Review: New HBO show 'Run' makes the idea of a great escape look messy but appealing

Far from your classic romcom, 'Run' will have you rooting for the two lead characters, despite your better judgement

Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson star in 'Run'. HBO 
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Never has a show with the title Run felt more timely. As millions of people around the world face seemingly endless periods of time in self-isolation at home, there is a whole new appeal to the idea of jumping on a train and escaping the day-to-day, and head straight into the unknown. Gett away from everything.

That is exactly what happens in Run, the new HBO show from Vicky Jones, Phoebe Waller-Bridge's long-time creative partner. The Fleabag star is an executive producer on the show and briefly appears on-screen.

Starring Merritt Wever as Ruby and Domhnall Gleeson as Billy, the seven-episode series opens with the female protagonist in a hypermarket carpark, when she receives a text from Billy that simply reads: "Run". She replies the same, with evident hesitance. Although, how many of us would love to do exactly that right now?

Merritt Wever as complex female lead, Ruby. Like Fleabag, she leaves the audience cheering for an authentically flawed female character. HBO
Merritt Wever as complex female lead, Ruby. Like Fleabag, she leaves the audience cheering for an authentically flawed female character. HBO

What follows is a swift succession of scenes as she gets herself to the correct meeting point. And it quickly transpires that Ruby and Billy are former flames who have an agreement: if one texts the key word - run - and the other replies, they will meet on a train departing from New York’s Grand Central Station.

"I have nothing with me," Ruby laments as she sits on the train and the reality of the situation starts to dawn.

“In that moment you just left?” says Billy. “So did I.”

Exactly how much they have kept up with each other’s life progress is not instantly clear. What is evident, however, is that this is going to be far from plain sailing.

They clash almost immediately and bicker insistently – a hint at why they are exes, perhaps? But the chemistry between the two is undeniable.
"I have always been fascinated by relationships, and the way everyone's relationships are a mystery to those outside of them," Jones tells The National ahead of the release. "So, I have always wanted to zoom in and shine a light on that very private thing. It was never going to be a traditional romcom, but I wanted to find humour in things that were recognisable and human."

So it makes sense that the first episode asks more questions than it answers.

Unlike Jones and Waller-Bridge’s past projects, this is set thousands of miles away from the UK, in the US. Although, the location makes sense when you’re setting much of the action (in the first two episodes reviewed, at least) on a train. Thus, offering the luxury of single journeys that can last up to 65 hours, affording the couple plenty of time on board.

In a way that has become a trademark of television's creative duo, the characters are complex and not instantly entirely likeable.

“I wanted to explore bad behaviour as well as good behaviour. I feel like these two have a way of being with each other that isn’t like anyone else … they bring out their authentic selves, in all their glory and ugliness,” Jones added.

And there is something unmistakably Fleabag-like about Wever’s Ruby. She is acting selfishly and impulsively, and it isn’t long before you can see that her actions are going to have major ramifications at home. After a swift sojourn on a train with an ex, it feels unlikely that she is going to be able to simply amble back to domestic bliss. A testament to Jones’s writing, however, is that despite knowing that everything Ruby is doing is way into the dark greys on a moral scale, you don’t dislike her. She feels authentic, despite unrelatable circumstances.

“I’m not the same person I used to be,” Ruby tells Billy, which should be a given. They haven’t seen each other for 17 years.

There is a paradox to Billy. At first, he comes across as the character who is much more in control, the person who instigated their great escape. However, the pace at which he unravels in the first two episodes implies that there will be a lot for Ruby to clear up.

The show does well to toe between genres. There are comedy moments, paired with drama and romance, but as Jones says, it is far from a cookie cutter romcom. For the times we’re living in, the show’s undeniable themes of escapism will appeal, making it a must watch for anyone who simply wants to run at this moment in time.

The series is scheduled to debut on HBO in the US on Sunday, April 12. In the UAE, with OSN’s HBO tie-up, the show will be broadcast on OSN and available to stream on OSN Streaming on Monday, April 13 at 6.30am UAE time