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'Up All Night' Premiere Review

About.com Rating 2.5 Star Rating
User Rating 4 Star Rating (1 Review)

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'Up All Night' Premiere Review
Photo courtesy of NBC

The Bottom Line

Up All Night features likable actors in an awkward mix of workplace and domestic comedy, with the story of a couple raising a newborn daughter clashing with the story of working for a self-centered talk-show host. Parts of the show are amusing, but the whole thing doesn’t quite fit together.

Details

  • Premiere airs September 14, 2011, at 10 p.m. EST on NBC; subsequent episodes air Wednesdays at 8 p.m.
  • Stars Christina Applegate, Will Arnett, Maya Rudolph
  • Created by Emily Spivey

Review

It’s a common TV truism that babies added to flailing sitcoms are the quickest way to ruin those shows, but making a baby a central part of a new comedy is nearly as risky a proposition. Up All Night proves that a crying infant provides as many distractions as it does possibilities for comedy, and by the end of the show’s first episode, viewers may be as tired of young Amy’s neediness as her parents, TV talk-show producer Reagan (Christina Applegate) and stay-at-home dad Chris (Will Arnett), are. Applegate and Arnett are both experienced sitcom veterans, and they have nice lived-in chemistry as a couple who are completely comfortable with each other’s quirks and foibles, and have a playful but genuinely loving relationship. Arnett in particular has played so many cartoonish characters in shows like Arrested Development, 30 Rock and the recent short-lived Running Wilde that it was almost hard to imagine him as a regular person, but he does a nice job of showing the vulnerability under Chris’ occasional smarminess.

Applegate is appealing, too, as a somewhat harried but capable woman who’s determined to have it all, and the performance recalls her likable work on the underrated Samantha Who? A show focused on these two as a couple might work really well, but their dynamic is only one of several elements that Up All Night tries to pull together. The biggest factor is baby Amy, who naturally doesn’t have much of a personality yet, but who remains the focus of the first episode. Modern Family and Raising Hope have both shown recently that babies have limited comedic potential and often need to be downplayed in favor of more articulate, active supporting characters, but at this point Up All Night’s cast is fairly limited. Applegate and Arnett’s best scene together is the opening flashback, in which they wait for the results of a pregnancy test. Once the baby shows up, it’s all worn-out whining and yelling, none of which is especially novel or amusing.

The other factor is Maya Rudolph’s Ava, who was reimagined between the show’s original pilot and the final result, making her wackier and more overbearing, and unfortunately more likely to completely overshadow the show’s ostensible main characters (although Rudolph does get higher billing than Arnett in the credits). Ava is Reagan’s boss, and while she was initially conceived as a high-powered publicist, she’s now an Oprah Winfrey-esque talk-show host whose neuroses tend to overwhelm those around her. Rudolph is a funny performer, but she has a tough time here balancing the approach to Ava as a sort of broad sketch-comedy parody and a real person who seems believable as Reagan’s best friend.

The pilot also has some moments that just feel poorly crafted, including a whole subplot about Chris making a new friend whom we never see or hear from. The inclusion of a number of bleeped swear words is either an ill-advised attempt to seem edgy or a sign of cable-show envy, but either way it’s just off-putting and unnecessary. Applegate and Arnett have a strong enough rapport and enough likability that a show focused on their characters could evolve into something worth watching. But judging from this first episode, it’s more likely that the baby and/or the boss will shift the focus away from the one thing here that really works.

Disclosure: A review screener was provided by the network. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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