Running Wilde: "Pilot"
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Running Wilde: "Pilot"

Running Wilde premieres tonight on Fox, 9:30pm EST.

Okay, so.

There are basically two ways I could go with this. One is to compare Running Wilde to Arrested Development. After all, it's the same creator and many of the same cast members. The pilot was written by Mitch Hurwitz, Jim Vallely, and star Will Arnett (though would it surprise you to learn he never wrote an episode of AD?), plus directed by Hurwitz (though would it surprise you to learn he never directed an episode of AD?). A lot of people are watching this show for those reasons and those reasons alone.

[UPDATE: The Russo Brothers directed the pilot, not Hurwitz. IMDB, you have lied to me for the last time...]

The other tack is to say something to the effect of, "Pretend Arrested Development never existed, therefore Running Wilde blah blah blah." I'm not going to do that. I can't do that. That's not the world any of us live in, and trying to blindly watch Running Wilde without the fondness for Arrested Development creeping in is an exercise in futility.

So I'm going to compare the show—or really, just the pilot—with only one more caveat, I promise. Please don't think this means Running Wilde won't be given a chance. Because, look, nothing will ever compare to Arrested Development. Not even the movie will be as good, I promise—though it pains me to say that. The secret to that show's success is beyond any one factor. Was it the creator? The writers? The Russo brothers directing? An individual cast member? All of the cast? I don't think so. Arrested Development succeeded because of the confluence of so many factors: The amount of free time the writers and actors had when it premiered; the amount of control Fox gave Hurwitz; its abysmal ratings and unknown status season one; the other things happening in the world at the time; and so on. Quite simply, pop culture is unpredictable, and sometimes people show up to work one day and they do something timeless, and sometimes the show up to work and the magic ain't happening. That's not to say everyone on AD wasn't and isn't supremely talented. It's that the secret to success is a combination of talent and timing (in the loosest sense), and that's a whole half of the equation that often gets ignored.

Yet while nothing will ever be Arrested Development, there will certainly be parts cropping up on other shows. There's a lot to love about Arrested Development, be it an entire episode or the simple way a joke gets structured. So to answer your question in the longest way possible, no, the pilot of Running Wilde is not as good as the entire run of Arrested Development. But it's still decent, both on its own merits and because it borrows some nice Arrested Development flourish.

Will Arnett stars as Steve Wilde, a trust fund kid heir to the throne of megacorporation Wilde Oil. He lives in a mansion surrounded by maids and butlers who wordlessly go about their business. Migo, an employee of Wilde's, is "paid to be his best friend," in Migo's own words—mostly driving him around and reassuring him of his decisions. Mr. Lunt is the sort of head-of-the-household, who doesn't so much dote on Wilde as spy until he can anticipate Wilde's every whim—be it for a cold drink, a cookie, or a "Humanitarian Of The Year" award given to Wilde by Wilde Oil. Though Wilde's been sheltered in every possible way (on the deep jungles of South America: "That's where they make all the nannys"), he's starting to notice the seams. For the awards ceremony, Mr. Lunt snags a bunch of contestants on the way to The Price Is Right to pad out the audience, and Wilde sadly surveys the sea of strangers wearing name tags and matching outfits.

The only thing that ever made him truly happy was his relationship with Emmy. (Whoa, I just realized Running Wilde just might be Mitch Hurwitz's version of a show as a metaphor for the creative process.) She was the girl from the neighborhood who saw a good kid in Wilde, and tried to get him to care about something beyond his immaculately groomed shrubs. He didn't and Emmy moved away, later turning up as Keri Russell studying a tribe of people in the jungle. Other than sharing a history, the two have nothing in common. Emmy has a daughter—Puddle, who is refusing to talk but nevertheless narrates the episode—and has taken David Cross as a lover; Wilde, meanwhile, has no one. Migo, meanwhile, secretly reaches out to Emmy, who is intrigued that Wilde has changed to become the kind of person who would receive a "Humanitarian Of The Year" award, and it's only when she arrives that she learns the truth.

As a leading man, Will Arnett's finest moments are when he goes for the kind of outrageous, cartoonish gags that made Gob so beloved. At one point we see Wilde pawing at the piano, playing a somber melody; Emmy arrives, and Wilde rises to greet her while the melody continues; Wilde, quickly, leaps back to turn the auto-play piano off before anyone can notice. He also shifts his mood comically fast. One of the opening scenes finds him rushing to greet neighbor Fa'ad (the brilliant Peter Serafinowicz) on horseback to show off his extravagant wealth. When he sees Fa'ad riding a tiny horse—and learns they get more expensive the smaller they get—Wilde must hide his instant disappointment and continue showboating his now-inferior steed.

That deftness does not translate well to Arnett's more serious scenes with Russell. His asides, while often the funniest part of these interactions, distract from what's being discussed. It worked for Gob, but it's more challenging for someone who's the center of an already weird universe. And as far as chemistry goes, Arnett and Russell are still working on it. In one scene, Wilde and Emmy reunite in a closet and alternate between wanting and loathing the other, always at inopportune times; without an ease between the leads, the scene is jumbled. I suppose this overall franticness could have been taken care of by a narrator, like on Arrested Development. Puddle though, at least in this episode, is really heavy on the exposition and joke-explanation. A really funny scene, where Serafinowicz pretends to be a child psychology expert to dupe Emmy, is somewhat deflated by Puddle's observations.

Still, Running Wilde has a lot going for it. Cross is hysterical as the oblivious do-gooder stuck on Emmy's sidelines. Serafinowicz and Arnett have nearly perfect comic timing between them. And there are plenty of quick in-jokes to flesh out this silly world, like the band at the awards ceremony quietly playing the Price Is Right theme music. I'm holding on hope that unlike Sit Down, Shut Up, Hurwitz will keep the moving parts of Running Wilde developing rather than stagnating. That the show will do its part to embrace Arrested Development lore while carving out its own place. That it'll keep getting stronger, and when that happens, Fox won't fuck it up.

Stray observations:

  • Robert Michael Morris was one of the best parts of The Comeback, and I'm at least glad he's been getting more work.
  • Anyone else notice the "I've made a huge mistake" call-out?
  • "I'll go get my thing."

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