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Running Wilde Has the Makings of a Decent Family Comedy

By Edited Oct 20, 2016 0 0

Tuesday nights on FOX are a big deal. For years, that has been the designated slot for the main performance night of American Idol, and ratings powerhouse GLEE gets to dominate the evening this fall. I'm not so sure about the longevity of the shows that follow it, however. Raising Hope is one of the silliest and most over-the-top shows I have ever seen. Mitchell Hurwitz's Running Wilde, by comparison, might have a pretty decent chance, but one episode isn't enough to sell me on it yet.

Running Wilde stars Will Arnett, who was part of the cast of Hurwitz's acclaimed but short-lived Arrested Development, as Steven Wilde, the stereotypical obnoxious rich kid who has begun to reevaluate his shallow life. He reminds me quite a bit of Logan Echolls on Veronica Mars and even looks a bit like Jason Dohring, the actor who portrayed him. He's used to getting his own way all the time and never needing to work for any of his luxuries. It doesn't hurt that he has a team of lackeys at his disposal, most especially the devoted Migo Salazar (Mel Rodriguez) and the flamboyant Mr. Lunt (Robert Michael Morris). Still, he can tell that something is missing from his life, and when he recalls and then reconnects with his first sweetheart Emmy, he comes to realize what that something is.

Keri Russell portrays environmental activist Emmy Kadubic, who has been spending her time in the Amazon jungle in hopes of preserving the culture of a population of indigenous people. Russell and Arnett, both well-established actors, both bring charm to their roles, and they have great chemistry with one another. He is self-involved but also endearingly naive; she is hard-working and rather rigid. It's a similar dynamic to that shared by the main characters in the Disney animated feature The Princess and the Frog. There's obviously an attraction on his end, and though she resists, it seems plain that she has a spark of interest in him as well.

The show's narrator, at least for the first episode, is the oddly-named Puddle; I wonder if we'll ever get an explanation as to what inspired the name? Played by Stefania Owen, whose only previous acting credit is a small role in Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones, Puddle is a spirited pre-teen whose presence may be enough to draw younger viewers into the show. Aside from a bit of innuendo, it doesn't seem like the show will contain much material that is inappropriate for children, and since Puddle is Emmy's daughter and has already forged a bond with Steven, it seems that the show will be working its way toward making them all a family as he learns more responsibility and Emmy learns to loosen up a bit.

Puddle is easy enough to like, though her sullen attitude toward her life in the Amazon grates a bit. Pre-teens who watch will likely either sympathize with her for having been stuck in a low-tech world for so long or covet her opportunity to spend six months of her life in one of the most lush landscapes in the world. They could also take inspiration from her and see whether her extreme version of the silent treatment is of any use as a bargaining tool, though I doubt many kids would have the discipline to refrain from speaking for more than a few hours at a time. Clearly, this is a very strong-willed child. I was surprised that the show had her break her silence as soon as it did; it would have been interesting to see how she interacted with others throughout the series while maintaining her unwillingness to speak. Still, this gives her an opportunity to be a more vocal member of the cast, beyond just speaking to the audience.

Peter Serafinowicz plays Steven's buddy Fa'ad Shaoulian, whom he is obsessed with one-upping. A running joke in the first episode involves Fa'ad's acquisition of an exceptionally tiny horse, which is one of the cutest things I have ever seen but which Steven finds very irritating. Both men are fabulously wealthy, so they can afford pretty much whatever they want. Steven's mansion and grounds are quite impressive, and it's easy to understand how a girl tired of life in the jungle would be attracted by this lavish lifestyle. Puddle is the most important catalyst for the climax of the first episode, which leaves her and her mother deciding to give Beverly Hills a try.

The affable Migo, eccentric Fa'ad and sycophantic Mr. Lunt, who shares his name with another right-hand man, Mr. Nezzer's frequent assistant in the computer-animated video series VeggieTales, are probably the most consistently comedic characters, and they also are the most stereotypical. I'm on the fence right now as to whether the way in which they are portrayed seems problematic. All three are likeable, though, especially Migo, who is probably my favorite of the characters. The portrayal of the Amazonian tribe Emmy had been helping and the way the pilot deals with its members may raise a few eyebrows, too. Steven ultimately seems to end up with the upper hand in the premiere, and it will be interesting to see how Emmy deals with the aftermath of the decisions made in this episode.

Some of the humor in the show is a bit on the hammy side, like the visual spectacle of the enormous, blinged-out humanitarian plaque that Steven has presented to himself. Still, enough of the action is rooted in fairly believable characters that this seems like a show that could take off once it finds its footing. Like Outsourced, it does indulge in some cultural stereotyping, and I'm hoping that those sorts of jokes will mostly dissipate as we get to know the characters better. I don't think that Running Wilde has the makings of classic television, but with a little tweaking here and there - and perhaps a better show to precede it - the series certainly has the potential to score a second season.

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