Thursday Night 'Lights: Four Ways for Up All Night to Fit Right In
So if you read these recaps with any regularity, I imagine you were relieved when NBC moved Whitney to "cocktail hour" on Wednesdays to be paired with Chelsea Handler’s new show. (So avoid Wednesday nights on NBC.) In its place came Up All Night, a mostly charming show about new parents Chris and Reagan. Like Whitney, Up All Night focuses on a couple in a long-term relationship, minus the laugh track and with the added bonus of an adorable baby and Maya Rudolph. The show has been a nice fit with the rest of the TNL lineup, but there are still a few things it can do to fulfill its potential.
"If Chris thinks I’m a loser, than I don’t even know who I am."
As I talked about in my first recap of the show, the major issue with Up All Night is the whiplash that comes from contrasting the low-key vibe of Reagan’s home life with the outlandishness of her work life with Oprah-esque talk show host Ava, with Chris often sidelined due to the show’s preoccupation with workplace shenanigans. The show has often struggled with reconciling these two aspects into a unified series, but like the “New Year’s Eve” episode from earlier this year, “Preschool Auction” had a nice balance that brought the focus back on Chris and Reagan as a couple.
I must admit I was worried when the show trotted out two familiar sitcom tropes as the A and B plots: parents who go to extreme lengths get their child into an exclusive school, and siblings who are ultra-competitive but not very close. (In fact, we saw the latter plot in a Whitney episode about Alex and his brother. Sigh.) But Up All Night nicely upended expectations by having Chris’ brother, Casey (played by Dean Winters, best known either as Liz Lemon’s no-good boyfriend Dennis or as Mayhem) hide the fact he lost his job at the same time Chris was pretending he was still working at his law firm. So the two’s usual one-upmanship was tinged with desperation, and there was a real poignancy when Casey opened up to Reagan about his unemployment and how he needs Chris to believe in him. Reagan can sometimes be overbearing due to her type-A personality, but here she was even-keeled and supportive of both brothers.
In a way, the dramatic element of this storyline bled into the charity auction Reagan hosted to get daughter Amy into an exclusive preschool, the kind that has its own petting zoo and boasts that 72 percent of its alumni graduate from Ivy League schools. Ava usually operates as a cartoon character, with her diva-ish demands and tabloid-worthy dating disasters. Perhaps to match the tone of the other plot, this episode allowed her to be much more human, as she’s roped into being the auction emcee, and is still able to run a successful even despite being completely wasted. The scenes of her running the auction were very funny, allowing Rudolph to show off her comedic talents with credulity. When Reagan’s concerned about the preschool being obsessed with celebrities, Ava tells her that “maybe Amy should go somewhere where she’s the star.” Up All Night found the perfect calibration of Ava in this episode, which leads me to a few other things I’d like to see on the show this season:
1. Ava and the workplace don’t need to be in every single episode. Now I know it’s hard to resist including Maya Rudolph into the show, especially since the success of Bridesmaids. But once in awhile the show should just focus on Chris and Reagan. There’s a wealth of stories to be told about these former party animals adjusting to being first-time parents (which I thought this show was supposed to be about anyway), without needing to shoehorn Ava into the plot just because Rudolph is a regular member of the cast.
2. Give Chris something to do. Reagan’s character dominates the show since it features her home life and work life, while Chris is stranded in one-off story lines that don’t give his character any consistency. We've seen him playing video games, bonding with other stay-at-home parents and now met his visiting brother, but the show hasn’t found anything substantial for him to do except wait for Reagan to get home. One of the best Chris-centric episodes was when he temporarily took over as leader of a Mommy-and-Me group, and seemed happy he found his niche. For the long-term health of the character, Chris needs to have outside interests of some kind, because right now it seems he barely exists on the show unless his wife is in his orbit.
3. Try long-term story arcs. Besides Reagan’s work/life balancing act, there aren’t any real long-term arcs happening on the show. It might be interesting to see a plot unfold through multiple episodes, because right now most of them end with things going back to status quo (Chris and Reagan argue and make up/Reagan and Ava argue and make up). Perhaps a storyline that has Chris deciding he wants to back to work, which will affect their home life and Reagan’s work schedule, and once he’s working again he realizes he’s fulfilled as a full-time parent after all.
4. More Amy. Babies are inconvenient, they’re noisy, they can cause sleep deprivation (after all, that is what gave the show its title). But Amy conveniently disappears when Chris and Reagan need to be at a charity auction or hosting a dinner party. (For example, how did Amy possibly sleep through the Rock Band competition during the New Year’s Eve get-together?) The whole idea behind the show is that Amy changes and disrupts their lives, and it would be nice to see that.
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