Attaching the name Phoebe Waller-Bridge to anything gives it suddenly a much higher bar to leap over. The Fleabag genius’ name has been used a lot in the marketing of Run, understandably, though she’s producer rather than creator. The show’s actual creator, Vicky Jones, may not have the precisely honed dialogue or meticulous plotting of Waller-Bridge’s work, but she has made an enormously entertaining show that’s part screwball romcom and part bonkers thriller.
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When Ruby (Merritt Wever), a bored housewife, receives a text saying simply, “Run”, she does just that. Straight to a train, where she meets Billy (Domhnall Gleeson), a self-help guru, who she hasn’t seen since they dated in college. The details of exactly why that text led to this reunion are revealed over the series, but suffice to say Ruby and Billy’s romantic image of their reunion does not turn out to be accurate. Not even close. Their time together takes twists and turns that grow ever more insane, making the ordinary lives they lived yesterday seem like impossible fantasy.
It cannot be overstated just how great Wever and Gleeson are together. Wever has usually been cast in supporting roles (Marriage Story, The Walking Dead, Unbelievable, to name a few) but Run shows exactly why she should be given more leads. Her charisma is off the scale. She is playing a woman who ran away from her kids on a whim, but she plays the conflicting liberation and shame in that in such a way that you understand her, not hate her. Her comic delivery is sublime, whether spoken or silent. She’s so good you wouldn’t just listen to her read the phonebook, you’d happily watch her face as she read it in silence. She’s as good as actors get. Gleeson is also excellent as Billy, who has mild natural sliminess that he’s continually trying to clean off by becoming a nicer guy. Their chemistry is so good that it’s almost a pity when the plot starts to bring in other characters.
Run is best in the early episodes when it’s just Billy and Ruby clumsily trying to get to know each other again, attempting to simultaneously show how they’ve matured and how they’re just the same fun person as they were at 19. The dialogue about ageing, settling and abandoned dreams is smart and witty, very Waller-Bridge-ish. But Run cannot stick with that. It’s committed to being a high concept thriller, where calamitous obstacles are repeatedly thrown at our leads until they’re accidentally on a dangerous adventure they never expected nor wanted. The turns it takes aren’t really convincing and stray a little too much toward silly, but with Wever and Gleeson together, the silliness doesn’t become a particular bother. They’re just so much fun to be with. You’d run with them anywhere.
‘Run’ debuts on Sky Comedy on April 15 and on HBO in the US on April 12