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'Running Wilde' Premiere Review: Will Power Can't Save This Comedy

by Maureen Ryan, posted Sep 21st 2010 10:55AM
'Running Wilde' (9:30PM ET Tuesday, Fox) may have been the most anticipated comedy of the new season, at least among TV nerds.

The show's co-creator, Mitchell Hurwitz, created one of the most beloved comedies of all time, the absurd and wonderful 'Arrested Development.' 'Running Wilde' reunites him with former 'AD' actors Will Arnett and David Cross, so what could possibly go wrong?

A lot, it turns out.

There are a few structural problems that bedevil 'Running Wilde,' but foremost among them is the miscasting of Keri Russell.

Russell plays Emmy Kadubic, an environmental activist who, in events that transpire in the show's pilot, comes to live with (or rather, near) her childhood friend, Steven Wilde (Arnett). Wilde is a rich, petulant man-child who is surrounded by servants in his vast mansion, where he's occasionally visited by another bored playboy, Fa'ad Shaoulian (Peter Serafinowicz).

Russell's character is problematic for a few reasons. First, though Russell is competent as a dramatic actress, comedy is not her forte and her brand of earnestness severely undercuts the wry tone the show is going for.

Second, she has no discernible chemistry with Arnett, and for the romantic-comedy aspects of the show to work, viewers have to be at least a little invested in whether Steven and Emmy get together.

And finally, Emmy is yet another iteration of a phenomenon that is all too common on TV -- the female character who exists to set limits on and scold the male lead. Perhaps an incredibly gifted comic actress could have found the funny in this tired conceit, but Russell can't. (If anything, Cross' character is even more aggressively unlikable and makes me long for the clueless yet earnest Tobias Funke.)

'Parks and Recreation,' a comedy with a similarly great pedigree, wasn't good in its first season, but when the writers got a better handle on the characters, the comedy evolved into one of the best shows on TV. The premise and the setting weren't the problem, it was just a matter of fine-tuning the people in that world.

It's not clear how 'Running Wilde' could evolve, however, and building a show around a needy man-child -- the kind of supporting character Arnett has often played in the past -- seems like a foundational mistake that can't be fixed.

And as an ensemble, 'Running Wilde' falls short: The comedy's supporting characters -- a butler, a nanny and Emmy's daughter, Puddle -- add little or nothing to the show. Serafinowizc, who brings a relaxed, blase curiosity to Fa'ad, is the best thing about 'Running Wilde,' but Arnett's character is so needy that the actor can't relax into the quietly surreal vibe that Serafinowicz brings to the proceedings.

The retooled pilot that Hurwitz and co-creators Arnett and Jim Vallely came up with is better than the terrible first pilot that critics saw over the summer. But the pilot and the second episode that Fox sent out this fall display a comedy covered in flop sweat, trying very hard to be funny.

Good comedies take a lot of work, but that strain shouldn't show up on the screen. It pains me to say that, despite all the obvious effort, I can't see how 'Running Wilde' could get significantly better.

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Because of the pedigree, and how funny Will Arnett is doing his standard shtick (even if it's not a leading role shtick), I'll give this a couple more episodes. Evidently at least two more, since everyone says the second one is no better than the first.

But I agree with Mo, Kerri Russel seems to be miscast. Oddly, many other critics think she's quite good. I've liked her since Felicity, but couldn't imagine her doing great comedy, and so far she's not doing it.

The one-upsmanship running gag vs. the Fa'ad character is probably the funniest thing the show has going for it so far.

The freckled Puddle can't help but remind me of Maeby of Arrested Development. But I don't think it's funny that she's constantly stuffing food into her mouth. Is the joke that she was previously starving in the jungle? Or some metaphor I don't get, like sound didn't come out of her mouth, but tons of food went in? (I just made that up and have no idea what it might mean.)

If Arrested Development won the critics and the Emmys but not the audience, maybe this one was deliberately engineered for the reverse. Why would Fox try again after the AD failure? To the critics, this is a broken AD - to Fox and the audience, maybe this one will have the winning formula. Well, I doubt it. It's just neither smart enough nor dumb enough to click with any audience. Guess we'll see the initial ratings in a few hours.

September 22 2010 at 7:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I just watched the first episode. I don't understand the scathing review. There were plenty of little jokes in there, all along the way, in the Arrested Development manner. Some of them hit better than others, again, in the Arrested manner. As someone who loved AD, I really liked Running Wilde and look forward to more. The pilot of AD wasn't the high point of the series-- the humor built and built and built as one in-joke piled on top of another. This first episode of Running Wilde shows the same promise. Anyone who liked AD should stay with Wilde for at least half a dozen episodes. Hurwitz has earned our patience.

September 21 2010 at 10:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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