Ah, the fall TV season is upon us. If you're anything like me, you're rejoicing at the return of current favorites and contemplating whether you have room in your already embarrassingly jam-packed viewing schedule for one or more new series. These decisions are never easy for me because I don't believe in one-night stands. If I decide to give a new show a shot, I'm fully aware that the first date will probably be average at best, and that it may take a few weeks to really get into a groove. There's a certain level of commitment there. And I always worry that I'm going to commit to the wrong show, and by the time I realize it's just not working out, it will be too late to catch up with the one that got away. Then I'm just left with an empty time slot that I'll have to fill with some sort of constructive activity. Ugh! How annoying.
I made it easy on myself this season by choosing shows for purely superficial reasons. First there's the new ABC series, "Suburgatory" (Wednesdays, 8:30 pm ET). What's it about? I don't know. Jeremy Sisto's in it. That's really all I care about. Then there's FOX's "Terra Nova" (Mondays, 8:00 pm ET). I'm not entirely convinced that it will hold my interest for the long haul, but it will probably be fun while it lasts. Jason O'Mara is certainly nice to look at, and I have a thing for that silver fox, Stephen Lang. Also? DINOSAURS! Sold.
And now we come to the reason for this post: my third choice, "Up All Night." I decided to give this show a shot purely based on Will Arnett's involvement. I love this man. He deserves to be on a series worthy of him, so I've got my fingers crossed for this one. Clearly, it's going to be hard for him to top "Arrested Development," but after last year's terrible "Running Wilde" (FOX), there's really nowhere to go but back up.
As I mentioned earlier, the first date with a new show is rarely perfect. It's not fair to judge a series by its pilot because it's basically just a concept. We're just learning who the characters are and why we should care about them. So, an OK pilot is usually all that we can hope for, and that's exactly what we got with "Up All Night." It wasn't great, but it did show plenty of promise.
The series focuses on married couple and first-time parents, the Brinkleys. While Reagan (Christina Applegate) returns to work, her ex-lawyer husband Chris (Arnett) settles into his new role as stay-at-home-dad. The obvious strains of this set-up are felt immediately: Reagan feels guilty for "abandoning" her husband and child, Chris feels a little lost playing Mr. Mom, and the two spend a lot of time bickering over which one gets less sleep and which one's job is harder. (Writers: please, please avoid the temptation to create a "let's switch places for a day" episode. PLEASE.) None of this is particularly mind-blowing stuff, but thanks in large part to the likability of both leads and their on-screen chemistry (Applegate and Arnett make a believable, cozy couple), the material doesn't feel as worn-out as it could.
However, at one point in the first episode, the Brinkleys, mourning their former, hard-partying ways, spend a drunken, karaoke-filled night out, which they pay for in the morning when the baby just cries and cries and cries into their bleary-eyed, hung over faces. Although some of the partying scenes were cute, the whole sequence just came off as a stale "wow, parenting sure is hard" observation. Meanwhile, the recurring joke about the couple's struggle to stop casually dropping F-bombs around their kid was a much funnier and subtler way to paint that same picture.
Contrasting with the Brinkleys' home life is Reagan's work life—a crazy, "30 Rock"-ish environment built around Maya Rudolph's Oprah-lite character, Ava. (While Rudolph's character was originally written as Reagan's neurotic PR exec pal, she morphed into the meatier role of Reagan's nutty talk show host boss/friend to capitalize on Rudolph's successful big-screen turn in "Bridesmaids.") This work universe also includes Ava's sidekick, Calvin (Nick Cannon - if you blinked during the pilot, you might have missed him) and her high-strung assistant, Missy (Jennifer Hall). Apparently, this world is meant to provide the show's more outrageous moments, but last night's running gag about a colon cleanse gone wrong fell terribly flat. Again, it was the more subtle humor that worked, such as Ava matter-of-factly mentioning her helicopter date or that she was attending a barbecue at Stevie Nicks' house.
While the pilot may have been short on fall-down funny moments, the overall tone was perfect. While it would be easy to veer into overly cutesy territory with a baby-centric show, series creator Emily Spivey has brought to "Up All Night" the same sweet-not-sappy feel that she gave to the wonderful "Parks and Recreation" episode, Eagleton. With such a solid foundation, I'm sure the big laughs will come soon enough.
• I wasn't into the whole Matt Lauer-talking-to-Reagan-through-the-TV thing. Let's not turn this into Ally McBeal.
• Best line of the night - "I'm still the same old me, but sometimes now when I walk, talk or breathe, I pee." (Reagan)
• Applegate may have gotten the best line, but Arnett stole the show. Some of his best bits:
- Calling the wife for help finding the "regular cheese" at the supermarket; returning home with a giant wheel of "fancy cheese"
- Trying to avoid a baby-loving old lady at the supermarket
- Being thrilled that his new stay-at-home dad friend is a surfer dude
- Calling his anniversary party "Anniversary Times" (which totally sounds like something Charlie Kelly would say)
• Amy Poehler guest spot: make it happen.