Ryan Newman is an introvert who is extremely troubled; he is struggling with trying to find his way in life. Prior to the events of Wilfred, Ryan had worked as a lawyer for his father's firm, which he hated.
In the first episode (Happiness), Ryan tries to commit suicide by overdosing on pills he had gotten from his sister; however, she had actually given him sugar pills, knowing that giving out pills to family members was unethical. After spending all night waiting to die from the pills, Ryan encounters his neighbor Jenna, who asks him to take care of Wilfred, who appears to Ryan to be an Australian man in a dog costume, while appearing to everyone else as a normal dog. Ryan and Wilfred become friends, despite Wilfred's manipulative behavior and his disapproval of Ryan's crush on Jenna.
Ryan is 5'6", with somewhat curly brown hair, has pale skin, a light beard, and big blue eyes. He often allows Wilfred to pull Ryan into hare-brained schemes that usually involve nearly hurting himself or others. Ryan also tends to get nervous easily, but when called for, he can lie quickly (but still embarrasses himself at points) and act like he's better than he really is. Also, when under pressure or pushed to the limit of stress, Ryan snaps and gets very temperamental, seeing as he is one to keep his feelings bottled up inside him. He can be loyal when it's almost too late to save Wilfred life's from the episode (Now) for example.
As we see in the episode "Anger", Ryan had a pet Jack Russel Terrier subsequently named "Sneakers" that he loved dearly when he was a kid. However, Sneakers drowned in the pool, and Ryan believed it was his fault for his faithful dog's death. However, it was really Ryan's older sister Kristen who left the gate open that allowed Sneakers to reach the water.
It is revealed in the final episode of the series (Happiness) that Ryan is very mentally ill (as a product of two mentally unstable parents) which is the reason that he sees Wilfred (a completely normal dog) the way that he does. After discovering this fact, he decides that Wilfred was the part of himself that was trying to help him find true happiness and decides to keep his vision of Wilfred (who as a dog has now passed away) alive to help him navigate through the rest of his life.
Ryan was born to Henry and Catherine Newman and has an older sister Kristen. Throughout his youth he showed interest in art, chemistry, cooking, and ping pong. Throughout the series Ryan often talks about his childhood experiences, which were usually traumatic. Ryan is shown to generally dislike his father due to several experiences during his childhood. When Ryan asked for presents for his birthday and Christmas, Henry would instead give him other, undesirable gifts such as a suitcase and a... pen.
For one of Kristen's birthdays she had received a Jack Russel Terrier named Sneakers. Although he was technically Kristen's pet, Sneakers seemed to prefer Ryan, and the two became best friends. One day, the gate that led to the pool in their yard was left open. Ryan was looking for Sneakers when he went to the pool and, brokenhearted, discovered his friend floating in the pool. Ryan believed that it was he who had left the gate open, and continued to carry the guilt for it.
Ryan's mother was shown to have been less strict and as controlling as her husband, and there are many instances of Ryan and Catherine bonding throughout his upbringing. However, when Ryan was 10, Henry had put Catherine into an institution due to her increasing psychosis.
Ryan was described as awkward and an outcast in high school. There were rumors he would draw on pubic hair as his hormones came in late. He eventually went on to go to college and work for his father as a lawyer at his firm. Ryan was well known as "The Archaeologist" as he would prepare two files. One file would be a legitimate and ethical strategy for cases; while the other, known as The Black File, had dirt on his opponents that he would resort to if need be. Eventually, Ryan quit his dad's firm due to increasing levels of stress.
At the beginning of the series, Ryan attempts suicide by mixing a container of pills into a smoothie and drinking it while reading his suicide letter—third revised! The drugs do not seem to take into effect and Ryan begins panicking and doing multiple tasks in order to help the drugs kick in, but nothing seems to work. Ryan is alerted its morning when his neighbor shows up at the door. She introduces herself as Jenna and seems worried about Ryan's state, but he passes it off as lack of sleep. Jenna agrees, talking about their neighbor who keeps revving up his motorcycle and how it drives "Wilfred" crazy. Ryan laughs it off, saying Wilfred is only saying what they're all thinking, to which Jenna weakly laughs. She explains she needs someone to watch her dog, and Ryan agrees. In the distance, Ryan notices a bearded man dresses in a cheap dog costume appear and seems confused. Jenna then gives the man a nice rub down as if he's an actual dog and gives Ryan some of Wilfred's toys and other supplies to take care of him.
Wilfred enters the house and Jenna leaves. Ryan does not seem to question anything but does seem uncomfortable and even scared around Wilfred at first. Ryan receives a phone call from his sister demanding he goes into work soon, as she just got him the job at her hospital where she works as a doctor who delivers babies. Ryan then goes in the living room where Wilfred has situated himself. The two talk. Wilfred mentions his love for Matt Damon DVDs and tells Ryan his milks gone bad, and how he can smell fear and human shit. Ryan protests, only for Wilfred to explain how his nose is superior. Ryan smokes some pot with Wilfred out of Wilfred's homemade Gatorade bong and drifts off to sleep... lightweight. He awakes from another call from Kristen: Ryan was a no show for his job.
Ryan has bigger thoughts on his mind. He goes in the kitchen and grabs the carton of milk, looks out the kitchen window and sees a regular dog across the street and chuckles it off as he gulps into the milk and spits out. It's spoiled, he realizes, just as Wilfred pops out on the side of him. Wilfred shows Ryan some holes he's been digging in Ryan's backyard due to worrying that Jenna was a "goner". Ryan tells him otherwise and the two go for a walk. As the two are walking, Wilfred confesses he read Ryan's "snuff letter" and critiques it. Wilfred tells Ryan he knows his type, a goodie goodie who lets everyone walk all over him. Wilfred then attempts to give Ryan some advice but he rejects it, claiming he has enough people telling him what to do .As they walk home Spencer, the neighbor who continues to rev his motorcycle, drives by on it and Wilfred chases him only for Spencer to yell at Ryan. Wilfred calls Ryan a pussy and pulls out a ball, to which Ryan knocks it out of Wilfred's hands and into Spencer's yard, angering Wilfred. Jenna shows up and takes Wilfred away.
Kristen then shows up at Ryan's house and begins scolding him. Ryan inquires about the pills she gave him, stating he thinks he took too much and that they are not working. She then scolds him on that, listing off the side effects. Hallucinations. Ryan's relieved up until she says they were sugar pills. Fuck. He also notices Wilfred chilling in the backyard. Ryan excuses himself for a minute, only to head outside and help Wilfred get his ball back. The two then break into Spencer's house (well Wilfred does but Ryan follows his lead, reluctantly) and steal his marijuana plants and defecate in his boots. The two then escape just as Spencer is returning home. Ryan is laughing and smiling, the first time he seems to actually be happy. Wilfred teaches him a valuable lesson not to let people step all over his life, and Ryan regurgitates this back to Kristen and tells her he really just does not give a shit. As Kristen walks away she declares he's on his own, to which Ryan retorts he has Wilfred.
Later on Ryan inquires on how the two's friendship is going to end, and they are equally unsure. Ryan then tells Wilfred he's glad he has someone watching over him.
The next day, Ryan receives an email about his ex, Paula, and is disgusted. He's chilling in the backyard when randomly an ax swings and chops up his wooden fence, only for it to be revealed that it's Wilfred pulling these shenanigans. They talk a tad, specifically about how Wilfred thinks Ryan is a freak for dumping Paula because she stuck her finger up his butt during sex one day. The two are now toking it up in the basement as Ryan tries to get the deets on Jenna. Wilfred talks about how Ryan's not loyal nor trustful, and has Ryan prove otherwise by bringing him to a beach that did not allow dogs.
Wilfred tells a story about how he got thrown in the Chesapeake Bay with the rest of his litter (he says only he survives) and how it was such a thrill, and he wants to re-experience the ocean. Ryan agrees, only if he's discrete. Wilfred's not. He's yelling up over there and even kills a pelican and gifts the carcass to a mother with her child. Ryan's fined $300, an extra $100 for not having his ID. He swears he had his wallet the night before. Wilfred deems him a true, loyal friend. Then they partake in some shenanigans like Wilfred pushing a dude off his bike, snapping some pics of girls-who-are-tanning-braless' tits, Ryan buying pot from a dispensary and driving some bike-cart thing carrying Wilfred.
The two arrive back at their homes and Jenna is relieved to find Wilfred with him, but apologizes for him being a nuisance to Ryan. Ryan says it's all good and he actually likes spending time with Wilfred. Jenna then uses her charm on Ryan to take Wilfred to get his teeth cleaned. Ryan covers this up by telling Wilfred they're going to go to the movie theater and see Matt Damon's new movie. Even those guys Trent and Mofo from The Morning Zoo agreed it was a triumph.