There are shows that just take off, and there are shows that approach their stories more cautiously, generating a sense of place and character in a more detailed way before they leap right into the plot. Both approaches are valid, but when you mismatch the approach and the story your show is almost certainly in trouble. Some shows need to take their time, and others just need to leap. “Run,” HBO’s new dark comedy from creator Vicky Jones, follows the spirit of its title and leaps off the deep end right away, and it’s the right instinct for one of the year’s most promising new shows.
“Run” is named for the code word in a secret pact Ruby (Merritt Wever) and her ex-boyfriend Billy (Domhnall Gleeson) made nearly two decades ago. It’s a simple agreement: When one of them texts the word, the other is supposed to text it back, and the two are supposed to immediately leave whatever life they happen to have at the time and run off together.
The first thing Jones’ show does right is refusing to drag the inciting incident out any longer than it has to. Another series might have made the “Run” pact the big hook at the end of the pilot, or even something that didn’t really pop off until the second episode. Not this show. Ruby and Billy are off and running within moments, and it lends an energy to the story that will easily help propel it forward for several hours of storytelling.
The second key ingredient to the success of “Run” is that, though Ruby and Billy honor their pact, neither of them is keen to give away everything about themselves right away. As the two board a train together, they begin to dance around their respective personal lives, offering trades of details but few outright confessions. We as viewers are kept in almost as much suspense as they are about each other, even as Ruby and Billy begin to realize their old romantic and sexual chemistry is still very much alive. The pilot – expertly paced and cleverly structured – allows us just enough information to keep us in suspense, while promising plenty more twisty reveals to come. In that light, “Run” becomes a show about how rare pure honesty is, and what happens when it’s weaponized.
The structure of a show like “Run” is, by necessity, a rather intimate thing, and that means you have to have two actors at the center of the show who are both perfect together and able to sustain the tension and humor of a scene separately. In that regard, we couldn’t have asked for a better pair of scene partners than Wever and Gleeson. Wever in particular has been quietly building a resume as one of the best actresses of her generation for years now, and Gleeson has proven his versatility time and time again on the big and small screen. Put them together and sparks fly.
At a time when many of us need smart, fun, propelling television to help us escape the stress of life right now, “Run” is exactly what the doctor ordered. The season premiere is a brilliant, sexy, instantly compelling piece of television, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
‘Run’ is now streaming on HBO.