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Thursday Night 'Lights: Four Ways for Up All Night to Fit Right In

Chris and Reagan from Up All Night, sitting on the floor of their bathroomSo 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 WhitneyUp 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.

Previously: Thursday Night 'Lights: Does 30 Rock Need a Shake Up?; Thursday Night 'Lights: Liz Lemon Needs a Divorce From Tina Fey

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Comments

4 comments have been made. Post a comment.

I agree with all your

I agree with all your suggestions--especially about actually doing something with Chris!

I think all the leads are great in the show. I want to like it more than I do. I am old enough to know that tv is about fantasy but as a mother looking for a tv show that shows some of the stresses of being a new mother and the change it makes in your marriage and work life this show careens off the path. How many of have to replace our BMW convertibles for a family car? I feel little in common with the main character. How many of us are really trying to get our infants into ultra competitive preschools?

I agree with you

You speak my mind. That was what i was going to ask.

Same pinch :)

Yep. I love Will Arnett BUT

Yep. I love Will Arnett BUT not this show. His sort of lost story-line is a drag. What DOES he do all day? I wonder if this could be linked to the idea that childcare is not as fulfilling as a professional career might be. Is it because he's adopted a traditional patriarchal role for women in the home? I think so.

Maya Rudolph is a savior for this show -- but if they wanted to go all 30 Rock and have ANOTHER show about making television from her point of view -- or Reagan's -- that would indeed increase the fluidity. But, does the public need another one of them? You know I remember some funny bits -- like when Reagan was trimming the old man's hedges across the street because they drove her crazy -- or when Rudolph gave them a gift basket with wildly inappropriate things in it -- When Will is confiding in his gaming buddy about the slack in his romance. But Really -- these are sparse moments. They need more definition -- whom is the show about, anyway?

I agree with most of your

I agree with most of your comments, but I have to play Devil's advocate for a minute, regarding your point about giving Chris more storylines, and focusing more on Chris and Reagan's relationship. Because you could say in Up All Night we have a story about a woman, where she is front and center, and her stories aren't always about her relationship, family, husband. She's the one with the complexity here.

Like I said, I do think you're right about most of the comments, I just found it interesting that the predominance of Reagan plotlines in the show was brought up as a negative point.