run review

There’s something magical about onscreen chemistry. It’s not easy to fake, and poor chemistry between two leads who are supposedly drawn to each other can badly sink an otherwise great premise. So when something comes along that appears to give off genuine sparks between its two main characters, it’s like watching fireworks explode across the screen.

Such is the case with Run, HBO’s smart, funny, and sexy dark comedy series that lives and dies by the chemistry of its leads. As a former college couple reunited after years apart, Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson are electric, and incredibly convincing. It’s easy to get swept up in their journey together, because we genuinely buy their attraction to one another.

Ruby Richardson (Wever) and Billy Johnson (Gleeson) are currently living very different lives. Ruby is married with two kids, living a suburban Californian existence that has her drifting from Target shopping runs to yoga classes. Billy is a successful self-help guru, having published two books in the midst of touring engagements that have him offering advice that he’s probably not qualified to give. These two seem as if they inhabit completely different galaxies, but back in college – 17 years ago – they were a couple. And they made a promise: If either one of them ever texted the word “RUN” to the other, and the other person replied with the same word, they would drop everything, run away from their lives, meet up at Grand Central Station, and travel across America together.

Run wastes no time getting to that point. Rub receives a “RUN” text from Billy one day seemingly out of the blue, and it unmoors her. She’s panicked, nervous, but also excited. And after the slightest hesitation, she sends a “RUN” text back. And then she’s off like lightning, hopping a plane from Los Angeles to New York, boarding a train, and finding Billy waiting for her.

They haven’t seen each other in years, but the attraction between the two is rekindled immediately. In fact, it probably never went away. It’s clear from the jump that Ruby and Billy find each other damn near irresistible, and that’s where that chemistry comes in. The way Wever and Gleeson play off each other is natural, honest, and downright sexy. The sexual tension is at a fever pitch when they reunite, full of scenes where they’re standing incredibly close to each other, their breathing heavy, their eyes roaming. To be blunt, it’s hot stuff.

But Run is about more than rekindled romance. A lot more. The less said the better, but it’s a given that this reunion doesn’t go exactly as planned. As their train barrels across the country, Ruby and Billy start to learn that as strong as their attraction to one another may be, leaving their old lives behind to start something new isn’t going to be easy. To complicate matters more, the two aren’t being entirely honest with each other. Both are keeping plenty of secrets, and Billy’s secrets, in particular, are potentially damning – and lead to even further complications.

All of this unfolds with fine-tuned precision and sharp-witted writing from series creator Vicky Jones. Yes, there are a lot of twists in Run, but they never feel forced, or tacked-on to keep you watching. Every shocking moment here feels earned – although that doesn’t make those moments any less surprising. It’s an altogether refreshing experience – an intelligent show with lightning-quick pacing (each episode runs about 30 minutes), rocketing along to parts unknown.

If there’s one thing that has the potential to derail Run, it’s tone. The series starts off light and even silly before taking a sudden turn towards darkness – but Run manages to balance this perfectly. As things grow more absurd, and dangerous, and as Billy and Ruby get more and more in over their heads, there’s an air of fatalism to the proceedings. “Of course this would happen,” you’ll be thinking, as things grow more twisted.

As strong as Jones’ scripts are, it’s Wever and Gleeson who make Run so special. Wever’s consistently flustered Ruby and Gleeson’s charming-but-awkward Billy are not exactly easy characters to love. But they’re almost painfully human in their individual flaws, which makes their plight – and attraction – all the more compelling. We can see ourselves in these characters, and as a result, we can understand the occasionally bone-headed choices they make. Because we’d probably make the same choices ourselves.

***

Run premieres on HBO April 12, 2020.

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