Sunday, October 17, 2010

Updates on 4 New Comedies Pt. I: Raising Hope and Running Wilde

Here are where I now stand on two of the four shows I was previously defending against the critics:

1. Running Wilde on Fox
What I said before:
"The premise of a rich man who is absurdly out of touch with reality being brought down to Earth by the only woman he's ever had any contact with is certainly unique. On top of that, add in the two obstacles that she's: 1) Already engaged to someone and 2) Is voluntarily on the opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum than him"
"Even though the reviewers only have the pilot to work with, they should be ashamed of themselves for writing off Hurwitz so quickly....The massive improvement between the pilot and the second episode shows how promising this show can be."
"Will Arnett was deservedly nominated for a supporting Emmy as Gob and he regularly stole the show from an incredibly talented cast. He is more of an extreme than Bateman's Michael Bluth but he's counterbalanced by greater extremes as well and there do exist relatively normal characters in the form of Migo and Puddle."

How the show is coming along: One slight weakness is that the show jumps somewhat erratically from plot to plot: One minute the family moves into the tree house and the next, the daughter's already at school and has acclimated enough to her new environment that she has a boyfriend. Meanwhile, the mom has already betrayed her entire life's calling by helping a Fortune 500 company drill for oil in Alaska but reverted to her normal self again.

Even if the episodes don't tie together or even belong in the same universe as one another, each episode has the same sense of fun and multi-layered complexity that we loved Arrested Development for. As it stands, it's a good collection of stand-alone episodes that fails in its ambitions towards a larger arc. Then again, "Seinfeld" and "It's Always Sunny" are also stand-alone series and no one complains there.

As for the characters, Migo and Mr. Lunt have not gotten much more developed although we can tell them apart a little better (Migo's more duplicitous and less effeminate). David Cross's character, Andy Weeks, is gold and Peter Serafinowicz, as Fa'ad, has been a great third wheel. The writers seem to know exactly where to insert him within the episode so that he amplifies the comedy. In the last episode, his big reveal (that his acting coach, Alan Alda, taught him only to act like Alan Alda) was the punch line that made the show memorable.

2. Raising Hope on Fox
What I said before:"I'll concede that the show's premise isn't as novel as 'My Name is Earl.'........However, many of the same elements of "My Name is Earl"- characters driven toward unexpected self-improvement; exploring people on the socio-economic fringes of Americana; characters who are endearing in spite of their stupidity; moments that are genuinely touching- are here as well and that's a good reason to invest yourself in this show."

How I'm feeling about it now:Of the four comedies I'm following, this is the one that's getting the best reception and it has earned a full season order from the network (No full-season order for "Running Wilde" as of yet). Unfortunately, this is also the only one that I now like less and wouldn't even mind if this one gets cancelled.

This show does have the same elements as "My Name is Earl" but it's got a much less interesting premise and that restrains its flexibility as to where it could go plot-wise. It's not only far less interesting but frankly unoriginal: There have been many shows and movies about white trash families or guys who knocked up a girl before they were ready to be a dad. How many variations of the three plots they've been working with so far-"Dumb unemployed kid struggles with being dad", "Boy likes girl who works at supermarket"; "Inexperienced father puts up with equally incompetent parents"- can they pull from this before the audience starts to get bored of the same and where can they possibly go from there?

It's all the more troubling because "My Name is Earl" boasted the extraordinary talents of Jason Lee, Jamie Pressley and Nadine Vazquez and I don't think this cast here has it in them to raise this above the derivative. For those of you who will point out that Chloris Leachman is an Oscar-winning actress, that's true but as a senile grandmother, Leachman doesn't have anything to do but act crazy (and if you saw her on Dancing with the Stars, it's entirely possible she's lost her mind anyways).

At the moment, I'm hanging with this show from episode to episode sidled with an expectation that this will soon get boring for me. I will admit that the last episode was surprisingly good. Sabrina's a very sweet and endearing character and the romantic tension between Sabrina and Jimmy thwarted by a suddenly enraged mom who previously was doing all she could to make sparks fly between them was a good twist.

Coming up....."Outsourced" and "#@$* My Dad Says" (side question: do you have to type four specific characters for the first word of that show or can you just type any four?)

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