January 13, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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This week UP ALL NIGHT was promoted to NBC’s version of the big leagues, where many felt it belonged from the start.  It’s switched places with Whitney and been given the benefit of The Office, NBC’s one genuine lead-in, for the Thursday 9:30PM slot.   Let’s take a look at whether it merits the step up.
WHERE WE LEFT OFF:  Reagan (Christina Applegate) and Chris (Will Arnett) somewhat neurotically raise Amy, their first baby, while Reagan juggles her job producing her best friend Ava (Maya Rudolph)’s afternoon talk show and Chris, a lawyer, serves as stay-at-home dad.

WHERE WE ARE:  Whether deliberately or not, Up All Night‘s first episode in its new time slot was either uncharacteristic or a sign of how the show is planning to change.  The slightly-outdated New Year’s Eve episode barely mentioned Amy, and was almost wholly about the grown-ups.  For a show that’s been so closely tied to stories about child-rearing, this felt fairly revolutionary. 
The other noticeable difference between the show now and the way it began is the continuing moderation of Ava as a character.  Originally, Rudolph was cartoonishly broad as what everyone stoutly denied was a caricature of Oprah Winfrey (who Rudolph used to play on SNL), and it caused Up All Night‘s tone to feel distinctly schizophrenic, since the at-home scenes with Applegate and Arnett were mostly built around more low-key observational humor.  While Ava is still by far the show’s brassiest character, the writers have made an effort to draw her in more human dimensions, especially since introducing Jason Lee as Kevin, an ordinary-guy steady boyfriend for her.
This has made the series easier to take, and a better fit with The Office.  The only downside is that the more even tone is leading to some awfully banal storylines, as in tonight’s episode where the New Year’s Eve festivities devolved into Reagan and Chris railing at each other for the little ways they annoy each other (Chris thinks his Borat voice is funnier than it is, Reagan becomes a cutthroat competitor at Trivial Pursuits), while Kevin felt resentful that Ava doesn’t go out with him in public because she’s ashamed of him.  These are the kinds of storylines that Modern Family finds ways to do much more deftly (coincidentally, ABC’s hit had its own storyline this week about the competitiveness between Claire and her dad), partly because every character on that show is so well defined.  Despite the great charm and skill of Applegate and Arnett, Reagan and Chris are still fairly thin as characters, and turning down the volume makes that more evident.  (The show could also use some more supporting characters beyond Jennifer Hall’s production assistant, although Hall got the welcome chance to show some new sides to her character in this episode.)
Up All Night is a superior half-hour (god knows it’s superior to Whitney), well written and performed.  Given NBC’s current state of being, it’ll be a longterm player for the network, unless it somehow ruins the Office hour entirely.  The question it’ll face as it moves forward is just how much substance the series has when it’s not being that show about yuppies raising a baby.

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."