Stars: Elijah Wood, Jason Gann, Fiona Gubelmann, Mary Steenburgen, John Michael Higgins, Rhea Perlman
Writer:
Patricia Breen, series created by Jason Gann & Adam Zwar, adapted for American television by David Zuckerman
Director:
Victor Nelli, Jr.
Network:
FX, Thursdays @ 10 PM
Airdate:
August 18, 2011

We’ve known for awhile that Ryan (Elijah Wood), the human protagonist in WILFRED, suffers from all kinds of repression and self-doubt. The episode “Compassion” gets into the back story for Ryan’s personality when we meet his free-spirited mother Catherine (Mary Steenburgen), who has just spent twenty years in an upscale psychiatric facility.

Catherine’s doctor (John Michael Higgins) thinks it would be a swell idea for Catherine to spend some time with her son. Ryan objects strenuously. Wilfred (Jason Gann), however, already resentful that Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann) is off for the weekend with her boyfriend, quickly decides that Catherine is an ideal mother and hammers away at Ryan for his lack of compassion until he invites his mother to stay. Catherine doesn’t seem to be actively insane, just very eccentric – think Ruth Gordon’s character in HAROLD AND MAUDE.

Ryan has deep issues, stemming both from the fact that his mother voluntarily remained at the facility throughout his childhood rather than coming home to be his parent, and from his fears that he may have inherited Catherine’s insanity. When Ryan insists that Catherine go back to the facility, Wilfred is furious and digs up Ryan’s old suicide note – and makes his own additions, including a paranoid screed about the post office. Catherine and the doctor are both worried about Ryan due to the note, and when Ryan protests that he’s being set up by Wilfred, who wants to steal his mother, it doesn’t help his case for sanity. Ryan is released after a seventy-two-hour hold, because he doesn’t seem like a danger to himself – and because he doesn’t have medical insurance.

Ryan now does have more compassion for his mother, but Catherine decides she really is happier at the facility with her cat Mittens. In a very funny coda, we see that Ryan’s unique perception of Wilfred is an inherited family trait.

“Compassion” is droll and sweet. The episode is worth seeing simply for Steenburgen, who is effortlessly charming and forceful. We understand how her lack of self-censorship makes Ryan cringe, but Steenburgen also shows us that there is no malice whatever in Catherine – everything she does and says is out of radiant conviction and love. Wood is often called upon in WILFRED to be outraged and defensive, so Ryan’s reactions to his mother aren’t a new phenomenon here, but Wood adds an extra level of anxiety and conflict to the family interactions. Wilfred is relatively mellow in Catherine’s presence – when he’s not scolding Ryan for his bad-son behavior – allowing Gann to be a little less indignant and a little slyer.

There’s a deliciously acted moment where Ryan complains to Wilfred that he’s not crazy, and Wilfred observes with a smile, “Said the man to the dog.” This nod to WILFRED’s core, along with Rhea Perlman’s perfect cameo as Catherine’s cat, are wonderful bits in their own right, but they also illustrate how splendidly idiosyncratic WILFRED can be when it honors its premise.

AGREE? DISAGREE? LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD – COMMENT BELOW

Related Link: The Scoop on WILFRED Season 2

Related Link: Exclusive Interview with WILFRED co-creator and star Jason Gann

Related Link: AX’s review of WILFRED – Season 1 premiere – “Happiness”
Related Link: AX’s review of WILFRED – Season 1 – “Trust”

Related Link: AX’s review of WILFRED – Season 1 – “Fear”
Related Link: AX’s review of WILFRED – Season 1 – “Respect”

Related Link: AX’s review of WILFRED – Season 1 – “Acceptance”
Related Link: AX’s review of WILFRED – Season 1 – “Conscience”

Related Link: AX’s review of WILFRED – Season 1 – “Pride”
Related Link: AX’s review of WILFRED – Season 1 – “Anger”
Related Link: AX’s review of WILFRED – Season 1 – “Compassion”
Click on link: AX’s review of WILFRED – Season 1 – “Isolation”
Click on link: AX’sreview of WILFRED – Season 1 – “Doubt”

Click on link: AX’s review of WILFRED – Season 1 – “Sacrifice”


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:Review of WILFRED – Season 1 – “Compassion”

 

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