September 22nd, 2010


Running Wilde

I don't know how else to put it than this: the pilot episode of the new Fox sitcom Running Wilde surprised me by not being terrible.

I pretty much expect every new sitcom to be terrible, but this one comes from Mitchell Hurwitz and Will Arnett, both of Arrested Development fame, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I wasn't expecting much. Nor did I actually get much, really, but it's got potential.

Arnett plays Steve Wilde in almost exactly the same way he played Gob Bluth, a rich, spoiled man-child who's blissfully ignorant of the world outside his bubble, which in this case is provided by Wilde Oil, the family company whose trust fund he lives off of. No one plays this kind of character as well as Arnett, in my opinion, and aside from hints that Steve might actually have a soul hidden under all that crazy, it's kind of like spending time with Gob again. And that ain't bad.

Keri Russell plays Emmy, Steve's childhood friend and crush who grew up to be an environmental activist, with a lot of charm. The opposites attract trope is an old and worn one, as is the precocious child trope--present here in the form of Stefania Owen, who plays Emmy's daughter Puddle (though at least they resist making Puddle Steve's secret daughter the way she would be on every other show)--but the actors bring a lot to the material that makes it at least work, even if they can't quite make it fresh again.

One bright spot is Peter Serafinowicz as Steve's wealthy neighbor and rival Fa'ad Shaoulian. You may know Serafinowicz from his work on the Britcoms The IT Crowd, Look Around You, Spaced and Black Books. He was also Pete in Shaun of the Dead. Here, he brings his trademark brand of suave but surreal comedy to the proceedings, and it works well. More of him, please.

And then there's David Cross. He plays Andrew, Emmy's "ecoterrorist" boyfriend with a ridiculous beaded beard. Presumably he'll be Steve's romantic rival too. Right now Cross is scheduled to be a recurring, once-in-a-while character, but I hope they bring him in as a regular because the show reaches dizzying heights whenever he's on screen. More of him too, please.

Which brings us to what could be a major problem for Running Wilde, and that's that the two leads, Arnett and Russell, as charming and talented as they are, don't have much chemistry between them. Every time it's just the two of them in a scene, it's like the wind drops out of the sails. This may change with time, and pilots, especially comedy pilots, are notorious for being not quite there yet, but right now it's cause for concern. They're supposed to be the heart of the show, the main draw, but at the moment I'm far more interested in the supporting characters.

Still, as I said, Running Wilde has got potential. A surprising amount of it, actually, and enough that I'll definitely tune in again next week to see how things progress. Because no one is as surprised as I am that this sitcom might actually be good.

Undercovers/Modern Family

Tonight's series premiere of NBC's Undercovers, J.J. Abrams' new married-couple spy drama, reminded me how far Abrams has come as a creator. I wasn't interested in his early features like Regarding Henry and Forever Young. His screenplay for Armageddon, if we can judge by the finished film, was execrable. I didn't watch his TV series Felicity or Alias. But then came Lost and Cloverfield and Star Trek, and suddenly I really liked where Abrams was going. (Before you ask, no, I'm not into Fringe, and anyway I'm sure we've had this discussion before.)

Undercovers, while perhaps superficially reminiscent of Alias, is, thankfully, Abrams 2.0, the Abrams I like. The pilot episode is slick and accomplished; the lead actors, Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, charming and capable; the writing and direction crisp. An ongoing series has a million chances to screw things up after a strong start(c.f. Heroes), but right now I like what I'm seeing. If Undercovers can keep up the energy of the pilot, it may turn out to be the most fun action-adventure show since Chuck premiered three years ago. (Are you listening, Human Target? You're going to need to step up your game!) Also, Gerald "Major Dad" McRainey brings a lot of caustic humor as the married couples' CIA handler Carlton Shaw, and who doesn't love Gerald McRainey?

The TV Nerd says Undercovers is well worth a look-see.


I also decided to watch the season premiere of Modern Family, ABC's Emmy-winning sitcom that a lot of people are into but that I've never watched before. And you know what? I liked it. I liked it a whole lot. I'm kind of sorry I missed a whole season of it already.

The mock documentary style and deadpan humor remind me a lot of Arrested Development, and there's even a hint of the late, lamented Better Off Ted in some of the more absurd moments. The whole cast is great, and though Julie Bowen's Claire and Ty Burrell's Phil seem to be the main focus of the ensemble, it's Ed O'Neill's Jay who steals every scene. (He's come a long way since Al Bundy, folks.) His line tonight--"That was my Vietnam. And I was in Vietnam"--had me laughing out loud, a rarity for any sitcom these days that doesn't have the words 30 and Rock in it.

The TV Nerd will definitely be tuning in to Modern Family again. It already feels like a favorite.