Ruby is in the midst of the most boring day a person could possibly have in pre-quarantine America—sitting in a Target parking lot, sulking in the wake of a passive-aggressive phone call with her husband about skipping yoga so she can sign for a delivery—when her life suddenly changes. A text message pops up from someone named Billy: “RUN.” Fingers quivering, she replies: “RUN.” The same day, after hopping a plane to New York, she catches a cross-country train from Grand Central Station, where a roguish-looking redhead joins her.
It’s all so exhilarating to watch that you can easily forget that the commuter hub doesn’t even have cross-country trains. Such is the magic of HBO’s Run, debuting on Sunday, April 15, an energetic hybrid of rom-com and action thriller whose half-hour episodes move as swiftly as the vehicle that is their primary setting. Created by actor, director and writer Vicky Jones, with best friend and longtime collaborator Phoebe Waller-Bridge as an executive producer, the show shares an emotional palette with Killing Eve (which returns to BBC America for an unnecessary but fun third season on April 12) and Fleabag (Jones directed the stage production, a taped version of which will be available to rent on Amazon beginning April 10, with proceeds benefiting coronavirus charities). Its primary colors are frustration, regret and desire.
This is where you’d normally get some backstory surrounding Ruby (Merritt Wever, on a roll after Unbelievable) and her traveling companion Billy (Domhnall Gleeson at his most charming), but the show only works so well because the characters initially are as mysterious to viewers as they are to each other. We know they’re old college flames, though not whether their motives now are romantic. It’s also clear they’ve been out of touch for years and that “RUN” is their secret signal to drop everything and embark on this adventure. Hints as to what each is running from and what they’re hiding from one another trickle out via smartphones, breathless confessions and colorful secondary characters played by The Good Wife standout Archie Panjabi and guest star Waller-Bridge.
Though it takes place in the present, Run has tantalizing overtones of Old Hollywood. An anxious, screwball chemistry flickers between the leads; the train backdrop recalls classics like North by Northwest and the original Murder on the Orient Express. Yet the engine of this story, propelling it endlessly forward, is something much less glamorous: the pathos of two regular-seeming people with the audacity to blow up their own lives.