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Sleep is for babies.
A bold, ambitious wife. A loving, bumbling husband. A new baby. On paper Up All Night has a simple premise employed countless times throughout sitcom history. The generic title and vanilla marketing angle don't do much to set it apart from network hits like Mike and Molly, How I Met Your Mother, or Modern Family.
Just give it a chance. This single-camera comedy is about more than dumb dads, emotional moms, and Maya Rudolph doing an Oprah impersonation.
Facts of the Case
Reagan and Chris Brinkley (Christina Applegate and Will Arnett, respectively) are a modern, hard working and hard partying couple. Reagan's a producer for a hit daytime talk show, Ava (played by Maya Rudolph), and Chris is a successful lawyer. Their busy life together gets a little more hectic with the arrival of their new daughter.
This 24-episode season chronicles the desperate juggling act of a modern couple trying to keep their old lives while raising a new one.
At first, Up All Night is almost daring you not to watch, challenging you to just keep on flipping for a show that looks edgier or more original. Just hold off until Will Arnett moves on to another sitcom that isn't Arrested Development. Don't listen. Look past the tropes that float on the surface, and you'll find one of the funniest, most relatable network sitcoms I've seen in a while.
Created by Emily Spivey, who based the show on her own life while writing for SNL, the show is a smart, subtly hysterical representation of a family just learning to walk. And while the actual premise of the show is fairly un-relatable (because how many people do you know work for a flamboyant daytime talk show host?), the spousal dilemmas they deal with hit very close to home. Like the show's title suggests, Reagan and Chris spend most of their nights balancing a jam-packed social life with taking care of their daughter—and the occasionally infantile Ava. They're up all night working, partying with new neighbors, attempting to make "couple friends," and trying (though occasionally failing) to support each other.
Christina Applegate and Will Arnett have an undeniable chemistry that holds the whole premise together. Neither actor plays it "straight," and instead both offer up deep characterizations with quirks, strengths, and weaknesses. They compliment each other: Reagan is out-going, tough, and quick to confront; Chris is more shy, easy going, and doting. Because Reagan and Chris are so real and generally believable, Maya Rudolph as Ava (the couple's well-known third wheel) gets to go for broke. Rudolph may have publicly denied that her Ava character is a version of her Oprah impression from Saturday Night Live, but it's quite clear that she's lying. From her inflated ego to her vague spiritual inspirations, Ava is a caricature. At times, she feels a little out of place, but as the season progresses the writers and Rudolph become more comfortable with integrating her into the storylines and also making her matter.
The show's first season is impressively consistent, even if the series sort of morphs over the 24 episodes. Christina Applegate remains at the center of it all, but as the characters develop, Arnett and Rudolph, along with the plucky Jennifer Hall as Missy, start to hold equal weight. Up All Night gains confidence in its storytelling. For example, in one of my favorite episodes, "Travel Day," Chris and Reagan endure the stress of taking a baby on an airplane while Ava prepares to perform a marriage for her former R&B band member (played by Alanis Morissette). The two plots come together at the end in a way that's both funny and gratifying. The same could be said for more episodes than not in this set.
This three-disc set is pretty standard fare as far as TV shows go. Up All Night is a slick, well-made sitcom, and the anamorphic widescreen presentation gives each episode the polish of a feature film. The show is so well produced that it's a little jarring to see a single-camera setup that isn't a mockumentary a la The Office or Modern Family. The set's special features include deleted scenes on each disc, and a hilarious music video for "Basically" featuring Ava and some guy named B-Ro (Jorma Taccone). One thing's for sure: this show is adept at making fun of 90s cheese.
Up All Night may have the setup of a classic sitcom, but its modern sensibilities, quick wit, and great characters make it stand out. Like the best romantic comedies, it's both funny and heartfelt…and the baby is adorable. Up All Night: Season One is worth watching.
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