It's nice to remember that sometimes the TV Gods giveth as well as taketh away. On the same day NBC mildly disappointed us by announcing the premature end of the The Playboy Club, they warmed our hearts by mentioning that they were granting the Christina Applegate/Will Arnett comedy Up All Night a full season pickup. (They also dropped the bomb that they were going to inflict an entire season of Whitney on us, but we choose to ignore that news in the hopes it will just go away.) Granted, the full season order isn't that big a surprise; since its September 14 premiere, Up All Night has been one of the network's few bright spots, winning strong reviews from critics (including us) and solid (particularly for NBC) ratings. And as last night's very funny episode showed, the series has been growing creatively as well. Here are the five reasons we think Up All Night is clicking with viewers and earned its renewal.
1. The Baby Is the Catalyst For the Show, But Not Its Center
One of the reasons the addition of an adorable kid to a series so often inspires groans is that the moppet inevitably becomes the focal point of the show, while the previously important leading characters stand around oohing and aahing over their new bundle of joy. So far, the Up All Night writers have done a good job writing around baby Amy, instead keeping the attention on her mom and dad, Reagan (Applegate) and Chris (Arnett). The humor stems from watching these former L.A. hipsters re-orient themselves to the humdrum details of their new lives as parents -- from dealing with being a working mom and stay-at-home dad, as in the pilot, to buying a new, more kid-appropriate car, as in last night's outing. Amy is more or less a prop in the comic proceedings and we mean that as a compliment.
2. No Character Gets Left Behind
As much as we love the sprawling ensembles on shows like Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock and Modern Family, the drawback to having such a large crew of talented actors is finding room to fit them all into every 22-minute episode. How often have you switched off an installment of 30 Rock wishing there had been more Tracy, Pete or Jenna? (Okay... so maybe not that last one.) Up All Night's core cast taps out at three (Applegate, Arnett and Maya Rudolph as talk show host Ava) so each actor gets to play a significant role in each episode, either together or in their own storyline. For example, while Reagan was dealing with Ava's ex-boyfriend drama at work last week, Chris enjoyed a daddy-and-daughter playdate with his new surfer dude pal (hilariously played by Will Forte). We always switch off Up All Night feeling as though we got just enough of each character and, if anything, want to see a little more.
3. Applegate and Arnett
Move over Phil and Claire Dunphy: we've got a new second-favorite sitcom married couple. (The number one slot goes to Parks and Rec's Andy and April, natch.) Only four episodes in and Up All Night's stars are a well-oiled comic machine. We cracked up last night watching them drunkenly buy a rust bucket of a car online because it resembled the old A-Team van and again later on when they exchanged horrified glances after discovering the minivan they were test driving was the exact same car their annoying neighbors tool around in with their newborn infant. Arnett and Applegate have both been individually great in other shows, but this is the first time they've been matched with the right on-screen partner to be both their love interest and comic foil.
4. Ava Is Steadily Building an Elaborate, Funny Backstory
Initially coming across as an Oprah knock-off in the pilot, over the past few episodes we've learned that Rudolph's Ava is actually a high school dropout (with her GED!) that found success as a pop star and played the Whitney Houston to a Bobbie Brown-like white boy rapper (Lonely Island's Jorma Taccone, who we hope we'll see again soon) before entering the self-help/afternoon talk show game. We're looking forward to seeing what other lives she's led as the series goes forward. (We should note that we do understand the complaints that Ava's scenes sometimes feel as though they're taking place in a different show. Here's the thing to keep in mind: Up All Night is attempting the difficult task of combining the rhythms of a workplace comedy like The Office with the domestic humor of a Modern Family-style series on a weekly basis. Finding that right balance will be tricky, but we're confident the writers will crack the code with the extra time they've earned.)
5. Grrrl Power
It's a positive sign that three of the fall's most successful new comedies -- Up All Night, 2 Broke Girls and New Girl -- were created (or co-created) by and star women. Night creator Emily Spivey has written two out of the four aired episodes (the pilot and last night's outing) and Caroline Williams (creator of the 2008 Miss Guided) penned the second half-hour. Women dominate the show's workplace as well, a nice change from The Office and Parks and Rec where the guys are still ultimately in charge. (Kudos to Spivey for being so progressive as to have Chris be the one to give up his job and not agonize about that decision one iota.) Along with Up All Night, factor in the box-office success of Bridesmaids earlier this summer -- as well as the good ratings and recent renewals for 2 Broke Girls and, sigh, Whitney -- and you've got the makings of another Vanity Fair cover story devoted to the current crop of funny ladies.
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