Lionsgate // 2010 // 286 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // August 30th, 2011
Ego meets eco.
"Steve needs a father, but he doesn't pay me to be his father. He pays me to be his friend."
Wilde Oil is one of the largest, most notorious corporations in the world, but black sheep Steve Wilde (Will Arnett, Arrested Development) only concerns himself with partying and finding new ways to spend his family's endless fortune. "It's my job to be on page six so everyone forgets about what the rest of my family does on page one," he brags.
Alternately, Steve's childhood flame Emmy Kadubic (Keri Russell, Leaves of Grass) strives to be the world's most socially conscious, frugal, environmentally responsible human being. She has raised her daughter Puddle (Stefania Owen, The Lovely Bones) in the technology-free world of the South American jungle, though Puddle is largely unappreciative of the fact that she has been forced to grow up without modern conveniences.
Due to a series of complicated circumstances, Emmy finds herself reuniting with Steve for the first time in years. Though she claims to be repulsed by his opulent lifestyle, she still harbors some buried feelings for the man. Emmy needs a place to stay while she's back in America, and Steve happily offers up his home in the hopes of rekindling an old romance. Emmy begrudgingly agrees to stay with Steve, but insists on staying in a treehouse rather than inside Steve's lavish mansion. So begins a series of botched romantic gestures, comic misunderstandings and futile attempts at maintaining dignity.
As time passes, it's becoming increasingly apparent that Mitch Hurwitz will forever be known as, "the creative mind behind Arrested Development." That was always going to be the case given that show's cult following and high quality level, but there were once hopes that he might be known as, "the creative mind behind Arrested Development and Sit Down, Shut Up" or "the creative mind behind Arrested Development and the American version of The Thick of It" or "the creative mind behind Arrested Development and My World and Welcome to It." Unfortunately, every post-Arrested project Hurwitz has tackled has belly-flopped. Sadly, Running Wilde is the latest addition to that ever-growing pile of short-lived Hurwitz endeavors.
Hurwitz openly admitted in interviews that he had grown weary of moving from one project to the next and desperately wanted to create a show that would simply be popular and successful. Certainly he also wanted it to be good, but at this point he was more concerned with making a living than with delivering a masterpiece of comic inventiveness. As such, Running Wilde went through a number of growing pains during its creation (including a dramatically re-worked pilot episode) as Hurwitz and co. attempted to find ways the make the program simpler, broader and more accessible. That's all well and good, but Hurwitz is too good a writer to simply deliver conventional sitcom plots week after week. His efforts to make Running Wilde a mainstream success unfortunately lead to a program that frequently undercuts its own cleverness.
Throughout the series (particularly in the early episodes), Running Wilde has a frustrating tendency to deliver a good joke and then to overemphasize that joke until it's no longer entertaining. For instance, there's a scene in which Steve earnestly tells his servant Mr. Lunt (Robert Michael Morris, How I Met Your Mother) that, "The last thing you'll ever see will be my tear-stained face as I shovel dirt onto you." It's a good line, but ruined by Mr. Lunt's spell-out-the-joke response: "I'm going to SEE this?" Even more problematic is the narration from Puddle, which plays like a much less clever variation on the sort of thing Ron Howard provided in Arrested Development. The vast majority of Puddle's narration is completely unnecessary, and it's often detrimental to the proceedings. Puddle also has a tendency to explain why what we're seeing onscreen is supposed to be funny. This is a show that nervously refuses to trust its audience.
Additionally, the characters are a bit problematic. Steve is every bit as much of a cartoonish human being as Arrested Development's Gob (perhaps even moreso), but Steve is the center of this show rather than a colorful supporting character. Arnett's a fine comic actor and I could have accepted the character on his own silly terms if the show weren't constantly pushing him into uncomfortable scenes of supposedly moving character development. The show is pitched at such a ridiculous level that any moments of genuine sentiment feel hokey. Emmy is even more problematic, as Keri Russell plays her as a smart, intelligent human being despite the fact that the writers present her (intentionally, I trust) as the world's least perceptive individual. We're given one situation after another in which Emmy completely fails to recognize something painfully obvious for the sake of allowing a goofy comic scenario to play out. Russell never really manages to sell the role simply because the writers keep using her a device rather than as a character.
All of Running Wilde's supporting characters are defined by their relationship to Steve (save for Puddle, who is the detached outsider the show doesn't really know what to do with), which tends to make the cast feel overcrowded at times. There's too much overlap between the effete Mr. Lunt and the slyly affable Migo Salazer (Mel Rodriguez, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada), both of whom are guys who devote their lives to making Steve's life easier. Migo is easily the more entertaining of the two, as Rodriguez offers an entertainingly understated comic performance and gets a generous supply of the show's best lines. The series has a particularly entertaining running gag in which Migo frequently lies to the oblivious Steve for the sake of personal gain.
Migo: "We need to replace your computer. It needs to be
Steve: "Oh my god, let's get rid of it before it gets any worse!"
There's also a bit too much overlap between the characters of Fa'ad (Peter Serafinowicz, Shaun of the Dead) and Andy (David Cross, Mr. Show), both of whom are enemies/competitors of Steve who occasionally become unlikely allies. Though Cross has fun with his role as an eco-terrorist, his episode appearances tend to be rather brief and feel kind of shoehorned in as a result. On the other hand, Serafinowicz steals every scene he appears in and generally brings some vigorous comic life to Running Wilde every time he turns up. Fa'ad is a fabulous comic creation worthy of the creative mind behind Arrested Development; a hint of what heights the show could have achieved had it been given a longer lifespan. Serafinowicz's giddily hilarious impression of a violent New York gangster is my favorite moment of the entire series.
It's frustrating that so much of Running Wilde doesn't work, because there are more than a few genuinely entertaining moments scattered throughout these thirteen episodes. Additionally, the series seems to gather some momentum during its latter half, as the more troublesome elements are either partially corrected (Puddle's narration becomes less frequent and less obtrusive) or shoved aside (we see less and less of the superfluous, not-terribly-entertaining Mr. Lunt). The final episode features a fun supporting turn from Jeffrey Tambor (Hellboy) as Steve's father. Tambor's performance suggests a host of fun future episodes built around the colorful father/son rivalry. Alas, we'll never know for sure.
Running Wilde: Season One (I don't know why it wasn't given the "complete series" label) looks solid on DVD, boasting bright colors and exceptional detail. Audio is crisp and clear throughout, though the music occasionally becomes a shade overbearing. The episodes are unevenly distributed across two discs (eight episodes on disc one, five episodes on disc two), which is kind of odd. There are no extras whatsoever included.
Running Wilde had some fun ideas and some entertaining performances, but the show's considerable structural problems and character deficiencies make it a mixed bag at best. I found it a pleasant way to pass twenty-two minutes when it was on, but I can't say that I'll miss it all that much. Here's hoping Hurwitz eventually manages to break this lengthy losing streak.
Despite my endless reservations, not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 286 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated