It’s been a long eight months since we last saw Ryan Newman standing in front of the door he thought went to his basement, and ‘Progress’ is a triumphant and wildly absurd return for one of the most daring shows on television. It might not answer any of the questions we have about Ryan’s view of reality, but its definitely an entertaining – and remarkably confident – half hour of surrealist comedy (using the term ‘comedy’ lightly).
While it didn’t seem to make a lot of sense why this was being shown a week early and being labeled a ‘special preview’ episode, it certainly does after. ‘Progress’ really exists to bridge the end of season 1 into whatever is going to happen in season 2, taking place (SPOILER ALERT) almost completely in his mind. It’s really a daft piece of writing, opening the episode in what feels like a dream, but in the end, turns out to be reality (I’m talking about the corporate meeting). Ryan’s perception is now one of the existential questions of the show, and with Ryan now consciously toeing the line between psychosis and reality, it’s really going to be in the forefront of what happens this season.
In reality, all ‘Progress’ deals with is Ryan’s mental state, as the episode spirals further and further into weirdness, culminating in a washed-out sequence where Ryan snaps on a crippled Wilfred, burning his leg with a cigarette in the process. In some ways, worrying about his mental condition is making things worse for him, distracting him from the life he’s trying to deal with, and the answers he’s searching for. All the scenes in the hospital are very suggestive that Ryan is stuck inside his own head: he’s told he can leave whenever he wants but he’s later locked in his room, he lets Wilfred verbally walk him around in circles, and most of all, he can’t decide whether the medicine he’s taking is helping him or hindering him.
What I really like about ‘Progress’ is how it leaves the status quo of season one up in the air: what is Ryan and Wilfred’s relationship like now? Does Kristen realize she’s pregnant (and Jenna realize she’s not)? In pretty much every way possible, nothing from season one is dealt with, except that Ryan does in fact have a basement, and Wilfred wrote a will in there that contained two cryptic, but very clear words: ‘Keep Digging.”
And that’s what he’ll have to do – and us as viewers. Personally, I’m a little worried about the show dipping its foot into the deep mythological waters (history suggests shit gets overly preachy in these waters), but as long as the show doesn’t lose its Wilfred/Ryan dynamic and tale of friendship, I’m in for the long haul. Wilfred is ballsy and cinematic in ways that comedies just aren’t, questioning and challenging viewers to interpret what they see (like LOST) and bringing in a surrealist tone to the existential questions of life, friendship, and love (like its Thursday night counterpart Louie, which returns next week).
- Robin Williams with a beard should’ve been a big signifier to the dream, but I didn’t catch that he was dreaming until their second conversation, when he receives two pills and gets a number of shady, dodgy responses from a VERY toned down Williams.
- so what is the most important aspect of the show now? Ryan defining Wilfred’s presence, Ryan getting Jenna, or Ryan not killing himself?
- Ryan’s parents will definitely play into this season. We already know his mother sees animals in costumes (hers is a feline Rhea Perlman), and I’m sure the father mentioned last season and in this episode will shed some more light into what the fuck is wrong with that family.
- the wheelchair arm as a weed pipe was a hilarious touch to the absurdity of the mental hospital.
- “You know what I mean, one of those underground electrical Chinas.”
- noticing some of Ryan’s co-workers, I’m hoping Ryan back at work has some story to it this season. rewatching season one, I noticed Jenna wears a number of the same outfits in multiple episodes. Coincidence, or another deeply-embedded visual cue?
What did you think of ‘Progress’? Love it or hate it, it’s definitely not what anybody could’ve expected. feel free to leave your thoughts/comments below, and we’ll see you next Thursday for the next review!