On paper, HBO’s newest comedy Run looks like the perfect romance fantasy. It has a cute premise: two former lovers who haven’t met for nearly two decades decide to run away together to reignite their past relationship. It also has two phenomenal leads with fiery chemistry that can set the whole building on fire. And on top of that, it explores how relationships and people change over time. If that doesn’t scream Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset, I don’t know what does.
But on the other hand, Run is also very messy and murky, especially as it goes deeper into thriller territory and sacrifices the main relationship it wants to observe in the first place. Though the leads remain phenomenal until the finale and the jokes are always on-point, this thriller approach prevents Run to be its best self. And as a result, what could’ve been an affecting relationship drama ends up reduced as a high-stakes thriller comedy with over-the-top twists and turns.
Getting To Know Ruby & Billy
Created by Vicky Jones, the frequent collaborator of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who’s also producing and starring in a small supporting role, Run begins its story with Ruby Richardson (Merritt Wever), a thirty-something woman and a wife of two children. When we first meet her, she looks frazzled and panic as she opens a text message from a man named Billy Johnson (Domnhall Gleeson). The text is very cryptic, it only says “RUN”, nothing else. Ruby replies to the text with the same word and frantically goes to the airport to buy a ticket to New York on the same day.
At this point, we don’t know what Ruby’s deal is. But Wever’s impressive facial expression is enough to give us an insight into the sudden mix of excitement and fear that Ruby is feeling as she leaves her husband and children to go to impulsively meet this Billy guy. It’s later revealed that Billy is actually Ruby’s former boyfriend from college, and the two of them haven’t met for seventeen years. They once made a pact: should either of them texts “RUN”, and the other response with the same code within 24 hours, then they would meet at Grand Central Station and hop on a train to run away from their current life together.
This setup clearly has a lot of potentials. And thankfully, the first few episodes are able to live up to those expectations. We follow Ruby and Billy as they walk down memory lane, reminiscing their past love life and how they ended up where they are right now. But as time goes by, both Ruby and Billy come to terms that they might not be the same person as they were two decades ago. Ruby is not as cheerful as she was in college, and Billy has also grown into this motivational guru who puts his public image first and foremost.
But all these differences do not matter because, in the end, they see and understand each other in ways that others don’t. The problem is, there’s a lot of things that they hide from one another. For Ruby, it is the fact that she’s married, and now living a very boring, unhappy life as a stay-at-home mom. For Billy, it is the fact that he actually is trying to run away from a PR disaster that happened while he was working some time ago.
Jones drips this information deliberately, and that works well to create some kind of tension underneath the steamy romance and comedy. But what’s really fascinating even more is how she crafts Ruby, a woman who at first falls into the stereotype of an unhappy wife, to be a character who is far more complex and vulnerable. Like the heroines in Waller-Bridge’s other shows, Killing Eve and Fleabag, Ruby is allowed to go rogue and to be messy. She’s given a chance to follow her desire regardless of how bad the outcome might get, which is very refreshing to see.
Though Billy is a less interesting character, he still has depth, thanks to Gleeson’s stellar performance. But Run is, without a doubt, a showcase for Wever. Her wide range of reactions is always on-point. Her comic timing is impeccable. And more than that, even when the show only affords her with limited materials, Wever always manages to show the turbulence of emotions that Ruby is feeling. She’s just exceptional.
Where Run Begins to Go Wrong
Yes, Run is excellent when it focuses solely on Ruby and Billy’s relationship, exploring their attempt at reigniting the flame that was once there and slowly figuring out what is it that they actually want both as a couple and individuals. But sadly, after the tonal jump on the third episode and the introduction of a new character, Fiona (Archie Panjabi doing her best in a thankless role), Run, no pun intended, begins to run out of gas quickly. What’s first a nuanced relationship dramedy slowly turns into a shallow thriller about two people chasing someone who steals their money.
There’s no strong reason to why Jones decides to give unnecessary outside stressors to the story when it’s clear from the get-go that what makes Run so alluring simply lies in Ruby and Billy’s relationship, as well as the chemistry between the actors who play them. If what she pursues is more tension and messiness in the central relationship, then it’s obvious that she’s failed. Instead of adding more depth to Ruby and Billy, the thriller elements undercut all the understated works that the first two episodes have established. And in the process, the couple that we’re supposed to root for at the beginning now ends up as two very unlikable characters with nothing in common.
The problem with Run lies in the same thing that both Ruby and Billy are pondering; how to be someone, or in the show’s case- something that is bigger and has more meaning. But where Ruby and Billy’s desires are relatable and human, Jones’ ambition only leads Run to go into questionable places. There are murder mysteries, more new characters, and new twists in every corner. But everything just feels so thin that it’s hard to invest ourselves in it.
The final three episodes are a testament to how off-trail the show gets after the second episode. It just seems that Jones forgets about how Run is supposed to tell a story of two people facing ennui and figuring out what is it that they want in their lives, not a story about getting away with murder. And given how talented the lead actors are, and how great the show would’ve been had it stick to exploring the central relationship, watching Run falls very flat at the end of its journey only makes it all the more frustrating.
As far as a relationship dramedy goes, Run clearly has a lot of potentials. It talks about how complicated it is to rebuild our past love. It also explores the difficulties of being complacent with what we’ve got now in our life. But in the end, Run feels more like a failed attempt when it decides to aim for something bigger. If only it remained small and understated, no doubt that Run wouldn’t have been running out of gas quickly.
What do you think about the ending? Let us know in the comments!
All seven episodes of Run are now streaming on HBO GO, HBO Now, and HBO Max.
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