Fox’s back-to-back new sitcoms, Raising Hope and Running Wilde, premiered on Tuesday night, and two more different shows are difficult to imagine.
Raising Hope is from Greg Garcia, the writer-producer who gave us My Name Is Earl. Like Earl, Raising Hope is grungy and low-down, interested in the challenges faced by at least 90 percent of America: how to take care of your family, make money, find time for love. The premise is a nicely exaggerated one that’s quickly rooted firmly in Garcia’s brand of sitcom reality. A teen (Lucas Neff) acquires a baby from a one-night stand; he decides to keep the kid and raise it, even though he’s still being raised at home by his parents (the terrific Garret Dillahunt and the wonderful Martha Plimpton). Cloris Leachman stumps into the room now and then to utter a hostile non sequitur.
I thought Raising Hope was sweet and funny — I laughed at its sight gags (the baby rolling around in its untethered car-seat) and think the chemistry between Dillahunt and Plimpton is what every sitcom needs, which is: You have to believe right from the start that these people love each other, fight a lot, and that you’ve known them for years.
By contrast — and the contrast is huge, maybe insurmountable — Running Wilde is conceived as a classically structured screwball comedy, in which a person of high stature is brought low by gentle humiliation and slapstick. In this case, it’s Will Arnett as a rich jerk trying to buy the affection of a woman he’s loved for years (Keri Russell). Russell uses her wide eyes to express disbelief at the foolish, spendthrift ways of Arnett’s Steven Wilde. As indigent, professional do-gooder Emmy, Russell also has a clever daughter named Puddle (played by the devilishly good Stefania Owen). This trio is supplemented by two characters who work for Steve, one of whom, Robert Michael Morris, will always be, to me, Mickey the makeup man on Lisa Kudrow’s great, short-lived The Comeback.
Another Arrested alum, David Cross, pops up as Andy, Emmy’s fiancé and a radical environmentalist who’s also a complete idiot. I wish I could report that this cheerful-sounding mish-mash of talented performers has resulted in big laughs, but they were more like small ones, weren’t they? Even the sight gags, such as a miniature pony, are small.
Like every other TV critic who carries the membership card, I was a big fan of Arrested Development, which means I should be more effusive about Wilde, which was co-created by Arrested producers Mitch Hurwitz and Jim Vallely. I sincerely hope the show gets funnier. Fox hasn’t done Running Wilde a favor in scheduling it after Hope. I like the characters in Hope more; they don’t seem as assiduously, neon-sign “wacky” as Wilde‘s. Still, whatever its flaws, Wilde is trying something different, and this may be its chief similarity to Arrested Development: most viewers aren’t going to just let it slide in front of their eyes, thinking, “Oh, yeah, I know shows like this; this may be good for a few laughs; don’t change the channel.” No, I think the potential Running Wilde audience is going to have to actively seek it out.
Maybe another reason I like Raising Hope is its time period: I’m grateful for a 9 p.m. alternative to Dancing With the Stars, The Biggest Loser, and NCIS: Los Angeles.
So: Which show was funnier? Or did you like them both, each in its different way?