects of his
performance throughout the series, but it's in scenes like this that
they are really taken advantage of. Gann is also showing he has talent in many forms of comedy, and the pure enthusiasm he brings to the character is not only endearing, but responsible for many of the show's best scenes.
By the end, things are back to normal. Wilfred is back to ruling over Ryan, Drew is back to ruling over Wilfred, and Jenna is back to being the girl Ryan can't get. Beyond a few jokes that missed, and some missed opportunities for jokes, “Conscience” was a perfect example of what every episode should be: dialogue-driven comedy. If the writing stays that way, and finds some more material for Jenna, than Wilfred could take a place amongst TV's best running comedies.