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'Raising Hope' and 'Running Wilde' have identity issues

The family comedy follows the Chance family as they find themselves adding an unexpected new member to their household. "Raising Hope" premieres Sept. 21 at 9 p.m. ET.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Whaddya call a half-hour comedy that isn't a sitcom (no studio laughter) and isn't a mockumentary (no single-camera docu-techniques) but also isn't quite as funny as, say, "Arrested Development" (sacred among fans of postmodern TV comedy) or "My Name Is Earl" or even "Cougar Town"?

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For now, I want to call this kind of show absurdedy.

"Did you mean absurdity?" Google asks.

No, I most certainly did not. I mean absurdedy: absurd + comedy, a show that is characterized most by the fact that no scene in it lasts longer than 15 seconds and exists only to hammer in the oddest joke it can devise. "Running Wilde," which debuts Tuesday night on Fox, is definitely an absurdedy, giving off the aloof impression that it was all written about five minutes before the cameras rolled.

An absurdedy moves so fast that if you laugh at one joke, you might miss the next. But that's not going to happen a lot here. Revamped pilots of both "Running Wilde" and "Raising Hope" (which precedes "Wilde") are more funny than the originals screened for critics months ago, but even with some casting tweaks and punchier dialogue, neither is destined to show up on too many "favorite new show" lists.

Nevertheless, there are things to like about both. In "Running Wilde," a pampered rich man is infatuated with his childhood love, an eco-activist who lives in a Peruvian rainforest. With that quickly established, the absurdedy gets busy with its incessant layering of joke on top of joke on top of joke, until absurdity overwhelms the absurdedy. (Do you follow that?)

"Arrested Development" alum Will Arnett, who is indeed a gifted funnyman, is stuck trying to lift "Running Wilde" up out of the jungle muck. As the impossibly rich oil scion Steve Wilde, Arnett's lampooning confidence is a welcome jab at the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent.

Driven to jealousy by his equally wealthy neighbor, Fa'ad (a quasi-Arab played by British actor Peter Serafinowicz), who has just returned from Dubai with his new tiny horse, Steve rushes out to purchase his own tiny horse, to replace the gallant steed he rides on his vast country estate. In this cocoon of wealth, his every whim is catered to by watchful Mr. Lunt (Robert Michael Morris, whom I hope each and every one you remember as Mickey the hairdresser from "The Comeback") and loyal Migo (Mel Rodriguez).

To feel better about himself, Steve awards a humanitarian prize -- to himself. He shows up drunk to the ceremony and there she is, his childhood love, Emily Kadubic (Keri Russell, who's decided to give comedy a whirl).

Emily has traveled from the Peruvian rainforest, where she's been studying a tribe that is isolated from the rest of the world. She's here to plead with Steve to call off the oil drilling that threatens the tribe's land.

All of this is being narrated by Emily's preteen daughter Puddle (Stefania Owen, who turns out to be the show's lone highlight), who is sick of the jungle and conspires to stay in America. She enlists Steve in her scheme, which is fine, because he's still in love with Emily, who agrees to stick around, so Puddle can know about life in modern civilization.

Whatever hopes "Arrested Development" fans may have held for a new Will Arnett series begin to dissipate by Episode 2 -- even with another "Development" funnyman, David Cross, on board as Emily's annoying eco-terrorist boyfriend. This tiny horsey has no giddyap, but there's still a chuckle or two. Example?

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