Full disclosure: My wife and I had our second child in January, so we're very familiar with the situation new parents Reagan (Christina Applegate) and Chris (Will Arnett) find themselves in at the top of the new NBC sitcom, Up All Night, which premiered last night. In real life, we have argued over which one of us was up longer with the baby, we have let slip an inappropriate curse word or two (or three, or four, or five) around the kid, and we have dealt with the difficulty of balancing work life and family life. Watching all of those moments played out onscreen, it was almost as if we were watching versions of ourselves from several months ago, before the crawling, the babbling and the sleeping through the night (that's right Reagan and Chris... it does happen). And, for us at least, that authenticity made the show that much funnier. To be honest, I have no idea how Up All Night will play with non-parents; all I know is that the pilot made us laugh harder than any other new fall comedy besides New Girl.
It goes without saying that this is far from the first series to mine the subject of new parenthood for laughs. But Up All Night tackled the subject with a clear-eyed honestly underlined by a healthy, but earned streak of sentiment. I also appreciated how creator Emily Spivey's script avoided broad sitcom plotting in favor of finding humor in small domestic moments, whether it was Reagan attempting to squeeze her post-pregnancy body into her pre-pregnancy wardrobe or Chris desperately trying to find the "normal cheese" at his local supermarket all the while avoiding the frightening visage of the kind older woman that just wanted to coo over his daughter. There was a strong streak of Seinfeld in the show's observational humor and lackadaisical pace and I hope the writers stick with that approach rather than shoehorning in busier narratives or forced conflicts.
Going into Up All Night, one of my concerns was whether Applegate and Arnett -- two very funny actors whose comic personas have been defined by their work on more outlandish comedies like Arrested Development and Married with Children -- could believable play a "normal" couple. As it turned out, I shouldn't have worried; no doubt drawing on their own experiences as parents of infants (Arnett has two young kids with his wife Amy Poehler and Applegate gave birth to a daughter earlier this year) both did a fine job delivering big laughs while keeping their characters rooted in reality. The pair also shared a strong comic chemistry, which was a relief after to all of us that suffered through watching Will Arnett try and fail to strike sparks with former co-star Keri Russell on Fox's Running Wilde last fall.
My other major concern about the show was what I'll call The Maya Rudolph Factor. I tend to run hot and cold on Rudolph; during her Saturday Night Live heyday, her sketches were generally the equivalent fingernails-on-a-chalkboard for me. Anytime she turned up as Oprah, Beyoncé or Whitney Houston, I immediately went for the fast-forward button. On the other hand though, I've greatly enjoyed her performances in films like Away We Go and Bridesmaids, where she wins laughs without pitching her performance at a decibel only dogs can hear. It was the former incarnation of Rudolph that turned up in the first version of the Up All Night pilot, which I saw earlier this summer. At that point, she was some kind of recording industry publicity bigwig and Reagan was her right hand woman. In the revised cut that aired last night, she was a daytime talk show host and Reagan was he right hand woman/producer. That switch would seem to allow Rudolph to once again drag out the Oprah impression that delighted others and drove me up the wall, but to my surprise (and relief), she was actually more restrained in the new version than she was in the original pilot. While flashes of the over-the-top Rudolph were still there -- like that bit of business about going on The Cleanse -- she mostly fit into the show's comic tone instead of overwhelming it. (I was less impressed by the brief flash we got of Nick Cannon as her on-screen second banana; let's keep his appearances to a minimum, please.)
Since it's shaping up to be a largely disappointing fall for comedies (though some good ones will be arriving mid-season), I'm hopeful that the few bright spots -- Up All Night and New Girl -- maintain their quality past the pilot. Based on last night's episode at least, there are plenty of great elements that the cast and crew can work with here. My wife and I will definitely be watching... depending on which of us is waking up the next morning with the baby, of course.
What can Will Arnett learn from the cancellations of Arrested Development, Running Wilde and Sit Down, Shut Up? We give him our heartfelt advice.
What are people saying about your favorite shows and stars right now? Find out with Talk Without Pity, the social media site for real TV fans. See Tweets and Facebook comments in real time and add your own -- all without leaving TWoP. Join the conversation now!
MOST RECENT POSTS