People here have been annoyed every time I bring up Arrested Development in a review of Running Wilde. Fair enough. As I said in the pilot review though, unfortunately (or fortunately?) it's going to come up. The show exists, it has the same showrunner(s) as this one, plus one of the major stars. And every time I watch Running Wilde, I get nostalgic for the days of AD, but not because of the reasons you'd expect, like winking nods to Blue Man Group and shouts of "C'mon!"
No, as much as I hate to admit it, Mitch Hurwitz has written a show that shares Arrested Development's DNA—and I realize that now more than ever. There's a similar purposeful claustrophobia to episodes, with callbacks zinging over and around people's heads and character borders drawn with cartoonish wavy lines. There's not much of an emotional core to episodes, and if there is, it's revealed only at the 11th hour. And when the characters aren't acting as punchlines to gags, they're pushing the story along.
At its best, Running Wilde is a showcase for its stars. At its worst, Running Wilde feels like the creators tried to make a really simple episode of Arrested Development, and the network forced them to make the jokes even more obvious. Such is the case with "The Party," an episode that may be Running Wilde's last that's partially saved by a few amazing shots of Peter Serafinowicz being attacked by a hawk.
If there are a few things we know so far about Steve Wilde, its that he enjoys throwing parties for selfish reasons, and that he wants to make Fa'ad jealous as can be. Now comes the time when Steve would normally throw a party, but Emmy is wholeheartedly against the extravagance and waste that would surely ensue. She convinces him to scale majorly back (though she won't ask him to cancel the thing outright because she still wants to be perceived as "fun"), and the "family" heads to CostCo to gather party supplies like chips, or whatever. Thus the shindig is looking like a bust—despite Fa'ad's belief that the meager spread Steve lays out is merely a model for the cocaine sex dungeon he plans to build. Then, suddenly, Steve has the idea that the theme of the party should be an ironically lame party, and suddenly all the rich people are on board.
Much of Running Wilde's story has revolved around Steve trying to please Emmy. Problem is, Emmy is quirky but not in an endearing way, and she changes her mind a lot. Steve—and to a lesser though probably more accurate extent, Migo—bend over backwards to accommodate her whims, but the results are less than spectacular. There's nothing surprising about how this party turns out, only that Steve has to spin it in order to impress his friends. The weakest things on any television show are when characters tell rather than show, and Steve's explanation about the party's irony is more a weak justification than it is a plot point to hang your hat on. The show has also set up that Steve has some massive blind spots, and "The Party" only showcases them via throwaway exchanges. He pronounces licorice by emphasizing the second "c", but hardly does anything outlandish during the episode. He is clearly eager to please Emmy, but continues to play by the rules she sets out.
The supporting players have become the best part of Running Wilde. I still get a kick out of everything Peter Serafinowicz does, be it those aforementioned hawk attacks or his bewilderment at what exactly lies within the container of animal crackers. Even Puddle had some fun moments this week, especially her desperate attempts to secure as many waffles as possible. (I think the show has to make her a hell of a lot more savvy, though, only betraying her kid-ness every so often.) And David Cross, absent, remains a highlight.
The lesser-realized characters are doing well—I just think the problem is at the core. The show set up all its characters in a hurry week one, throwing in some pretty deep things like Steve's daddy issues and some of Emmy's longstanding insecurities. It was a lot to take on, and I don't think they did it much justice in 22 or so minutes; then, suddenly, we were off. Moments like the end of "The Party," where Steve abandons a party so he can see more of Emmy's boring slide show, are sweet mostly because Will Arnett is such a deft comedic actor. It's such a quick throwaway scene that given Steve and Emmy's dynamic remained the same throughout the episode, doesn't feel all that earned.
I don't think it's time to abandon ship though. With a few more episodes worth of foundation-building, there can be many more hawk attacks to be shared. Any Fox executives reading this (especially Unag Vi Ignor) should know that we're all rooting for the show, that it become a proper showcase for its stars and for Mitch Hurwitz to take more risks.
I'm not sure what the future holds, though. The show is being preempted next week for an episode of Raising Hope, then who knows I guess. If this is the last hoorah, though, Running Wilde will be remembered as a gamble that didn't fully pay out. We all knew this wasn't the second coming of Arrested Development, but failing that, we were looking for a show that could stand on its own two feet. It was almost there.