September 24, 2010

Review of Running Wilde

I watched the pilot episode (airdate: 9/21/10) of Running Wilde, the new Fox TV series. Here's a synopsis:

Running WildeFrom the Emmy Award-winning creator and the star of the critically acclaimed FOX series "Arrested Development" comes RUNNING WILDE, a romantic comedy starring Will Arnett ("Arrested Development," "30 Rock") as STEVE WILDE, a filthy-rich, immature playboy trying desperately to win (or buy) the heart of his childhood sweetheart, EMMY KADUBIC (Keri Russell, "Waitress," "Felicity"), the uber-liberal humanitarian who got away.Comment:  The critics were right about Running Wilde. It isn't very funny or plausible. Here are some of the reasons it fails:

  • Will Arnett is playing Gob Bluth (Arrested Development) as a spoiled rich kid. Keri Russell is playing Felicity as a grown-up "humanitarian." Neither character is anything new or special.

  • Steve and Emmy supposedly were childhood sweethearts, but Arnett is six years older than Russell. He looks like he could be 10 or 15 years older. The two don't look like a couple with a shared past.

  • Much of the "humor" apparently will come from Steve's competition with his rich neighbor Fa'ad. Fa'ad shows up riding a miniature horse no larger than a big dog (see trailer). Only children can ride such horses, not adults, so the scene plays as unfunny if not cruel.

  • The show's crisis is precipitated because daughter Puddle hasn't talked in six months. She hasn't talked because she hates living in the jungle. Memo to daughter: The way to get your way is to complain and cry constantly, not give your mom the silent treatment. Memo to mom: If your daughter is silent for six months, something is seriously wrong. At the very least, she's trying to send you an important message.

    The Native aspects

  • We first see Emmy in a magazine article with a title like "A Year of Trying to Save the Ticuna." "Ticuna" in the name of an actual Amazon tribe, so one point for authenticity. (Alas, it's one of only two points Running Wilde gets.)

  • Emmy poses for a photograph with the Indians (see trailer). They're half-naked, wearing ragged skins, and have bones through their noses. Worse, they appear to be Caucasians in redface. The ones you can see clearly appear to be wearing brown makeup or dirt to make them look Native.

  • The village appears to be a few huts against a backdrop of trees. Nothing about the environment says Amazon rainforest. It could be a set on Gilligan's Island or anywhere. In fact, Wikipedia says they filmed the show at Sands Point Preserve on Long Island in New York.

  • After the initial shot of "Indians," they're relegated to the background. The scene is all about Emmy, her daughter, and her environmentalist boyfriend Andy (David Cross). In other words, white people have come to save the day again.

    As I've said before, in the real world, Amazon Indians are meeting with Avatar's James Cameron or using Google Earth to fight rapacious corporations. But in TV land, white people fight to save ignorant Indians from forces beyond their ken.

  • Emmy and Andy are protesting Wilde Oil's drilling in the Amazon rainforest. This is an important conflict in reality, so give the show a point for that. But the show undercuts the protest by having Emmy yell through a megaphone like a cheerleader. It's a childish cartoon of an environmental protest. The pair seems about as naive and unprepared as a couple of high schoolers.

    Back in "civilization"

    Emmy returns to New York for an award ceremony Steve is giving himself, leading to more problems:

  • Steve corrals Emmy in some sort of cloakroom (see trailer). On the wall is a golden image of an Indian wearing only a Plains headdress and a loincloth and shooting a arrow. Stereotype alert! This image alone proves the show is insensitive to Native stereotypes.

  • To keep Emmy around, Steve flies to Peru overnight and brings the tribe back to a fancy hotel. Really? We're supposed to believe one could fly from New York to Peru, travel to a tribe's remote location, persuade them to leave, do all the medical checks, file all the necessary paperwork, and fly back to New York in less than 24 hours? I'd allow a minimum of a month for such an endeavor.

  • Emmy provides a rationalization for the move when she says the tribe, like her daughter, doesn't like living in the jungle. Deep down, the so-called humanitarian thinks saving the Indians is a waste of time. Thank you for that bit of blatant Eurocentrism, Emmy.

  • The topper comes when the tribe cavorts in a giant indoor swimming pool. They're still wearing their ragged skins, of course. Will says it's the entire tribe, but there are only a dozen or so people.

    We get only glimpses of the Indians, but one is cooking something on a stick over a fire on a floating raft. Because "savages" don't know anything about using stoves or money or room service, I guess. Worse, another Indian is inside an ice machine (!) looking for ice. Because "savages" are too stupid to use an ice scoop or bucket, I guess. They can't get ice unless they literally climb into the machine and risk freezing to death.

    Shades of Zagar and Steve! I sure hope these faux Indians aren't recurring characters. Because the show will play them for laughs like the headhunters in Gilligan's Island.


    Running Wilde is a failure at depicting Indians and a failure at making us laugh. The only thing I believed is that earnest Emmy would try to reform Steve. And self-pitying Steve would let a woman try to reform him. In that sense, they weren't totally lacking in chemistry, as some critics have said.

    That's not nearly enough to keep me watching the show. Like the equally bad $#*! My Dad Says, I predict Running Wilde will be canceled quickly. I and thousands of other writers could create shows better than this one.

    For more on the subject, see TV Shows Featuring Indians.

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