New TV Week continues with the premiere of Running Wilde, the new FOX sitcom starring Will Arnett and Keri Russell (and also Peter Serafinowicz, and also a cameo at least in the premiere from David Cross) developed by Mitch Hurwitz. So, basically, the new Arrested Development. Kind of. I mean, no. It’s not. Obviously. But if you watched it last night, I think we can agree that it does have the same feel to it. Not just because of the casting, but also the saturated colors, and the rapid-fire jokes, and the absurd visual humor, and the use of a narrator. So it’s not like the similarities aren’t there. Just like when everyone compares The Event to Lost even though they are very different because they involve plane crashes and tropical islands and mysteries. It makes sense. Anyway: this show. Not bad! Not great! Not bad, though! It’s got some good laughs in it, and I can usually watch Will Arnett be a jerk about the phone book and enjoy it. With comedies in general, tearing too much into the pilot always seems like a waste of time. There are certainly exceptions to the rule (Eastbound and Down, The Office UK, Arrested Development) where a comedy hits the ground running HARD, but usually it takes some time. Personally, for example, the first time I watched 30 Rock I thought it was OK but didn’t really understand who was going to want to watch a TV show about writers on a TV show. That’s like watching paint dry on paint. (And, admittedly, based on the ratings–despite the critical success–it appears NOT THAT MANY PEOPLE want to watch a show about writers on a show. YA ZINGT!) But 30 Rock is great, duh. And Running Wilde could become great, too.
However, the show does seem to have one major problem that might be impossible to resolve.
Uh, being rich is awesome?
You see, the central premise of the show is that Will Arnett is a miserable billionaire playboy who finds no satisfaction in life because money can’t buy happiness (said the person with so much money) and he long ago lost the girl of his dreams. That girl is played by Keri Russell, who has dedicated her life to supporting LIBERAL causes and lives in the jungle with her hippie boyfriend (David Cross) and daughter, Puddle. (SIDENOTE: good name. Seriously. LOL.) Through some kind of sitcom machination, she comes back, reunites with Will Arnett, finds herself simultaneously attracted and repulsed by him, decides to leave again, but is eventually convinced to live in a tree house on his estate, because she’s a regular Julia Butterfly, and now we have our basic premise for the rest of the show.
Both of these characters are broad caricatures with an equal number of shallow signifiers, but they’re not equally interesting. While there is something funny about the functionally retarded alcoholic louche born with a silver foot in his mouth, there’s nothing particularly funny about the over-earnest scold. Keri Russell’s character is there to represent the audience’s moral center in the face of the absurdist egomania of Will Arnett, but it kind of makes the audience feel bad about itself, because maybe the audience needs to lighten up and take a joke. At the very least, the audience needs to pull the splintery stick out of its vagina. (Not to mention the part where, as a viewer who actually believes in the human value of liberal politics, these broad swept caricatures are often kind of insulting because they imply that wanting to help people or make the world a better place is for frigid, naive assholes who can’t hold their liquor, or whatever.)
But none of this is the central problem. The central problem is that in the conflict between Money vs. Morality, MONEY WINS EVERY TIME. We all know this. It is just more pleasurable, and pleasure, like water in the Amazon, always finds its level. It doesn’t have anything to do with value systems or priorities or emotions or heart. It would be one thing if Keri Russell had always LOATHED Will Arnett (although, if hundreds of years of romantic comedies have taught us anything, even that is a battle she will eventually lose), but the fact that he is basically the love of her life but just happens to be a cog in the giant social wheels against which she is fighting suggests that the dramatic tension of their relationship is going to wear thin as soon as she discovers that the jacuzzi is bubbling with her favorite champagne.
Hopefully, the show will just move out of this. There are so many talented people involved, and so much promise, that it would be a shame for it to fail just because of a fundamentally flawed premise. Plenty of shows have abandoned in part, if not completely, their original concepts. Haven’t they? Haha. I just made that up. I have no idea if that is true. It sounds true, though, right?
In closing: huh? (Also: you can watch the full pilot episode of Running Wilde here.)