With a flurry of season finales currently coinciding with a slate of series premieres, this seems like a good opportunity to chime in on how some series fared, and how some new ones look. Next up: “Raising Hope” and “Running Wilde.”
Fox hasn’t had a decent — much less a good — live-action comedy since “Arrested Development” went off the air in 2006. But their losing streak may be over. Tuesday saw the premieres of “Raising Hope” and “Running Wilde,” and while only one provided laughs, the other still has potential.
What I liked: “Raising Hope” was a pleasant surprise, very twisted and at times very funny. Granted, it’s not for everyone. I’ve known a new parent or two who’s had a baby and immediately lost all sense of humor. So if you can’t laugh at the idea of a dirty diaper so foul that it makes not one, but two people throw up on the baby, this ain’t the show for you. But for those demented enough to take that, along with babies flipping over in their unbuckled-in car seats, a senile grandma running around topless and a new mom being executed, then it’s worth checking out. The humor is way-over-the-top slapstick, almost a live-action cartoon, and the characters are all incredibly stupid yet somehow endearing. The writing is smart, and in tone it reminded me a lot of the late “My Name Is Earl.” That’s no surprise, since Greg Garcia was the creative force behind both (there was even an “Earl” shout-out on the TV news in the background of one scene). The cast is great, with Lucas Neff as dim bulb and new dad Jimmy, the always awesome Martha Plimpton as his put-upon mom, the legendary Cloris Leachman as the unstable Maw Maw, and the moron twins, dad Burt (Garret Dillahunt) and cousin Mike (perennial “that guy” Skyler Stone). It’s not perfect, and needs to find a comfortable balance between nasty and sweet, which it teeter-tottered back and forth with in the pilot, but it’s good, with the potential to get even better.
What I didn’t like: And speaking of potential, we have on the other hand “Running Wilde.” This was the highly anticipated offering from “Arrested Development” creator Mitch Hurwitz and co-stars Will Arnett and David Cross, along with “Felicity’s” Keri Russell. But the pilot was a flop, more reminiscent of Hurwitz’s tediously unfunny “Sit Down, Shut Up” (which, hey, was also on Fox!). Arnett is basically reprising his role as the self-absorbed idiot GOB from “AD.” And while that was a hilarious supporting character among an ensemble cast, it’s not someone appealing enough to build a show around. “Wilde’s” attempts at humor seem forced and lazy, and there’s a noticeable lack of spark and chemistry. Combine that with way too much exposition and illogical plot developments (why is Russell’s character and her daughter staying at his mansion again?) and you have a huge disappointment, made all the worse by the knowledge that the writers and actors involved could be so much better than what’s being put on screen. But that also provides a ray of hope. Last year, ABC’s “Cougar Town” had a similar start: a great cast, funny characters, but a mess of a plot that felt forced and cliched. The series was tweaked and by midseason it had reinvented itself as one of the funnier sitcoms on TV. Even perennial favorite “30 Rock” took a handful of episodes to find its stride. So I’m willing to be patient. The pilot was reshot after bombing before critics over the summer, and there were extensive cast changes and story rewrites, so think of these first few episodes as a work in progress. It might get better. Let’s hope so.
Bottom line: “Raising Hope” might be the funniest new sitcom of the season. “Running Wilde” still needs to work out the kinks. And there are a lot of kinks. I may skip it for a few weeks and revisit it later, and see if becomes any more watchable. Or even just plain watchable.
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