What’s that? Gob from Arrested Development is now married to that girl from Married with Children? And her boss is that chick from Bridesmaids? What could go wrong!
Unfortunately for the new NBC comedy Up All Night, a lot of things. Despite a great cast, a sweet concept, and an SNL alum creator, the show just does not seem to live up to its potential. While it’s cute and occasionally funny, it mostly feels like it’s trying too hard. It fails to create a consistent humorous rhythm, and falls into old, failed sitcom tropes.
Up All Night, airing on NBC Wednesday nights, was created by SNL alum Emily Spivey and is executive produced by Lorne Michaels. The show centers on the new parents Reagan (Christina Applegate) and Chris (Will Arnett) who try to raise their baby girl, Amy, while still maintaining their relationship and holding onto their youth.
In the pilot, Reagan returns to work at an Oprah-like talk show starring her friend Ava (Maya Rudolph) while Chris begins his journey as a stay-at-home dad. Chris struggles to navigate grocery shopping while Reagan tries to balance family and work. In the second episode, new hipster neighbors move in next door. Reagan and Chris try to impress them by showing their youthful coolness, but they eventually must confront the fact that they’ve become grown-up parents and can no longer pretend to roll with the youngsters.
Overall, the characters are bland. Just count the number of times Reagan and Chris call each other “babe” in each scene (trust me, it’s a lot). Their constant use of “babe” shows their attempt at being a plain, simple couple. Arnett, instead of capitalizing on his enormous talent at being strange and deluded, falls into a boring, sedated father figure whose largest personality characteristic is that he is sort of dorky. While he has good chemistry with Applegate, their relationship and characters are so ordinary that I hardly have a reason to watch more.
Rudolph, however, is excellent. She has clearly taken notes from Tracy Morgan and Jane Krakowski’s performances on 30 Rock, and she masters the self-absorbed television personality with grace. She got my biggest (and often only) laughs of the show as she condescendingly told fans to “keep on watching and growing” and shows an utter obliviousness to how babies work. Her character serves as much-needed comic relief.
The other jokes, however, are not so good. In the second episode in particular, the almost lone punch line of mocking hipsters’ use of the word ‘ironic’ is used at least four times. Many of the humorous moments try to use the specific and quirky nature of shows like 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation, but feel awkward in such a normal, realistic setting. In addition, many of the attempts at humor come from overused tropes about new parents. Anyone who has seen comedies about new parents before has seen the jokes about confusing diapers and sleepless nights many times.
There are definitely funny moments, but they are always overshadowed by the cheesy, family-style endings of the episodes. The parents always realize their new role in the world, and they smile, kiss, and stare at their baby. While this is sweet, it gets old after the first episode.
These flaws may be the result of growing pains. After all, what quirky NBC comedy was good in its first season? The show has changed dramatically in the last few months and may be still finding its voice. When Rudolph hit it big with Bridesmaids, her character changed from a dull public relations boss into a needy, attention-driven television star. Perhaps the show could take more leaps like this to invigorate it and lift it out of its after school special parenting edition status.
There’s hope yet. While the show has not found its humor quite yet, it could rebound later in the season. Politically, it’s quite interesting. There’s a stay at home dad, a working mother, and questions about gender roles and who is working harder. The series is sweet and cute, but if it wants to stick around in this cutthroat era of television, it’s going to need to be more than that.