Screensavors: A 'Runaway' failure

Channel 3's new drama is a lame tale of a family on the lam.

Taking a drive with the kids can be a harrowing experience. No matter how big a van you have, they're always yelling: "He's touching me!" or "Why do I have to sit in the back?" or asking for the 856th time, "Are we there yet?" So after a summer on the road with our own flock, we can readily understand why the Rader family is a little testy in the back of their vehicle in Channel 3's new Runaway, which debuted last Sunday night at 21:45. After all, there won't be much time for bathroom breaks with the whole family on the lam, the basic premise of this CW loser that set some kind of track record for quick departures when the network ran it off the schedule after screening just four episodes. You'd think that alone would be reason enough for Channel 3 to have skipped this one, but hey, something's gotta fill the schedule. So for nine weeks - we assume they even bought the episodes never screened in the US - we'll be following Mom, Dad, and the three kids as they try to stay one step ahead of the authorities who seem determined, if too stupid, to catch them. Paul, the dad (Donnie Wahlberg) is wanted for slitting the throat of his legal assistant, according to the slew of flashbacks that tell the family's story. Someone's set him up and fearing for himself and his family, Dad piles everyone into the car and takes off. Along the way, he and Lily his wife (Leslie Hope, who played Teri Bauer on 24 and is apparently used to that on-the-road harried look) concocts all kinds of stories to protect her family, the latest one that the Raders - now using the last name Holland in their new home town of Bridgewater, Iowa - are refugees from Hurricane Katrina. Considering how water-logged the script is, that actually could be true, as every cliché in the book is trotted out. There's the sensitive, brooding older son Henry; the trying-to-find herself teenage daughter Hannah; and dopey, no-clue younger brother Tommy (apparently, they ran out of H names). When Mom takes Hannah to the local high school to register, she runs into the hunky football player Brady, their meeting only made more syrupy by the accompanying tinkly guitar music, which crops up annoyingly all over the place to remind us that this is a touching scene. Groan. When the Raders/Hollands' next-door neighbor stops by to offer a hand, guess who's right behind him? All those who said Brady get to skip the next eight episodes of this program. Yeah - he's the man's son! Can you beat that??!! And wouldn't you know it that when out-of-work Dad takes Tommy to the local diner, there's a big sign above the specials blaring: "Cook wanted!" And then Dad gets that job!!! Who saw that coming??!! When the kids aren't exercising their hormones - Henry keeps risking the family's safety by calling his old girlfriend, the blonde cheerleader Kylie - they're wondering whether Dad maybe really did do it after all. "Are you guilty, Daddy?" asks Tommy. "Hey, hey," says Dad, apparently stuttering for emphasis, "Daddy is not guilty." Wahlberg, who deserves a better show, gets stuck with lots of lines like "I just need time to clear my name" and the like, while the flashbacks of Lily with long hair make you wonder whether it's even the same actress playing the part. Henry runs off to go back to Kylie, but surprise - he comes back! Meanwhile, the bumbling law enforcement agents seem to have all kinds of high-tech gear to use to track down the Raders, but of course just as it appears a SWAT team is about to come down on the family, we get a swerve and the family is safe for another week. Well, sort of. America turned a sharp thumbs down on the CW entry and it was the first show axed last fall. Although a cat named Charlie plays a key role to the mystery here, the show didn't have nine lives. Apparently, someone thought a family on the run was a good idea, but despite a decent cast, there's just not enough to latch onto here. With life on the run taking its toll on their relationship, Lily eyes Paul at one point in the pilot episode and says: "I want us to be better." So did we, Lily. So did we.