(episode by Emily Spivey)
The premise of Up All Night, one of NBC’s new comedies airing on Wednesday nights, is delighfully simple: Christina Applegate and Will Arnett have a baby, Applegate goes back to work, and Arnett stays at home. You could say more, of course, including that Applegate (her character’s name is Reagan, but c’mon) works as a producer on an Oprah-like TV series called “Ava,” starring Maya Rudolph, and that Applegate and Arnett aren’t any old young parents, but a couple that have been known to have their fun, staying out late, drinking,
dancing on tables with Jagerbombs.
No comedy will ever live or die on its premise, of course. What was Seinfeld about? Or perhaps a better question, naming comedies I actually like: what are Modern Family and Community and Louie about? High-concept comedies exist, of course — think of Wilfred. It’s not the talking dog in itself that makes me laugh at Wilfred, though — it’s Jason Gann’s performance as said dog, the blissfully, effortlessly narcissistic personality he brings every week, and the entire weird suburban-druggie vibe of the show.
No, comedies, perhaps even more than dramas, ride on their execution. Up All Night‘s pilot, were I the type to give “objective” grades to TV shows, would earn a solid mark in my book. Will Arnett proves that he can tone it down, playing his ex-lawyer as a human being who’s actually a little hurt by his wife’s casual belief that she’ll outlive him by anywhere from ten to thirty years, a guy who’s overwhelmed by the size of the grocery store and the persistence of the weird old ladies who want to look at his baby, not the cartoonish buffoon character that brought him to prominence on Arrested Development, a variation on which he played in last year’s extremely mediocre Running Wilde. In a series that is clearly going to rely on verbal humor (a major plus for me — you can keep your gross-out humor and your uncomfortable situations right over there; I’ll take clever wordplay delivered with some snap any day), I thought Christina Applegate got a couple of the best lines, and delivered them perfectly. Particularly notable was her description of a cleanse drink as a “mug of butt.”
The chemistry of the three main players (or really, between Applegate-Arnett and Applegate-Rudolph, since Arnett and Rudolph hardly interact) isn’t all the way there yet, but I wouldn’t expect it to be, even from three television comedy veterans. These things can take time, and for now, at least, I’m willing to give the show that time.
I will say that the reason I’m sticking around isn’t because I laughed myself out of my pants. It’s more that it was funny enough, and the touching character moments that are a staple of every network comedy did not come off overly cloying or treacly. I may, in the long run, find myself laughing too infrequently to justify spending 30 minutes per week with the show, but I doubt I will be actively turned off, so frustrated that I delete the entire series from my DVR mid-episode the way I have certain shows (looking at you, Covert Affairs).