As The CW's only original new drama entering the fold, "Runaway" doesn't seem to fit into the network's stable of one-hours featuring Gen-Y hotties taking charge or suffering from an abundance of hormones and angst. Nor is the show -- about a family evading the law and living a lie -- an obvious follow-up to the more wholesome "7th Heaven."
Instead, the plot and themes in "Runaway" reflect the spirit of the fledgling network. Okay, The CW isn't on the run for murder, but like the Rader family, it must reinvent itself and take chances lest it fall into comfortable complacency.
Shot using moody lighting on claustrophobic sets with tight framing, "Runaway" oozes with tension trapped underneath the picture-perfect exterior of a seemingly cliched nuclear family. Successful attorney Paul Rader (Donnie Wahlberg), wife Lily (Leslie Hope) and their three kids Henry, Hannah and Tommy (Dustin Milligan, Sarah Ramos, Nathan Gamble) are on the run after Paul was falsely accused of murdering his law firm's attractive associate Erin Baxter (Sandrine Holt), with whom he was having an affair.
They've just settled into the small town of Bridgewater, Iowa, and Lily is cautiously optimistic that they'll be able to make this place home for a while. In the meantime, Paul drills the family on their new -- false -- identities, complete with backstory, and is intent on cracking his murdered colleague's email account in hopes of finding information to clear his name.
Suspense comes in the form of the murder mystery and U.S. Marshal Huntley's (Karen LeBlanc) hunt for the Raders. However close Paul gets to the secrets his lover had, the anonymous person who committed the crime is always one step ahead. Agent Huntley's dogged pursuit of the family is similarly staggered behind the Raders' every move, and it becomes apparent that Paul is wilier prey than she expected.
Some obvious slip-ups on the part of the young Raders hint at possible exposure in the future. Young Tommy can't seem to take his new identity seriously -- whether it's forgetting to respond to his new name or that he's supposed to be from Philly. It doesn't help that during a traffic stop, Lily tells a cop that they hail from hurricane-ravaged New Orleans instead in order to explain why she's not carrying a driver's license. Also, Henry unwisely tattoos "Kiley," the name of the girlfriend he left behind," on his forearm, which creates a rather indelible way to confirm his identity.
The heart of the show, however, is the family dynamic, which is strained and polite on a good day. Pouty, soulful-eyed Henry is bitter about having no say in running from the law, especially since he's been parted from his beloved Kiley. His resentment even causes him to doubt his father's innocence. "Who does this?" he rants. "Who runs? Guilty people." In addition, Lily is having a difficult time presenting a united parental front with Paul ever since she became aware of her husband's infidelity through his frequent absences and the subsequent murder. Despite a partial rapprochement by the pilot's end, it's apparent that the family has a long way to go, which is why "Runaway" is an interesting match with "7th Heaven" thematically, if not tonally.
The Raders' new lifestyle also offers the family a chance to start over. Daughter Hannah applies this new beginning to her image. No longer is she the bespectacled, baggy clothes-wearing outcast, but the cute new girl who wears revealing tops and flirts with the varsity quarterback. For Lily, life in Bridgewater is a chance to reestablish her marriage after her husband's affair.
Wahlberg is appropriately haggard, yet tense as the Raders' patriarch, but it's Hope's brittle strength and beauty that centers the family's divergent members. Last seen on the deposed "Commander In Chief," Hope still exhibits the dramatic chops that made her so heartbreakingly sympathetic on "24." Milligan as Henry will set teen hearts aflutter with his beautiful bad boy appeal, while Ramos and Gamble exhibit the typical kids-next-door vibe.
Susan Floyd -- looking like a jaded Rachel Griffiths -- is an intriguing choice for the brashly attractive realtor/wannabe lawyer in town, and it remains to be seen what part she'll play in the Raders' life. The only jarring note is LeBlanc as the implacable agent who has yet to show any emotion beyond a sneering frustration or contempt.
With its deft expansion of the Hitchcockian theme of an innocent man caught in unusual circumstances, "Runaway" is a worthy show that will nevertheless have to win over audiences that already have plenty of mysterious situations on their plates Monday nights with FOX's "Vanished" or NBC's "Heroes."