“Wilfred” barks up an ambiguous tree in Season 1 finale

Elijah Wood stars in FX's "Wilfred"

A man talking to a guy in a dog suit, who everyone else sees as just a dog, might seem a tough concept on which to build an ongoing series. But the surreal FX comedy Wilfred has managed to surprise with each and every episode, bringing far more depth and pathos to a show that also has a fair amount of poop jokes.

A second season is on the way, and tonight’s episode, “Identity” — airing tonight at 10 — will bring the first season to a close with a tricky finale that sees nice guy Ryan (Elijah Wood) go to the darkest extremes of his personality in order to win the heart of his dream-girl neighbor Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann).

Wood and Wilfred creator and star (he wears the dog suit) Jason Gann spoke with reporters recently to talk about the finale, which Gann says raises “more questions than answers” and what’s in store for Season 2:

Gann (on how he believed the first season turned out):

“It has surpassed my expectations. David [Zuckerman] had a really good idea for the genesis of this version of the show. I was really excited by it, but yes, I’ve got to say that I think it’s — I also think that the ending is pretty tremendous. I’m really looking forward to seeing where we can take that in Season 2. It’s been good for the show, but it’s also been great for my character, as well. Like, I’ve had a lot of fun with Wilfred and I think that he has expanded and there are a lot more layers to Wilfred that I didn’t foresee, but I really love. It’s been great fun for me on the set.”

Wood (on whether the show will retain its slightly melancholic tone in Season 2):

“The foundation of the relationship is based on the recovery of Ryan and I think that that — for Wilfred to exist Ryan has to need him, I think, so I think that that component will always be there. But I think it will ebb and flow, you know?

I think over the course of this season we’ve seen Ryan start to recover. I don’t know that the foundation will always be built on a sense of melancholy necessarily, but I think that that dynamic will continue to exist.  I feel like it has to exist for that relationship to play out because ultimately it’s about Wilfred is engaging Ryan in a way of life that he was unfamiliar with and ultimately trying to push Ryan to live a stronger, better life. I see that definitely progressing.”

Wood (on the challenge of developing a character over many episodes):

“I don’t know if there was anything that surprised me. I mean, I think the process of television is much faster, so the pace — I don’t know if I would say I wasn’t prepared, but in some ways  I suppose I wasn’t. I’d never worked at that kind of pace before. Just simply trying to get six to eight pages of dialogue prepared for each day of work became complicated.

But outside of that, the idea of developing a character over the course of a season — even a show like this, which a lot of our episodes are stand-alone episodes — there is a through-line, and there is a growth and a progression. And it was very enjoyable to keep an eye on where the character was going — the fact that we are ultimately making a comedy series, but we are also looking to how that character is developing and growing or progressing over the course of the show.

I found it not unlike that of a film, but definitely more expansive because we’re dealing with a much larger piece of time. And I found that as an actor, I could pay attention to the character emotionally and psychologically while also paying attention to what was happening comedically. I found that balance really fun. And I think it speaks to the kind of show that we’re making as well, which I’m really proud of. I think it’s a really multi-layered show, and these are real characters. I mean, even Wilfred has his own growth, as well. He is very much rooted in his own reality.”

Wood (on the changes he’d like to see to his character in Season 2):

“I’d also like to see Ryan get to work, you know. We’ve never really seen him — he’s a lazy ass. We’ve never seen him in a work setting and with other responsibilities.  You know his responsibilities thus far have really been about himself and sorting himself out. I think to throw him into the context of a working environment where he has to answer to other people I think would be the next step for him. I would like to see that.”

Wood (on the directions Season 2 might take):

“It’s going to be interesting because we can actually take the audience into account. I think we have a certain fan base that appreciates what we’re doing with the show. And that’s been exciting as well, to sort of include them in this process — knowing that there are people that kind of know what it is that we’re doing. But yeah, I agree with Jason also, that sense of freedom that now we’re not trying to prove anything. We’ve kind of made it. We’ve made the statement of what the show is, and we can kind of take it from there and play.”

Gann (on the show’s edgy humor, and where he draws the line):

“We do push the envelope, and it’s interesting for me because there is a lot of stuff that I could get away with in Australia that we just couldn’t get away with here. And yet, there’s also stuff that we can get away with here that I just think, ‘Are you serious?’ You know?  Like there’s sort of some — like there’s racist jokes we’ve made.  Well, as soon as they’re pitched, I’m like, ‘Whoa. We can’t do that.’ And they’re going in and saying, ‘No, we do that over here.’ And I’m like, ‘Really?’ And I’m like, ‘We would never go there, like, in Australia.’

But I guess there’s a lot to — as long as we’re poking fun at everyone, then there’s some sort of, I guess racial jokes, that certainly pepper it a bit. … And I like pushing the envelope and doing adventurous comedy and new types of comedy, but I don’t think we need to necessarily hurt people to do that. I mean, I want it to be in this philosophy that people get to laugh and pull fun. But I don’t think it should go to that.”

Gann (on making out with guest star Mary Steenburgen, who played Ryan’s mom):

“I was like so excited about making out with Ted Danson’s missus … it kind of overshadowed the rest of the episode for me. We shot a number of takes of that kissing scene and we thought we had it and I said, ‘Yes, I think we’ve got it’ and I went into the room where the show runner and the director were, Randall [Einhorn] and David [Zuckerman], and I said, ‘Did you see my tongue go in?’ They were like, ‘Yes, we know it went in.’ ‘But, did you see it go in?’ They were like, ‘You can tell it’s in.’ I’m like, ‘But did you see it?’ They said they didn’t see it go in.  I said, ‘Give me one more.’

So I went back out and I said, ‘We’ll do one more.’ I made it get the tongue right in there and then I said to Mary, ‘Look, I’m sorry about that.’ She was like, ‘What are you sorry for, it’s the most fun I’ve had in ages.’ It was a lot of fun. She was a really good sport. We have to bring her back, you know. We really want to see that character again.  It was so great we got a second season and fingers crossed she’s back.”

Photo: Credit: Ray Mickshaw/FX