Since FOX canceled “Arrested Development” back in 2006, nearly every interview every actor associated with that brilliant but under-viewed series has done has featured a question about the possibility of an “Arrested Development” movie. Some are for it, some (notably Michael Cera) are against it, some say it’s happening any minute now, some say it’s probably never going to happen, but the questions, and the rumors, keep coming and coming from a TV press that comprised a huge chunk of the show’s audience.
My philosophy on an “Arrested Development” movie has always been that I will not believe it exists until I am sitting in a movie theater, eating my popcorn, and the opening credits are rolling on it.
But after watching two different versions of the pilot episode of “Running Wilde” – which reunites “Arrested” co-star Will Arnett with that show’s two top writers, Mitch Hurwitz and Jim Vallely, and features “Arrested” alum David Cross in a recurring role – I’m starting to wonder if I even want to see an “Arrested” film.
“Running Wilde” is, simply, not very funny. That’s unfortunate, but no unforgivable sin. Funny people occasionally make unfunny things. But it’s the way that it isn’t funny, and the fact that it follows another unfunny quasi-“Arrested” reunion in the animated comedy “Sit Down, Shut Up” (which involved Hurwitz, Vallely, Arnett, Jason Bateman and Henry Winkler), that makes me realize just how much of “Arrested Development” caught lightning in a bottle, and how I’d rather have my memories of the show unsullied rather than risk a movie being another disappointment like these other projects.
On “Running Wilde,” which debuts Tuesday at 9:30 on FOX, Arnett plays Steven Wilde, the spoiled man-child son of an oil tycoon who has everything he could possibly want except someone to love. His only companions are his longtime chauffeur Migo (Mel Hernandez) – “I pay him, but he’s a friend,” Steven insists – his nanny-turned-secretary Mr. Lunt (Robert Michael Morris), and neighbor/rival Fa’ad (Peter Serafinowicz). He still pines over Emmy Kadubic (Keri Russell), the daughter of a former Wilde housekeeper, and now an ecological activist who lives in the Amazon rainforest with daughter Puddle (Stefania Owen) and an indigenous tribe.
Their different stations in life have always been a source of tension, and when Emmy returns to America to enlist Steven’s help in saving the tribe, he argues, “You have lorded having nothing over me since the day you found out I had everything!” Emmy wants to make Steve a better man; he jokes that he’ll make her a worse woman first.
Though he doesn’t ride a Segway or do magic, Steven in every other way is a mirror of Arnett’s pathetic “Arrested” character, Gob Bluth: abrasive and ignorant and selfish, but ultimately harmless and lonely. And gender aside, the relationship with Emmy is very close to the interaction Gob had with self-righteous brother Michael (Bateman). At one point, Puddle (who narrates this show the way Ron Howard did on “Arrested”) even uses an “Arrested” catchphrase when she says, “Steve was worried he had made a huge mistake.”
Whether the creators (Arnett included) will admit it or not, this is a hidden “Arrested Development” spin-off in which Gob is the hero. And as hilarious as Arnett was as one voice among many on that show, Gob simply doesn’t work as the primary voice on this one. And likable as Russell is, she doesn’t have Bateman’s comic timing, nor is the addition of romantic tension enough to make the familiar dynamic enough to carry a series.
The first “Running Wilde” pilot was a disappointment, which even Hurwitz copped to at last month’s TV critics press tour. The hope was that doing some reshoots, along with some recasting, might correct whatever imbalances were there, but the final version isn’t any funnier. And where I at first hoped that the problem was that I was hearing the same jokes for the third time (counting FOX’s clip reel at the network’s fall schedule presentation in May), the second episode, with all-new material and the casting tweaks, was even more lifeless.
“Arrested Development” is one of the great TV comedies. Seeing a very similar show made by many of the same people that isn’t remotely in the original’s class won’t make my DVDs any less funny (hello, Bob Loblaw), but it is a reminder that sometimes TV greatness can be carried from series to series, while other times you just had the right people all together in the right place at the right time, and trying future combinations is pointless.
With a lesser creative team, I don’t know that I’d bother watching “Running Wilde” episode two. Based on this team’s track record, the new show gets a longer look. But eventually this show becomes part of that track record, and if it doesn’t get better quickly, I’ll have to factor into future projects the group does – up to and including the mythical “Arrested Development” movie.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org