The Blog Formerly Known as Rebel Prince

Cult TV, Gen Y rants, and endless opera.

Running Wilde: “Pilot”

Posted by therebelprince on September 24, 2010

I went into FOX’s Running Wilde with very low expectations. Not that it’s been called godawful; that honour is reserved for… well basically every other new sitcom this year. But certainly ‘big disappointment’ in skywriting fifty feet high. And for a Mitch Hurwitz show starring Will Arnett and Keri Russell, that’s probably going to happen in any case.

Well, this just in: it’s better than I expected. The premise is nothing new – spoilt rich oil heir (Arnett) lives a fantastic (in the classical sense of that word) life, in which his only problem is his equally ridiculous best friend (Peter Serafinowicz, who is awesome, and who I’ve swear I’ve seen in a million things – but IMDb proves I dont know him at all. Weird.) Along comes his childhood love and now environmental activist (Russell) and her daughter to teach him about the world.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting anything new from Arnett, and I wasn’t disappointed. He’s playing a take on his character, the GOB Bluth, the Devon Banks, but Steve Wilde is tailor made for Arnett and his effortless smarminess, so one can hardly complain. I find it harder to rationalise Wilde, though, because at least GOB was living 100% in a fantasy world. Literally everything he did and said were the actions of someone who had never known reality. We’re told here, though, that Emmy did try to awaken Steve when he was young, and there is the occasional hint that he’s not a complete idiot. So we’ll see how Arnett goes at playing the subtleties which will assumedly be required if this show is going to stretch its formula for any length of time.

Keri Russell is unsurprisingly very good as Emmy, although she’s by far the most thankless character. As with Community’s Britta Perry (who, after some early snags, is now one of the best characters on the show), the writers of Running Wilde are going to have to make sure to include comic elements to her. Russell gets a few delightful jokes (her rant about how even the tribe wanted to leave the jungle, for one) but since the show has put Emmy on the ‘right’ side of the argument, it’s going to be tough for them to keep it up.

The rest of the cast are all up-to-snuff, but I’m not sure how the formula will allow for their presence as anything more than commentators on the main plot. Robert Michael Morris and Mel Rodriguez are both amusing guys, but I’m not eager to see any wacky subplots involving their characters while Emmy and Steve are off touring a glue factory. And Stefania Owen has some wonderful sight gags as Emmy’s daughter Puddle, but her narration – while very useful as an introductory device –  was hopefully a one-off affair.

A huge issue is how scattered the pilot seems. The humour bounces from the absurd (everything Peter Serafinowicz does) to Arrested Development-style plot connections (Migo convincing Steve that soda costs $15 a bottle, and then taking both the excess soda and the change to his home), but a lot of it is very broad. And the realisation scene, in which Emmy is convinced to stay because of Steve’s apparently selfless action is ridiculous. There’s nothing meta about this show (almost a relief in this year’s comedy climate), so instead we’re left to believe that Emmy just accepts a radical change of lifestyle – leaving behind her boyfriend as well, we must assume!  –  because Steve did one good thing. Which is ridiculous because a) that ‘one good thing” was convincing her that her daughter was quite ill, and b) she could’ve just listened to her daughter’s pleas, and achieved the same thing. When your formula set-up relies on the kind of twist found out the end of Disney live-action family films, you’re struggling.

It’s a very scattered pilot, certainly, and when I say it was better than I expected, I by no means imply that it is great. The sappiness of the final scenes makes me worry that we’re going to get a show that combines the hilarity of tiny horses with a weekly climax in which Steve meets another hard-done-by citizen and realises the folly of his ways. But then again, Arrested Development‘s pilot episode also climaxed with a scene of emotion – Michael and Lindsay in the model home – so anything’s possible.

I’ll give this show a while because I have enough faith in everyone involved, but I expect Running Wilde is going to face an uphill battle. The biggest problem, really, is that the funniest stuff in the episode – besides David Cross’ cameo – is the rich man’s oneupmanship between Steve and Fa’ad; the very thing that the series’ mantra is setting out to deny Steve in future. Maybe they should do a prequel. I’d watch that.

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