April 13, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Some shows find their creative voices during the course of their first season–but even after a super-sized order of 24 episodes that ended last night, UP ALL NIGHT is still floundering.
On paper, Up All Night seemed to have everything going for it.  Its Executive Producer/godfather was Lorne Michaels, and it was created by Emily Spivey, a longtime Saturday Night Live writer who’s also written for Parks & Recreation.  Even better, its cast featured no less than 3 legitimate TV stars:  Christina Applegate, Will Arnett and Maya Rudolph.  

The show’s pilot seemed to have a sharp focus that would make it a smart, irreverent slant on the family sitcom.  Applegate and Arnett played Reagan and Chris, a cool couple who’ve fully enjoyed late nights, partying, drinking and other accoutrements of their lifestyle–but now have to raise a baby, leading Chris to leave his law firm to work at home and be a stay-at-home dad, while Reagan has to juggle motherhood and career.  To provide a respite from the babycentric plots, Rudolph played Reagan’s best friend and employer Ava, bringing the show into the workplace. It was clear that the show faced a challenge in combining the relatively naturalistic tone of the home storylines with the extravagance of Rudolph’s character and acting style, but that seemed to be something that could be adjusted over time.
And yet somehow the series has never come together.  Creative changes began even before the pilot was widely seen:  instead of working at a PR agency, Ava was made the host of an afternoon talk show, with Reagan as her producer.  (Although everyone involved denied the connection, this essentially gave Rudolph a chance to recycle her Oprah imitation from SNL.)  More seriously, the show’s tone began to waver.  The baby plots became more and more conventional–competitions in day care!  Reagan misses baby Amy when she’s at work!  how to find a good nanny!–and lost any semblance of an edge.  After several episodes, the decision must have been made behind-the-scenes to start concentrating on the adults entirely, because baby Amy started to disappear for episodes at a time.  Instead, we got romantic storylines for Ava, most notably with Jason Lee as a “real-guy” contractor neighbor of Reagan and Chris, as well as workplace complications.  There was an episode where Reagan was jealous of Chris, and one where Chris was jealous of Reagan.  All the originality and fun was sucked out of the initial concept.
Last night’s season finale, written by Spivey and Jon Pollack and directed by Troy Miller, showed what a mess the series has become.  Amy was virtually invisible, and the story instead centered on a plotline that could have come from any dumb sitcom 30 years ago:  Reagan thinks she lost her engagement ring, but actually, Chris swiped it so he can add Amy’s birthstone and re-propose to Reagan, since his original proposal became a botch when a drunk Reagan beat him to it.  So Reagan, who’s been established all along as a control freak, goes insane trying to find and then replace the ring, while Chris, who appears never to have met her, has no idea that this would make her crazy.  It all leads up to a re-proposal scene where Chris, totally unconvincingly, has had the bar populated with a flash mob to sing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” to accompany his re-proposal.  Meanwhile, he’s also brought Jason Lee back to profess his own love for Ava, and although they decide not to wed for now, they’re reunited in their strong feelings for each other.  And to all this, I ask:  WHAT DOES ANY OF IT HAVE TO DO WITH THE SHOW THAT UP ALL NIGHT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE?   There are no insights into parenthood or marriage here, no wit–just cliched storylines and gags (the episode also featured a bit where the annoying neighbors insisted on dividing the dinner check based who exactly who had which dish, because no one’s ever seen that joke before), piled up for 20+ minutes.
Up All Night is an infuriating show, because it represents a waste of enormous talent.  (And chemistry:  given the infrequent chance, Arnett and Applegate can be charming together.)  Audiences have recognized it, and lately the show’s ratings haven’t climbed out of the mid-1s.  However, since as we’ve noted before NBC Can’t Cancel Everything, Up All Night could very well be back next season.  Here’s hoping the members of the series braintrust use the hiatus to recall what show they started out trying to create in the first place.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."