With the pedigree and cult following of Arrested Development, the stigma surrounding creator Mitchell Hurwitz and star Will Arnett’s new series Running Wilde is that it has to be as good as that series. Unfortunately it’s that need to live up to AD that hinders Running Wilde from really coming out and being funny. At times something good shines through but the majority of the jokes fall flat and the series feels a need to throw in unnecessary winks to the AD fans. Running Wilde has potential, but based on this pilot it doesn’t look very promising.
Emmy Kadubic (Keri Russell) is an environmental activist living in the Amazon with her young daughter Puddle (Stefania Owen). Puddle is our narrator who tells the tale of how she and Emmy left the Amazon in order to convince billionaire playboy Steven Wilde (Will Arnett) to not have his father’s company drill on the land and destroy their tribe. Steven and Emmy were childhood sweethearts who drifted apart and still feel something for each other and when it’s discovered that Puddle doesn’t want to go back to the Amazon, Emmy and Steve will now be forced to get along as the activist tries to save her village.
There are some gems in this series worthy of mention. At times Running Wilde plays like an older version of Billy Madison in following the story of an oil heir trying to change for the love of a woman. Will Arnett has perfected the role of the arrogant jerk you hate to love and gives everything he’s got to the role of Steven Wilde. Along for the ride is young Stefania Owen who is wonderful as the precocious Puddle, a little girl who doesn’t like the Amazon but doesn’t quite fit in the normal world either (she eats leaves off decorative shrubbery). The side characters are also fantastic including Mel Rodriguez as Will’s manservant Migo and Peter Serafinowicz as Will’s rival Fa’ad.
Unfortunately Running Wilde’s script and storyline are just out of place. The series pilot plays like a typical love/hate relationship only the girl is trying to save her Amazonian village and the playboy is trying to be charitable. With that a lot of the jokes are about the disadvantages of the people living in the Amazon and Steven’s arrogance. The show also tries a bit too hard to nudge the fans of Arrested Development, throwing in a needless bleep of the curse words like that successful show. As I watched this first episode I found myself chuckling at throw-away lines but never being invested in the story of Emmy and Steven. Keri Russell just seems uncomfortable as Emmy. First off she’s far too pretty and clean to have lived her life in the Amazon and when Arnett is really getting into the comedy she seems to shy away and become incredibly wooden. Russell usually plays the straight man in these types of comedies but here she actually needs to incite some humor and she just goes through the lines with no conviction.
It’ll be interesting to see how Running Wilde fares in the long-term. With this pilot episode fans will be divided on whether it’s funny or not and whether the expectations of Arrested Development really color that. As a series the jokes are weak and the story is paper-thin with nothing to sustain the running plot (will it become a good deed of the week type series). Arnett and Owen are the saving graces but Running Wilde has a lot of issues it needs to work out, the first one being to bring the humor in!