More so than new dramas, new comedies need time to grow, time to tinker, time to generally figure out what the hell the series is going to be about and where the jokes are going to come from. It’s easy to hate comedies if they’re not unbelievably funny from the get-go, but in practice, that actually rarely happens. The Office took a bit to get the right balance of comedy and character right, 30 Rock was a mess until Tracy went on Conan and Parks and Rec had all sorts of problems throughout its first season. Simply put, it takes time to harness all the creative energy in the right direction.
However, I’m wondering as I watch FOX’s two new live-action comedies if there’s a point where it does become obvious that things will or will not work. Last night, Raising Hope proved that it was going in the right direction with an episode that balanced its heartwarming messages with some truly funny bits while staying away from too much of the “hey, they’re poor and dumb!” humor. Meanwhile, Running Wilde took a few steps back from its solid second episode and proved that it still doesn’t really know how to avoid telegraphing all its jokes or making its characters annoying, fairly unlikable people. Though it is certainly too early to make a final judgment on both of these series, it is much better to be Raising Hope and heading one way than be Running Wilde and possibly be heading in another.
Hope still has its issues, particularly with the emphasis on Jimmy’s constant desire to get with Sabrina and the general stupidity of the Maw Maw character, but when it dials it back and focuses on the unique and goofy relationship between Jimmy, Burt and Virgina, things hum along at a nice pace. Episodes like “Dream Hoarders” go a long way in proving that these people are really a family, despite how much they pretend to hate one another or act kind of awful to each other. And really, there isn’t as much of that faux-hatred as I suspected there would be after watching the pilot, and in general, the Chance’s just relate to one another on an awkward, but effective level.
“Hoarders” is an especially affective episode because it takes a premise that could have been full of lower class stereotypes and pumps it full of natural emotions that seem real and true to the characters. Sure, Virgina’s hoarding is funny, particularly come of the things she chooses to hoard. However, there is a point to all of it: She wants to move up in the world. She dreams of a new, bigger house for her family, one that gets away from their lower class lifestyle and challenges. It’s a dream. Same goes with Burt’s obsession with the lottery.
Both of these vices could have been played as stupid or worthless, but they’re not. Instead, both Virgina and Burt do these goofy things because they are trying to improve their family’s life and in their current circumstances, this is all they can do. Burt can’t get a better job because of his lack of education (because he had a child so early, obviously), so why not play the lottery in hopes of passing through all that stress? It’s not like he doesn’t work hard too, it’s just a dream.
This is a small distinction, but an important one. Without the emphasis on dreams and valid, normal dreams at that, hoarding and lottery playing become stereotypical of dumb, redneck people who don’t know any better and don’t have any real sense. Instead, Burt and Virgina are hard-working goofballs with normal hopes and dreams. They might not be able to attain them, but at least they’re not satisfied with their current status.
Running Wilde, however, is a mess. After watching “Oil & Water” I wondered if I was too easy on last week’s episode just because I’m trying so hard to like the series. This week’s effort, without question, is terrible. Aside from a few funny lines, the whole episode meanders along, telegraphing one joke after another while sacrificing any sort of character consistency or likability.
I understand that the point of the dynamics between Steven and Emmy is that she’s just as goofy and weird as he is, but (and I never thought I’d say this about a character played by Will Arnett), I assume Steven shouldn’t be more likable than his female counterpart. And it seems like that right now, individual episodes are trying way too hard to make Emmy into a weird mess instead of just letting her get that way a little slower.
Here, she quickly gets caught up in the corporate culture and at one point, is basically turning into a worse version of the kind of evil suit-and-tie’d people she supposedly despises and it completely falls flat. I get that it’s supposed to be hilarious that someone who supposedly has such strong beliefs is basically a fraud, but I’m not sure where we go from here after she’s already been willing to destroy a group of Inuit people. How do we actually buy into any activism-related thing she tries to do in the future; isn’t she just a giant hypocrite?
Moreover, “Oil & Water” wastes an opportunity by quickly blowing through the office subplot location, which could have absolutely lasted for multiple episodes, particularly in a series that needs another place to set some action in. Of course, they can always come back to it, but it seemed like the episode really picked up when Steven was tinkering around at work, especially before Emmy showed up.
But aside from that, do we have any idea what can of series this is going to be moving forward? I know it has an awkward premise, but if it’s going to combine that with rapidly-paced plotting, I’m not sure how it doesn’t run out of even mediocre ideas by a small number of episodes. The whole thing is just so frustrating to watch because we know the creative team could do better, even if we try not to think about their past. Yet, as I said, we have to give both Raising Hope and Running Wilde more time to prove themselves.