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Bringing Up Baby: Up All Night is Boring But Christina Applegate is Soooo Cool!

poster for Up All Night showing the cast sitting in a living room with a baby.

I really thought I would like NBC's new comedy series, Up All Night, which stars Christina Applegate (Reagan Brinkley) and Will Arnett (Chris Brinkley) as a married couple whose fun-filled, alcohol-drenched lives are interrupted by the birth of their daughter Amy. Reagan is the producer of Ava, an Oprah-esque talk show starring her best friend (played by Maya Rudolph), and Chris quits his job as a lawyer to be a stay-at-home dad. The premise led me to believe that a nuanced portrayal of the work/life balance might emerge. I also hoped the show might be funny.

Wrong on both fronts. For one, the show's go-to jokes are pop culture references and ironic twists on pop culture references, which might be funny if they weren't so abundant and so obviously a tool to demonstrate how tapped-in our characters are (or aren't). Name drops abound. Ellen, Eddie Murphy, Stevie Nicks, Gwyneth Paltrow!!! Reagan and Chris are oh-so-cool, as evidenced by their eating of sushi and gnocchi, their drinking of tequila and Jägerbombs, their ownership of art books, their wearing of designer underwear, their super quotable quotes (Reagan: "Ironic is bad movies and malt liquor"), and their banal-masquerading-as-edgy jokes (Reagan: "I always wondered what butt tasted like. Now I know."). Zing!

The show's shtick is that Reagan and Chris struggle to maintain their coolness even as they embrace parenting. Which is an OK premise, but it implies that parenting and coolness are at odds, and that the best way to battle the uncoolness of parenting is to conceal its presence in one's life. The actual baby, Amy, is mentioned almost exclusively in the context of how darn cute she is, and Reagan's recent pregnancy and delivery (the baby is two months old) are glossed over and mentioned mostly in conjunction with Reagan's concern with her weight and appearance. Does Reagan breastfeed? Certainly not, but there is no mention of this. So does she pump? I don't know. Do Reagan and Chris ever look exhausted? Despite the show's title, the answer is no. And while an entire episode's plot is devoted to Reagan's supposedly declining upkeep of appearance and clothing, the height of her dishevelment is reached when she drops a gnocchi on her shirt.

I certainly don't think it's the job of a TV show to centralize the physical aspects of parenting, but the minimization seems extreme, especially since the series' marketing implied that the physical and emotional demands of parenting would be central to the plot. It's almost as though the producers and writers (many of them women) are trying to prove something. "Having a baby can be cool! Look, Reagan and Chris are so cool! We don't have to whine about breastfeeding and all that crap!" But . . . doesn't this attitude delegitimize and conceal the realities of parenthood? I think the show's producers want to prove that  career success and motherhood (and househusbands and hipness) can be brought into tandem, and that's great. Yet the conspicuous disdain for the grosser, more physical aspects of parenthood might be part of what's making the series so boring, as New York Times film critic Alessandra Stanley suggests.

Wouldn't it be more fruitful to show cool Reagan doing stuff that moms actually do, rather than evading them to prove her coolness? It's not like Reagan is ignorant to issues of women's health. In the very first episode, she suggests that the show she produces, Ava, do a whole week on the subject.

If this were a better show, my complaint might be about socioeconomics. I might point out that work/baby balancing acts can be easier for parents with clout. Reagan presumably got paid maternity leave because her company decided to offer this perk, though the issue is never mentioned. And when Reagan decided to stay with Amy rather than accompany her boss Ava to a work-related event, she simply said she couldn't go (a luxury many working moms don't have). Up All Night exists in a family-friendly bubble.

But these are not my quibbles. The parenting experiences of a producer and a lawyer are no less legitimate and could certainly make for great comedy. Producing a hit show while raising a baby? Can't be easy. Giving up a life of (apparently gluttonous) drinking? Could be disorienting. But I don't know what these basic life scenarios mean to Reagan and Chris, because their characters are flat composites of hip California people. So far, Up All Night seems a vehicle to parade Applegate's clothes, Arnett's lovability, and Rudolph's histrionics.

Kelsey mentioned in an earlier post that the Reagan/Chris marriage is a rare representation of a supportive relationship, and I agree. Another positive aspect of Up All Night is Reagan's freedom to bring her baby Amy to work. Most mothers don't have this freedom, and it's important to show (and therefore hopefully normalize) babies in the workplace. I'm on board with the general consensus that Applegate, Arnett, and Rudolph are talented actors, and apparently the series underwent some very last-minute changes, so I suspect funnier episodes might be on the horizon.

Still, I think this show falls flat on many levels. What do you think of Up All Night?

Previously: Bringing Up Baby: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Infant Care in TVLand

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Comments

15 comments have been made. Post a comment.

I actually enjoyed the very

I actually enjoyed the very first episode, but since the subsequent episodes disappointed me. I'm holding out hope, especially in the wake of how bummed out I was by New Girl (had to shut it off after 10 minutes) and 2 Broke Chicks (had to shut it off after 5 minutes). BTW, if either of those show deserve a second chance, let me know...

Second-chance shows

I think New Girl might be worth another look, only because I found the second episode much better than the first (haven't seen this week's yet). I sat through one episode of 2 Broke Girls and thought it was heinous, so I can't encourage repeat viewing there.

(Of course, I'm on the record as a lover of Up All Night, so take my opinion with a grain of salt!)

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Kelsey Wallace, contributor

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I agree that Up All Night's

I agree that Up All Night's pilot was better than the following episodes. I actually liked New Girl, but I was expecting it to be awful based on the promos, so mostly I was pleasantly surprised. I won't go near 2 Broke Chicks. Will. Not. Watch.

Katherine Don

Thank you. I watched the

Thank you. I watched the first episode and found it completely unfunny. When it was then widely praised, I watched the second episode to see what I maybe didn't get the first time. Instead I had to turn it off partway through because I was actually embarassed for the actors. A show being woman-friendly just can't make up for it being really bad.

I also liked the first

I also liked the first episode better than the 2nd; the whole "trying to be cool to the cool new neighbors" felt unrealistic (even within the confines of a sitcom) and the big reveal (with the police) was just stupid and not the way real cops would act (even in a sitcom). That said, my teenage daughter and I are sticking with the show for now because we like Applegate and Rudolph and want to see Nick Cannon.

The New Girl pilot was better than the 2nd ep., though last night's wasn't too bad. But the character who replaced Coach isn't anywhere near as funny or likable as Coach was, which means out of the 4 main characters, there are only 2 we like, Jess and the white guy with the beard.

2 Broke Girls got less and less funny as the first episode went on, and it wasn't really a sitcom as much as it was an opportunity for characters to throw one-liners at each other. I watched 2, just to see if the flaws were in the pilot, but they weren't, and now I'm done.

i really wanted this show to work.

i really wanted this show to work. i think i'm hoping it to be more like "parks & recreation." the first season (of parks & rec) was awkward, but then found its footing in season two. the sad thing is that with the terrible writing of "up all night," i don't think it's going to have that luxury, which is too bad because it's loaded with potential.

the cast is amazing, but the material is just so flat. the characters' class and status are hard(er) for (most) people to relate to, so it just makes everything seem so hollow. there's no underlying ongoing conflict; things just kind of smoothly move along. it's a bit like watching paint dry.

attractive, married, hetero, white folks with professional careers live in well-decorated, sunny california home, have a baby they can afford to raise with one parent at home as caregiver. bleh.

Agreed.

For whatever reason, I feel like I have to like this show. Probably because I love all of the actors who play the three main characters, and want to see them succeed in a show together. This supposed obligation is the only reason that I keep turning to Hulu on Thursdays to watch new episodes. However, this week may be my last pity watching--if there are more than 5 "we're so ironic! Go us!" moments, I'm calling it quits.

Damned if you do....

I think that making a show about parenting will be criticized no matter what. Everybody is entitled to find it boring, but I prefer to look on the plus sides that are also mentioned above: the portrayal of a supportive mum and dad, and the possibility for Reagan to bring Amy to work for example. It's refreshing to see a dad not being made out to be an utter dumb ass (like many fathers on tv) or a tv mum who actually does more than just being a mum or cleaning up after her husbands silly shenanigans. So what if they don't want to address the topic of breast feeding? Is any tv show about parenting morally obliged to do so? And is it even a comedy about parenting anyway? I personally think it's more about the pressures many 30-somethings feel nowadays regarding status, jobs, family etc, and trying to make fun of it.

Does it mean I like the show? Not particularly, I also think the characters could use more depth and personally I find the storyline of Ava's tv show boring and not funny whatsoever. I hope this show will get some more depth eventually, but for me, that does not have to include plot lines revolving around baby Amy per se.

I agree that a TV show isn't

I agree that a TV show isn't morally obliged to address specific aspects of parenting. What really jarred me is the difference between the marketing and the content . . . but marketing is frequently misleading and certainly not limited to this series. I do think the lack of emphasis on the baby is bordering on unrealistic (and a missed opportunity), though I've never had a baby myself so I can't say for sure! At any rate, I hope this series gets better. Thank you for the comment.

Katherine Don

Yes, I see what you mean. The

Yes, I see what you mean. The promotional picture as placed with this article is a good example of raising the expectation that the show would include plots revolving around the practicalities of caring for a baby. I also hope it gets better since I really like Christina Applegate and Will Arnett.

As for New girl, I find it very boring and 2 broke girls was not funny in their second episode. I would pick Up All night over those.

I thought I liked it at first...

But you know, I think last night's episode was the last straw for me. This whole "being cool, wealthy upper class parents" thing is getting old. I wasn't deeply annoyed by the couple's attempts to get in with the hipster neighbors, but last night's episode about holding on to that BMW sports car in order to enjoy "looking like a mob boss's wife..." Um... I'm quickly losing interest.

I want this show to get

I want this show to get better, because I believe it has the potential to do so, so I'll keep watching for that reason alone. I think that writers tend to be pressured to make things as uncontroversial and palatable as possible when a show is first being aired (at least, for a sitcom like this one). But you're right: It's kind of boring. I just think it could be so much less boring!

(And I'm still finding The New Girl charming, but I've only seen two episodes. I'm trying to decide how closely Jess fits the manic-pixie-dream-girl model here, or if she's really just dorky. She sure isn't being painted as anyone's dream girl.)

So I am way late here, but I

So I am way late here, but I was searching for the clothes C.A. wears on the show, and this link popped up. I don't think her character BF's because C.A. had a double mastectomy for breast cancer. It would be a little insensitive to make her character BF her child when C.A. can't. I recall from earlier episodes where the parents make Amy a bottle of formula.

Clothes!

I am also way late and was ALSO looking for wear I can find some of C.A.'s wardrobe online-specifically I <3 the leggings with little black skirt or maybe its a tunic. Have you had any luck finding anything online about her clothes?

And, I seriously LOVE this show. LOVE. It got much better as the season went on. LOL funny. :)

It's okay man! Agreed on

It's okay man! Agreed on some opportunities missed. But this will be overcome in the growing process of the series. Miles better than what other most are on these days, at least that's what I think.