If you’re a comedy that desires to wrap things up with something of a happy ending each week, there’s a fine line to tight-rope. As I’ve discussed relentlessly over the past few weeks, there seems to be a need to execute this approach in all the recent comedies, and that’s fine, but it’s really all about the actual execution than the approach.
FOX’s Raising Hope and Running Wilde are two solid examples of this point, unfortunately not for the same reasons.
Raising Hope already knows what kind of series it wants to be, just four episodes in. From the pilot onward, it has developed a really great and oftentimes heartwarming rapport between the Chance family, a rapport that feels earned each week. Each episode has certainly been full of Greg Garcia’s unique lower class humor, but thankfully, the series has avoided making the Chance clan look foolish. We’re able to laugh at them like in this week’s “Say Cheese,” but I don’t think the laughs come specifically from the fact that they are poor and generally stupid.
And with the series making a concerned effort to keep things focused on the family and their desires to be better, when the cheesy music kicks in near the 19-minute mark, it fits. Last week, Virgina’s hoarding was played for laughs but then given a nice emotional button about dreams and this week’s story about getting the perfect family photograph worked in the exact same way.
Throughout the episode, tracing through the years of the Chance family photo days leads to a number of gags and honestly, some of them don’t work. Jimmy pulling out and eating his hair is just too stupid for my tastes and basically anything with Maw-Maw doesn’t really work for me. If the character’s existence didn’t add to the overall quirk of the family, I’d prefer to see her appear less.
But when the story finally cycles back around to the most recent photo day and Virgina completely flips out with her various pose options and finally, after all those years, reveals why she tried so hard for the perfect photo, it all clicks into place. The story again emphasizes that while these people might not be college graduates with great jobs, they still want to get somewhere, even if it requires a staged family photo as faux-evidence. And although the singing in the car and the subsequent traffic violation picture is kind of cheesy, it at least feels earned to have Sabrina note that this is the true family Chance photo.
Meanwhile, over on Running Wilde, there seems to be a similar desire to keep some sort of heart at the center of each story. The problem is that the characters the story is trying to build that heart around don’t have the same kind of connection that binds together the Chance family. Emmy and Steven are somewhat likable and are building up a nice chemistry, but not to the extent they deserve some sort of happy, gushy ending each week.
The plots in Running Wilde are particularly troubling when the tone for most of the episode is in one arena (typically a cynical, cold feeling) and then switches to a more warm ending. That’s partially because of what happens when Will Arnett is your lead and he’s playing a giant, ignorant jackass and Keri Russell’s character is more myopic than she originally seemed. This works for the first 18 or 19 minutes, but it’s hard to pull it all together when Steven and Emmy are supposed to be sharing these loving moments. They work somewhat, but the seams are showing a bit.
It’s hard not to compare these two series when writing about them at the same time, so I’m wondering if part of the effectiveness of Raising Hope and the lack thereof of Running Wilde is the use of flashbacks. It’s not a major element of the former series, but it does add something to the history and relationships between these characters.
On the simplest level, it’s easier to buy into the love between the Chance family because we get to flashback to goofy little snippets that add to their characters each week. Meanwhile, on Running Wilde, we are told every week about the history between Emmy and Steven, but it’s not the same of actually seeing it. The second episode of Wilde used flashbacks and it just happens to be the best episode of the series thus far. Coincidence? Probably, but it’s always better to see something instead of being told something.
However, to Running Wilde‘s credit, it’s getting better and slowly more complex. There is probably a conscious decision being made not to make things too complicated as to avoid another Arrested Development situation, but the set-ups and executions here are getting more wacky and off-beat, which is the direction the series really needs to go. And the more Peter Serafinowicz as Fa’ad, the better. His Alan Alda voice alone was worth the price of admission.