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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2010-2011 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
RUNNING WILDE (FOX)
(written by Jim Vallely, Mitch Hurwitz & Will Arnett; directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo; TRT: 24:16)
The network's description: "From 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 - all told through the perspective of a 12-year-old girl. Steve Wilde has never performed a selfless act. But why should he - he's rich! The son of an oil tycoon, Steve hasn't had to work a day in his life and has always gotten everything he's wanted - with one exception: the love of Emmy. The daughter of a former Wilde housekeeper, Emmy is an earnest do-gooder who has spent her adult life trying to save the world. And though Emmy is content living with an indigenous tribe in the Amazon rainforest, her 12-year-old daughter, PUDDLE (Stefania Owen, "The Lovely Bones"), just wants to be a normal kid experiencing her adolescence in a normal place. And she would speak up except for the fact that she hasn't spoken in years.
When Wilde Oil's expansion in the rainforest threatens her adopted tribe, Emmy decides to attend Steve's self-thrown "Humanitarian of the Year" award ceremony in hopes of convincing him to help her cause...and also maybe because she still has a thing for Steve. But same-old Steve is unwilling to help because fighting Wilde Oil (a/k/a Dad) means putting his meal ticket in jeopardy. Rather than run the risk of letting Emmy slip away again, Steve pulls out all the stops to win her heart. To do so, he enlists the only other people in his life who can help: MIGO SALAZAR (Joe Nunez, "Superbad," "Prison Break"), Steve's employee/sidekick/errand-boy, and GERTIE STELLVERTRETTER (Jayne Houdyshell, "Law & Order"), Steve's nanny-turned-head-of-security as well as the biggest protector of Steve...and her own job. Despite having everything he ever wanted, Steve knows he can't buy love and happiness, which falls in sharp contrast to Emmy, who has nothing but love and happiness. So with Emmy committed to doing good for nothing, and Steve being a good for nothing, will this hopelessly mismatched pair ever be able to reconcile their differences?"
What did they leave out? It originally ran under the title "Wilde Kingdom."
The plot in a nutshell: "Steve Wilde is one of the richest men in Beverly Hills," explains Puddle Kadubic (Stefania Owen). "He has just about everything money could buy... but still he's not very happy." Indeed, Steve (Will Arnett) is lonely and depressed, having to throw himself a "Humanitarian of the Year" award ceremony to force people to admire him. His only "friends," if you can call them that, are Migo Salazar (Joe Nunez), his driver who begrudgingly participates in Steve's antics; Gertie Stellvertretter (Jayne Houdyshell), his childhood nanny who's stayed on as his overly-protective security chief; and Fa'ad (Peter Serafinowicz), his neighbor whom he constantly tries to one-up. Even they however are having a tough time getting people to show up ("I will recruit the audience as they leave the 'Price Is Right," Gertie suggests). But there's really only one person Steve wants to show up: Emmy Kadubic (Keri Russell), the saintly daughter of the family's housekeeper whom he grew up with and his first love.
In the 20 years since, she's become a true champion of humanitarian causes, going so far as the live with a lost tribe in the Amazon rainforest with her daughter, the aforementioned Puddle (who doubles as the show's narrator), and her hapless boyfriend Andy (Andrew Daly). There we learn the tribe's land is about to be wiped out by Wilde Oil, run by Steve's father, and when Steve's invitation arrives, Emmy sees an opportunity to convince him to stand up to his father. Puddle is equally thrilled with said development, if only for the chance not to live in squalor for once. Steve, of course, proves to be as spineless as expected, fearing his trust fund would be cut off if he said anything. His guilt however gets the best of him and he winds up moving the tribe here to Beverly Hills. Emmy is of course horrified by Steve's gesture but after an unexpected plea from Puddle - her mom warms up to the idea of sticking around for a bigger cause: giving Steve an education in humanitarianism.
What works: Arnett and Russell have their inherent charms...
What doesn't: ..but this is a reach for even them. "Wilde" is very much a one joke show, the joke of course being Steve is a giant, selfish baby as virtually the entire show revolves around him blindly digging himself into holes and then unapologetically denying that they are there. And while Arnett playing a man-child is nothing new, having his antics be the centerpiece for an entire show is. To that end "Wilde" gets repetitive very quickly: every beat is some variation on Steve is an overgrown infant (Emmy: "You've matured." Steve: "In more ways than you can imagine. Oh, you remember my nanny.") or Steve is a selfish boob (Emmy: "You're giving this award to yourself, aren't you?" Steve: "I hope not. I thought we booked Dr. Oz for that.").
Said escapades - whether it be Steve relocating the tribe, where they terrorize the hotel guests; or Steve pretending Fa'ad is a psychologist, who demands Puddle stay in Beverly Hills - fray the edges of reality to the point that the show becomes painfully stilted. Russell's Emmy then is left with the herculean task of playing straight man to all the above, which strains the show's already limited premise. It doesn't help that Steve is as selfish and unlikeable as advertised, and his reformation is rooted on him simply wanting to win Emmy over ("You have lorded having nothing over me since the day you found out I had everything," he quips in his defense). In other words it feels as high concept as it sounds, a concept which it never really sells. Ultimately I'm sure the prospect of seeing Arnett being Arnett-esque for 30 minutes a week will be more than enough for some folks but...
The bottom line: ...I need it be a whole lot better.