When FOX announced its 2010 television season, I have to admit that "Running Wilde" was perhaps the show I was most excited to sample. Combine the charm of Keri Russell with the madcap genius of Will Arnett and add the creative juices that made "Arrested Development" one of the most invigorating and intelligent sitcoms in recent years--how can you lose? Then the mainstream critics weighed in and it was brutal. However, I still made this show destination television. Not the terrible debacle that some would have you believe, it still compared quite unfavorably to "Arrested Development" (as most sitcoms do). The way to most enjoy the pleasures of "Running Wilde," however, is to get that comparison out of your mind as fast as possible. The show's greatest sin was that of unevenness. Individual episodes could range from hysterical brilliance to head scratching oddity, but I still think this unpredictability puts it way ahead of more conventional sitcom fare.
Arnett plays the titular lead, Stephen Wilde, as an irrepressible man-child. This is a role he has perfected and could play in his sleep. This wealthy playboy lacks depth and responsibility, but the fortunes of his family keep him in style. Enter Emmy (Russell), a childhood sweetheart that makes Arnett want to be a better man. Through some over-the-top sitcom shenanigans, environmentalist Russell and her sheltered daughter come to live in Arnett's tree house (don't ask!). The daughter wants to explore this new world, but Russell resists the trappings of luxury. The season, primarily, deals with this yin/yang dynamic with Arnett pursuing Russell and her resisting. It is often a psychological battle as opposed to a real relationship--and I believe this is the element that was most off-putting to those seeking a more conventional romantic comedy. The subversive nature of the show, however, often has you sympathizing with Arnett as a guileless stooge but seeing Russell as a true hypocrite in most instances.
If you like the leads--you will probably like "Running Wilde." Most plots run a bit silly and the back-and-forth gamesmanship starts to feel a little forced, but I did like this program. Arnett's man servant is hysterical and a recurring cameo by David Cross is welcome. Some of the more perplexing moments of the season came courtesy of a rich neighbor that was more caricature than I would have liked. One episode, in particular, showcasing Andy Richter provided some of the largest laughs of the year in our household. But that's the thing about "Running Wilde"--its uneven tone makes the hilarious moments even more substantial when they hit. I know I was in the minority as the show's season was shortened and canceled, but I think (down the line) this one might find a more supportive audience. About 3 1/2 stars--I'll round up as I never bet against Arnett. KGHarris, 3/11.