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With “Respect,” Wilfred came back from the mediocrity of the last few weeks to put up its funniest episode to date. With a heavy emphasis on well-written dialogue instead of physical gags and crass humor, the series proved it can do more than go after the lowest common denominator. Dynamite guest roles and the titular character's performance also helped in creating a memorable episode.
The first few minutes were the kind of funny that makes you glad you own a DVR; it was just a nonstop string of uproarious lines. The scene in the park was assisted by guest actor Charles Esten. Playing Jenna's friend Nick, Esten sold the annoyingly nice guy persona perfectly. He was responsible for a few of the many great one-liners in the opening moments, the best of which had to be, “Actually I like to think of myself as post-racial.” Nick also served as the plot's launching pad as his charity motivated Ryan to do some volunteering of his own. Well that, and Ryan getting mistaken for a homeless man. Jenna seemed to be the only deadwood (as she so often is), but it didn't detract from the comedy and she would make up for it later.
Ryan's desire to be seen as more than
just a dog sitter brings him and Wilfred to a hospice. As they spend time
with the terminally ill, the laughs only let up slightly, even as the
humor began taking on a darker tone. Adding to those laughs was
Rashida Jones starring as the hospice manager, Lisa. (That, with Esten, makes three alums from The Office in two weeks,
and all from the Stamford branch at that.) The character had a much
colder outlook and contemptuous attitude than Jones' current role as
the loveable nurse, Ann Perkins, from Parks and Recreation. Despite the differences in character, she still nailed the demeanor of a woman too fed up to do any more than
hope her patients pass on quickly. Despite becoming more
compassionate once Wilfred shows he can predict which patient is on
their way out, her iciness didn't melt
completely, which was shown by her funniest piece of
dialogue: “Don't mind
Ruby. She's been a total bitch since the earthquake took her family.”
There were a couple sour spots in “Respect,” and it's no surprise where they came from. The writing couldn't avoid a little toilet humor, but thankfully it was contained to just just two instances. Unfortunately, neither stepped out of the gutter in terms of cleverness, and both had problems in addition to that. Wilfred's repeated flatulence interrupting Ryan felt like a joke that had already been rehashed a dozen times in television and film. If a joke is crass and contrived then the writers are just being lazy. As soon as Wilfred boasted he could make Ryan disappear, I actually caught myself saying, “Not another fart joke.” Predictability and a drawn out setup do not a good punchline make, especially when that punchline is Ryan fleeing from Wilfred's odor for about the half-dozenth time in the series and the second in this episode alone.
Despite his cheese-induced digestive humor, “Respect” still felt like the episode
that cemented Wilfred as one of the best new characters in comedic
television. The writing helped tremendously, but Jason Gann is also
deserving of merit for his performance. The man-dog was at his most
human in this episode, which must say something about us considering
how sinister he was. As we find out Wilfred is really an
angel of not-so-much mercy, and just killing patients for the power
it gives him over Ryan — as well as the easy access to narcotics — he
was still squeezing laughs out of the decidedly dark situation.
Wilfred gliding ethereally over the floor as the elderly invalids all
beg to be the one he chooses to shuffle off was one of the funniest
images the series has given us. The rooftop confrontation between Wilfred and Ryan was
another highlight. Both actors were so committed to the satirical
take on similar over-the-top dramatic moments that you couldn't help
but laugh. Wood's face in
particular was priceless, with his wide-rimmed eyes and out thrust
chin in defiance to Wilfred's claims of divinity.
In the final moments, Jenna redeemed herself somewhat for her lack of comedy, even if the character was far from expressing any actual redeeming qualities. Jenna showed she can be funny if given the material, with her insincere condolences to Lisa after basically insuring the hospice will be shutdown by doing the story on Ruby's pill-swindling suicide. The scene revealed she can be as cutthroat as her dog, and brought the episode full circle in terms of its theme. Her previous conversation with Ryan, in which she tells him you can't worry what other people think of you, echoed the episode's title quote. Wilfred and Jenna both have more success when going after the things they really want, while Ryan fails at being something he doesn't even want to do, all because of his concern over how other people see him. By adding something more to her “girl next door” persona, and being at the center of one of the more poignant messages from the series, Jenna finally felt like a part of the episode instead of just set dressing.
Although it did come up short in a few moments, “Respect” was undoubtedly the show's best so far. If Wilfred can begin putting out this caliber of episode week in and week out, then the series will be well on their way to establishing a place for itself among FX's other outstanding comedies.