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HBO's Run starts off compelling, but quickly runs out of gas

  • The thriller created by Vicky Jones, executive produced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and starring Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson undercuts its own poignancy, says Tim Grierson. "It can be frustrating when people try to sell you on a new TV series by saying, 'Well, you have to give it about five episodes — but by Episode Six, it really gets going,'" says Grierson. "Even in self-isolation, time is finite and so is my patience — I don’t want to waste precious hours slogging through something in the hopes that maybe it’ll eventually get marginally better. With that in mind, I’m happy to report that you won’t have that problem with Run, the new HBO limited series that premieres Sunday. If anything, the show has the opposite issue. Although the network only made the first five episodes (out of seven) available to critics, I feel relatively confident suggesting that, if you want, you can just watch the first three and then bail. Maybe Run will right itself, but after a terrific opening, it runs out of gas, moving from a funny, thoughtful, sexy exploration of second chances and regret into something a whole lot less satisfying. For a show about characters trying to make up for lost time, Run squanders a golden opportunity."


    • Run is a beam of glorious light and a jolt of electricity: "It’s also an absorbing piece of escapism about two people compelled to drop everything and escape," says Jen Chaney. "Those two people are played by the great Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson, a pair of leads that generate more heat than I’ve seen since … well, since Fleabag crossed paths with the Hot Priest in season two of Fleabag." Chaney adds: "What makes Run fun at first is the degree to which it’s such a fantasy. Under normal circumstances, most of us can’t drop what we’re doing with zero notice, buy a last-minute airplane ticket, and just show up to gallivant across the country with someone we’re attracted to, without telling anyone where we are. But we definitely can’t do that in the middle of a pandemic, which makes the premise of Run that much more tantalizing right now. The experience of riding the rails, drinking cocktails in the Amtrak bar, and hanging out in a cramped roomette seems extra-romantic when none of us can go anywhere, let alone at the last minute. I have never wanted to be on a train more than I have while watching Run."
    • Run is too reliant on Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson's chemistry. The HBO series, says Caroline Framke, suffers "from leaning too hard on its leads’ (admittedly scorching) chemistry rather than tightening its story, which quickly takes some needlessly complicated turns. For one, the show doesn’t fully explain the terms of Ruby and Billy’s extremely specific agreement until a few episodes in, which makes for a confusing introduction. For another, Ruby and Billy’s extremely specific dynamic is so immediately compelling that when Run throws in a new and much-higher-stakes element deep into the season, it’s almost disappointing to realize how hard of a turn it’s taking from the already compelling blueprint of their relationship drama. Forged in cutting banter and knowing grins, Ruby and Billy’s singular connection — and constantly simmering sexual tension — is obvious to anyone who sees them. It doesn’t hurt that Wever and Gleeson make a five-course meal out of every stolen glance, buoyed by Gleeson’s lethally charming portrayal of Billy’s neuroses and Wever tearing into Ruby’s latent fury with palpable relish."
    • Run is a very horny show: "I call Run a horny show not just to be silly or attention-grabby (emphasis on just), but because it describes the engine of our central characters’ motivations, decisions, and thermometer-busting chemistry," says Gregory Lawrence. "Wever gives a career-making performance here. Her work is fearless, highly physical, desperately vulnerable yet expertly layered. She wallops you with precise comedy, intense anger, raw feeling, and demure control, all within the same scene. Her performance makes Ruby a helluva compelling protagonist, one a viewer will be glued to watching, even (especially?) when her decisions grow increasingly desperate and volatile. Ruby’s conflict — sorry, her out-and-out horniness — is rampant, and it is transparently labeled. At times, it gives her the jolt out of boring complacency she needs, and at times it flings her into old and new dangers without a safety net. Wever plays both shades, often simultaneously, at the peak of her powers. Give her the Emmy, already!"
    • It's hard not to think of the coronavirus quarantine while watching Run: "I don’t know at what point it becomes glib or redundant to point out the contrast between a new work of fiction made before Covid-19 and the world we’re living in," says James Poniewozik. "But in Run it’s especially glaring — all the shared transportation and close quarters and just impulsively going places is bracing in a way no one could have anticipated. Whether you find this escape escapist is more a personality test than a critical assessment. For me, it created a kind of meta-echo of the itch that drives Billy and Ruby to make a break for it. We’re all confined right now, after all, and feeling that confinement as a viewer may help you connect with Ruby and Billy’s urge to take off on a text and a prayer. Maybe theirs is not the most thought-through plan. But who among us is not jonesing to skip town and ride the rails, hoping the light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train?"
    • Run has trouble finding its stride: "Issues of practicality and predictability can doom any mystery, and Run falls prey to both, and far too often," says Ben Travers. "Picking up with the titular inciting incident — old sweethearts leave their new lives behind to run away together — and pulling every possible writer’s trick to keep from revealing the couple’s backstories, Vicky Jones’ romantic thriller (produced by frequent collaborator Phoebe Waller-Bridge) often feels like it’s taking its title too seriously; if it would just slow down and let Ruby (Merritt Wever) and Billy (Domhnall Gleeson) talk things out, then the real story could start. Instead, two talented leads guide the audience through a bevy of bizarre choices and convenient circumstances, all en route to a will-they-or-won’t-they partnership you can’t really support."
    • Run is Fleabag meets Hitchcock: "Like Fleabag, but even moreso, Run is a unique amalgamation of genres and moods, never quite settling in, constantly switching tracks," says Willa Paskin. "As Billy and Ruby sniff each other out in the first episode, their sexual chemistry is so potent it basically emits a funk. Both of them leave an early conversation to masturbate in the train bathroom. They play word games and mind games and nuzzle at one another like cats in heat, while they also bicker and lie and chicken out. For a while, the details of the lives they fled, slowly revealed to one another and the audience, keep dampening the mood. Their reunion keeps getting interrupted by the present, which is full of partners and children and stalled careers—a raucous ghost party crashed by reality. But the sexytime fizz of the opening episodes rapidly—everything in this show is rapid—takes a backseat to wilder, more Hitchcockian, action-movie swerves."
    • Run is a high-concept rom-com that should work: "Run is at its best when embracing rom-com traditions, like the will-they/won’t-they and the meet-cute, then just as quickly subverting them," says Danette Chavez. "Ruby and Billy’s fateful journey recalls that of Jesse and Céline in Before Sunrise, while their pledge brings to mind any number of sitcom and movie couples—when Run doubles down on the My Best Friend’s Wedding similarities, it results in one of the most affecting and loaded scenes of the whole series."
    • Run got it wrong on casting: "Run is essentially a two-character series, making it all the more crucial that Ruby and Billy are as detailed and resonant as they can be," says Inkoo Kang. "But Wever, one of the few actresses who can bring depth and soulfulness to a goody-two-shoes role, is miscast in this Fleabag-ish role, in which a charmingly messy surface offers occasional glimpses into bottomless emotional chaos. There's a profound recognizability to the character when she can't take the kind of barbed comments she doles out on the regular, but the many facets we see of Ruby don't quite cohere into a whole. Gleeson is more familiarly cast as a shifty man-child: Even as Ruby reveals all her vulnerabilities, he can't stop telling her half-truths. But the unripe goon in front of us hardly fits his backstory, as an ultra-successful Tony Robbins-like life coach to the masses."
    • Run is often neither fish nor fowl in its blend of different tones and genres: "I was happy to go into Run blind about what was happening and why," says Alan Sepinwall. "In the early going, that uncertainty about what the show is proves nearly as engaging as the stars themselves. But I finished the screeners HBO provided still unsure of exactly what Jones, Waller-Bridge, and company are attempting to do here, beyond providing a delivery system for raw, uncut Merritt Wever."
    • Domhnall Gleeson jumped at the chance to work with Vicky Jones and Phoebe Waller-Bridge: "Fleabag spoke to my soul," he says.
    • Merritt Wever struggled to promote Run amid the pandemic: “I’ve appreciated a lot of what has come my way,” she says. “But it’s truly strange to be even trying to remember before right now. It feels like another time.” Wever adds: “I’m struggling to feel appropriate taking up space right now — you know what I mean? — with anything other than the big thing,” she says. “I figure we’ll just find our way together, but I almost feel embarrassed.”
    • How a joke pact between Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Vicky Jones led to Run: “It wasn’t something we really did — that would have been embarrassing,” says Jones, “but it was an idea that we nurtured, that made us feel safe. There was always someone you could run away with, someone you would rather be with than anyone else in the world.”
    • Jones hopes that viewers will root for Ruby, and for Billy, too: "Because I think they’re really in love,” she says. “And the hope is you get to be with the person that you love the most.”

    TOPICS: Run, HBO, Fleabag, Domhnall Gleeson, Merritt Wever, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Vicky Jones, Coronavirus

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