Since the news broke that the Schmitties at NBC decided to handle the return of “30 Rock” by pulling “Community” (aka the best show on TV) from its mid-season lineup, a lot of anger has been directed (deservedly) at “Whitney,” which will get a move to Wednesday instead of a much-needed mercy killing, and (not-so-deservedly) "Up All Night," which will take the Thursday, 9:30 pm timeslot. Although I’m pretty irritated about the “Community” debacle, my fondness for “Up All Night” (and especially my fondness for Will Arnett) has led me to defend it to the many who hate it. So, I was really hoping that this week’s episode would be A-level stuff, to keep the “Community’s being bumped for THIS?” backlash at bay. Unfortunately, it was merely average. I know the show can do better, but it needs to start proving to everyone else that it deserves to play with the big boys on Thursday nights. (And I won’t even get into how much “The Office” has deteriorated and could/should go in favor of “Community.”)  

On the surface, “Hiring and Firing” seems like a Chris and Reagan episode, focusing on Chris’s concern that Amy is getting sick of him, but it’s actually another Ava episode, as most of the action takes place at the studio. Chris is even dragged into her world at the end to help patch up an argument between Ava and Reagan.  But while last week’s Ava episode helped to transform the character into a three-dimensional person, this episode finds her right back in cartoonishly self-absorbed, Oprah-lite mode. (She sent 25 women with alopecia to Disneyland though, so that counts for something.)

However, much of the responsibility of comic relief is put on guest star Molly Shannon’s shoulders, and she does the best she can with what she’s given. There are plenty of actors out there who play the same character over and over (Michael Cera, Jack Black), but only a handful who do it so effectively that no one seems to mind (Vince Vaughn, Jeff Goldblum), and I think Shannon falls into that category. Perhaps it’s because she can stop just short of going too over the top with her awkwardness that she never fails to make me laugh. Her take on Reagan’s assistant, Nancy, is no exception, as she’s the type of co-worker we’ve all vented about to our friends (e.g., “Oh, it’s always some problem with her kid,” “This broad can’t even work the phone”).

Still, the “my assistant is clueless” story wears a bit thin, especially when it prompts a power struggle between Ava, who wants Nancy gone, and Reagan, whose new motherhood has apparently turned her into a doormat. Although Reagan attempts the firing, all it takes is for Nancy to share that she’s also a mom and that she loves Reagan’s hair to place her neatly under Reagan’s wing. Of course, Nancy continues to be maddeningly inept and Ava and Reagan continue to butt heads over her employment.

As for Chris and Reagan, they decide to hire a babysitter – a hot little number named Jessie – to give Chris more time to go play hockey. Not even halfway through her first day, Chris fires Jessie based on her love of the Grateful Dead, which automatically makes her a drug addict. There’s nothing particularly funny about any of this, except for Chris’s inability to speak properly around pretty girls (blonde=”blernd”, don’t = “dernt”) and weird fear that all babysitters are insane (especially if they salt their tater tots before even trying them). And juxtaposed with the Ava/Reagan/Nancy situation, it’s painfully easy to predict the episode’s outcome: both stories get wrapped up with a neat little bow when Reagan hires Nancy as the nanny. (I hope this means that Shannon will have a recurring role, as she’s certainly a more interesting babysitter than Nick Cannon.)

Grade: C

Random Thoughts:

• For the first time in, well, probably EVER, I enjoyed Jennifer Hall as Missy. Her two violent, profanity-laced outbursts upon suspecting that she was being fired were the highlights of the episode.

• More of Chris playing hockey, please. Will Arnett is great when he shifts Chris into “dude” mode.

• Best quotes:
Reagan: "Honey, you wouldn’t hire that one woman because she didn’t use a Mac."
Chris: “It’s a different mindset.”

Chris: "It’s kind of hard to skate with a weed epidemic going around.”

Reagan: “Always happy to have judgment advice from someone who owns Rick James’ houseboat.”