Running Wilde, which debuted last night, is the most interestingly awful new sitcom pilot of the fall, if only because it involves a bunch of people so worthy of our love: The creator of Arrested Development, Mitch Hurwitz, plus two of that show’s stars, Will Arnett and David Cross, as well as Felicity’s adorable Keri Russell. Sadly, this team has delivered something that is, instead, almost a model of the bad sitcom. Not the old-fashioned kind of bad sitcom, like Two and a Half Men, with the sex jokes stirred together with cornball and shtick. The modern kind of bad sitcom, with the acidic surreal jokes and the multiple flashbacks and the voice-overs and the pseudo-sophisticated political comedy.
In this case, the voice-over is via Puddle, the daughter of ecoactivist Emmy Kadubic (Russell). Puddle is mute. Yes, she’s mute! She’s a mute child delivering a voice-over. That’s not a great idea, but it might work if the voice-over was witty, instead of conveying the plot, which is as follows: Do-gooder Emmy is ineffectively helping a tribe in the Amazon with her crunchy boyfriend (Cross) and an uncooperative Puddle, yet she still pines for her childhood soul mate, rich kid Steve Wilde, whom she met when her mother worked as his father’s maid. As played by Arnett, adult Steve is a callow, shallow, petulant, vain, selfish richie. In other words, exactly the kind of character Arnett specializes in. And that’s fine when, as on Arrested Development and 30 Rock, Arnett is the comic relief. But here he’s the lead, and a romantic lead at that: As a teenager, Steve built a tree house for Emmy, and, beneath his walking-veal exterior, professes to love her still. While it’s possible that an entitled jerk could be a romantic lead (I still have fond memories of Ned and Stacey, which had a similar conceit), Arnett is missing the shred of credibility that would make it work. But he’s not alone: Russell, while adorable, isn’t funny, and there is a seemingly endless string of ridiculous sidekicks.
Hurwitz, of course, was also responsible for last year’s most interestingly awful sitcom Sit Down Shut Up, so perhaps this failure is not surprising. But if you are sad about it, I recommend that you watch the other Will Arnett–and–David Cross vehicle, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret , on IFC (Fridays at 10 p.m.). In this sitcom, Cross (who writes and produces the show) is the one playing the comic romantic lead, as a bumbling American selling energy drinks to the British. The show is the definition of hit-and-miss, but it’s got a shambling charm, and when a woman obsessed with gastroenterology served dinner on a toothbrush, I laughed out loud.