An Argument Against High-Concept Comedies
I’ve never been wild about the high-concept comedy series. It’s hard enough to try and pull these kinds of ideas off as drama; to try and maintain such an idea for laughs has always struck me as a balancing act that’s rarely worth the effort. And historically, there hasn’t been a huge pay-off for them; for every Russian Doll, we get a Black Monday or a Camping.
So for a comedy series to work, it really needs to fire on all cylinders from the first moment. And so far Run, which has been buzzed about for weeks by critics and HBO as the next big thing, really doesn’t seem to be worthy of it. And it doesn’t help matters that the concept is really far-fetched to begin with.
Ruby seems to be stuck in a boring life. She has a husband and a family, and she just seems stuck with the mundane. Then in the opening minutes of the Pilot, she receives the text RUN. She texts RUN back, gets out of her car, buys a plane ticket, runs to a train station and gets on a train. A little after that, this red-haired man named Billy shows up and sits next to her. They start having a conversation and it becomes clear that they were friends in college, and fifteen years ago, they designed ‘an escape plan’ that if life ever got too much for them,
That seems to be the whole plot. And I’ll be honest with you, this barely seems to be enough to fill up a eighty minute independent film, much less an eight episode TV series. Now maybe if we got some kind of insight as to why they would after fifteen years do something this crazy, I might be more willing to buy into it. But Run seems to focus on them recapturing some kind of youthful nostalgia rather than give an explanation as to why they’d do it in the first place. And given their antics — which I would find sophomoric and childish if they were still in college — I really wonder why either of them would want to abandon their careers and lives. There’s also the fact that within an hour of being back together, it becomes really clear that they can barely tolerate each other. When they try to have sex in a train compartment in the last episode, it’s messy and chaotic and doesn’t come off, and just leads to a stunt where they try to get a total stranger to have sex with Ruby. He doesn’t buy any of their antics for a second, and I don’t blame him.
This whole idea for a story seems labored, and worst of all not funny, which is heartbreaking because of the talent involved. And I think the big problem is the casting. Merritt Weyer has spent her career on television — from Nurse Jackie to Godless to Unbelievable — playing steadfast, grounded people. They may start out being flighty, but they have gravity. I don’t believe for a second she would torch a marriage and two kids simply because she got a text message — she’s the kind of woman someone impulsively might run away from, not the other way around. Domhnall Gleason is, if anything, worse, because he’s annoying from the moment you meet him. And there are so many good actors attached to this project who I haven’t even seen yet — Archie Panjabi, Rich Sommer, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a producer — that you really question their agents judgment in bringing them this project to begin with.
Now, I can understand the need for escapist fare right now, but on top of everything else RUN seems badly timed. In a world where everybody is stuck in their houses for who knows how long, why on Earth have a comedy about two people who ignore every rule we live by, and impulsively run off together? This may be meant too be light-hearted, but everything about comes off as irritating, irksome, and worst of all, not funny. Pairing this series with Insecure is like putting a Renoir next to a Pearls Before Swine panel. (And really, that’s demeaning to Pearls Before Swine.) There are lots of things I wish I could run to right now. This show, I just want to avoid.
My score: 1.25 stars.