Fox’s “Running Wilde,” is a sitcom that you want to like more than you actually do, unfortunately. It boasts two outstanding leads, in Will Arnett and Keri Russell, and comes from “Arrested Development,” creator Mitch Hurwitz, who sadly is proving — after this and last year’s “Sit Down, Shut Up,” — to be something of a one-hit wonder. And “Arrested Development” wasn’t even a hit. But it was beloved like no other sitcom of this century, and so most of us are eager to give “Running Wilde,” a chance to prove itself. After last night’s flat pilot episode, it’s got a lot to prove.
There’s not much point in going through the series’ production troubles — the pilot was largely re-shot over the summer, and while some may have preferred the original version, last night’s episode is what we have to contend with, as it is more likely to set the tone for the rest of the season, a season that’s probably not likely to last very long.
Arnett plays Steven Wilde, another arrogant but dim wealthy person, the sort who has never had a job in his life, and whose only happiness seems to come in childishly out-spending his equally wealthy and equally dim arch-nemesis, Fa’ad (who, while riding around on a tiny horse, provides one of the few absurdist laughs in the pilot). Steven decides to give himself a humanitarian award, but can’t seem to get anyone to attend. However, his childhood crush, Emmy (Keri Russell), after spending time living in the rainforest with her precocious but silent daughter, Puddle (Stefania Owen), shows up at the award party, ostensibly to convince Steven not to bulldoze the rainforest where she’s living.
The two reconnect, sort of. Steven attempts to manipulate Emmy into living with him, and she ultimately decides to, in order to work on making Steven a better person. I like the conceit, and for now, I’m going to simply hope that it’s the setup that’s awkward, but that “Running Wilde,” plays out better in its execution of the conceit. I worry, however, because there’s not a lot to like about the characters yet, and there’s very little chemistry between to two leads. “Arrested Development,” had Jason Bateman to ground the absurdity, and Emmy, so far, is nearly as daft as Steven, only in the do-gooder direction. Puddle may prove to be a grounding element, but so far, she’s only proven that sometimes voice-overs are much better delivered by Ron Howard.
I hate to think it, too, but the boasting arrogant Arnett character is kind of played out; there’s a reason that he was a supporting character in “Arrested Development,” and not the male lead. Russell is gorgeous, but her two defining characteristics so far — naive disbelief and self-righteous indignation — don’t play too well together, and she doesn’t seem to be particularly well suited to Hurwitz’s brand of comedy. “Running Wilde” blends that smart style of comedy with broad execution, and so far, the results are watchable, but only just so. It may need to constant threat of cancellation, as did “AD,” to unleash its more edgy, screwball elements.