Fox has two comedies premiering Tuesday, "Raising Hope" and "Running Wilde." Both have terrific casts — Martha Plimpton, Garret Dillahunt and Cloris Leachman in "Raising Hope," Keri Russell and Will Arnett in "Running Wilde" — and both examine class, though from different ends of the spectrum. There the similarity ceases (well, OK, both begin with the letter R, but presumably that was unintentional.) Because "Raising Hope" is funny, sweet, occasionally provocative, and occasionally over-the-top in a regrettable way — and "Running Wilde" is just regrettable.
Say this much for Fox, when they twist, they twist hard. "Raising Hope" creator Greg Garcia kicks off his version of the oft-used unlikely-surprise-parent scenario with a public execution. At which an infant is present. Oh, how far we've come since Diane Keaton's self-indicting power suits in "Baby Boom" or the sweet fumblings of "Three Men and a Baby."
Young Jimmy Chance (Lucas Neff) is the scion of the sort of family so often socially tagged by the presence of indoor furniture in outdoor spaces. After one whirlwind night with a young sociopath, he finds himself the sole parent of a baby girl.
Jimmy decides he can raise his daughter with the help of his family despite all evidence to the contrary — a vacant-eyed pool-cleaning father (Dillahunt), a chain-smoking, tough-broad mother (Plimpton), a dementia-plagued grandmother (Leachman), and a cousin who still uses "party" as a verb. In keeping with the interiors, bits of old and broken junk take up too much space in the pilot — and then there's Leachman's Maw Maw who keeps taking her shirt off, a ridiculous vomiting scene, and the tedious if inevitable jerry-rigging of baby equipment by a newbie parent.
But every time Garcia's script lurches, it quickly catches itself and swings back toward laughter. In his early travels, Jimmy meets Sabrina (Shannon Woodward), who survives her job as a grocery clerk by drawing faces on the melons. Neff and Dillahunt infuse their characters with depth and hilarity and Plimpton is, as she ever was, just marvelous.
It's difficult to imagine another performer capable of delivering such semi-outrageous lines — "Now, you take that baby to the fire station and you hand it to them. Don't just throw it in the dumpster" — with such tough-tender briskness as Plimpton. And she manages it around an ever-present cigarette, an art form that one feared had died with late greats like Rosalind Russell and Eve Arden.
Created by " Arrested Development's" Mitch Hurwitz, "Running Wilde," is another fractured fairy tale, though without the nuance or humor of its predecessor. Arnett plays Steve Wilde, a rich boy-man coddled into mental deterioration by his butler (Robert Michael Morris) and his chauffeur (Mel Rodriguez).
Years before, he was in love with Emily (Russell), the daughter of one of his father's housekeepers, who tried to persuade him that money isn't everything. She failed, of course, and went on to lead an activist life that included an attempt to keep Wilde Oil from pillaging the Amazon rain forest where she lives with her unfortunate boyfriend (David Cross) and her daughter, Puddle (Stefania Owen).
Although admittedly handed Halloween costumes rather than characters, the cast does little more than walk them across the set. It is impossible to believe that Steve and Emily once knew each other, never mind that they're such seemingly different people harboring a secret mutual crush. And I don't even know what to say about Steve's Mr. French meets "Driving Miss Daisy" support team or his weird tiny-horse competition with his rich neighbor. Except that being rich, or very poor, does not necessarily make a person funny. And in a comedy, funny is kind of a prerequisite.