Jeremy Likes TV

I like TV. Probably more than any human should.

Review: Up All Night – “Pilot” | Free Agents – “Pilot”

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Up All Night Rating: 82/100

Thursday nights on NBC are synonymous with comedy. They have been for years. The network has long made money off of its “Must See TV” tagline although it’s been ages since the network has seen an actual hit on that night. Sure, The Office still draws viewers [1] and Community and Parks And Recreation DESERVE to be hits, but the days of Friends and Seinfeld are long gone. For almost as long as they’ve had their Thursday night comedy bloc, NBC has also been trying to establish a comedy beachhead on a different night of the week as well and their latest attempt to do so is the tandem of new sitcoms, Up All Night and Free Agents on Wednesday nights. The results are decidedly mixed.

Up All Night stars Christina Applegate (Married… With Children) and Will Arnett (Arrested Development) as a married couple balancing careers with first-time parenthood and comes from the creative team of writer Emily Spivey (Parks And Recreation) and producer Lorne Michaels (Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock). I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this pilot. Sure, it helps that I’m a parent myself so many of the pitfalls that Applegate and Arnett encounter I’m very familiar with. When Arnett exclaims in frustration, “This is the wipes game that the wipes people do to get you to buy more wipes,” I’ve been there. When they both realize that they have to quit the cursing and watch their language around their daughter, Amy, I’ve been there, too [2]. In a dynamic not usually seen in sitcoms of this nature, Applegate is the one who returns to work as a producer of a television talk show hosted by an Oprah clone (Maya Rudolph, Bridesmaids) while Arnett has quit his job as a lawyer to stay home and take care of Amy. As a stay-at-home dad myself, I probably identify more with Arnett’s character than with any other on television right now. One of the biggest things that Up All Night has in its favor is that it’s starting out with a strong foundation of lead actors. I’ve always felt that Applegate is a very underrated comedienne [3] and maybe this is finally the vehicle she needed after the bombs like Jesse and Samantha Who? that she’s top-lined in years past. And Arnett, for the first time in a long time, seems to be playing a fully-formed human here, instead of the umpteenth iteration of Gob Bluth. As of now, the lone weak spot seems to be Rudolph who is definitely talented and funny at times, but seems to be playing much more of a sitcommy character here. The creative team definitely deserves kudos for nailing the fear inherent with new parenthood as well as mining it for the laughs that do exist in tandem with the horror. Spivey, from her work on Parks And Rec knows top-shelf comedy very well and, as Alan Sepinwall has pointed out, is willing and able to adapt on the fly [4], which is ALWAYS something you want from a showrunner. All in all, a very promising debut and in time I could absolutely see Up All Night becoming a crowd-pleaser for NBC in the vein of ABC’s Modern Family.

Free Agents Rating: 43/100 

Free Agents, on the other hand, is somewhat maddening in that somehow a show that boasts actors and writers who have worked on such TV classics as The Simpsons, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Party Down is seemingly so lifeless and unfunny. Purportedly, Free Agents is a comedy yet it opens with its central couple, Alex (Hank Azaria, The Simpsons) and Helen (Kathryn Hahn, Crossing Jordan) in bed with him talking about missing his kids and her discussing her deceased fiancé. Based on a British sitcom that also starred Anthony Head (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) in the same role as the head of a PR firm [5], I suppose that it’s possible that the show’s tenor and atmosphere just aren’t translating well after being imported to America but I can’t remember laughing once during the entire pilot. It’s not particularly funny but it’s not necessarily bad, either. It’s just… odd, and I have a difficult time seeing how anyone who watched the pilot who’s also not a TV nerd would come back for another go. I’m operating under the assumption that the hook of the series is that Alex and Helen are both so screwed up that they must be perfect for each other, but that’s not nearly enough. In all honesty, I’d be shocked if Free Agents survives until November sweeps, and that might even be giving it too much hope. In a perfect world, Up All Night would be moved to Thursday nights before Community, shifting Parks And Recreation to the post-Office slot where it belongs, thus replacing the pile of poo that Whitney appears to be [6]. Of course that would mean that NBC’s attempt to launch another night of comedy would go by the wayside, but what’s one more year, really? I’m sure they have to be used to it by now.

[1] Though it faces an uphill climb this season after replacing longtime star Steve Carrell with James Spader. It’s actually one of the most intriguing storylines of the upcoming season – seeing whether the creative team can pull this switch off.
[2] Still working on that one, as a matter of fact.
[3] Exhibit A: Her ability to more than hold her own with the incredibly talented comedic ensemble in Anchorman.
[4] In the original pilot, Rudolph wasn’t a talk show host but was instead the head of a PR firm where Applegate’s character worked. Setting the workplace scenes in a television show setting is much less abstract than a PR firm would have been and makes for more material for comedy. The reworked pilot also made the Ava character less oblivious when it comes to dealing with the baby.
[5] An object lesson here, kids. Up All Night learned it. Free Agents didn’t.
[6] Don’t hold your breath for a review of that shit pile. I like you guys enough, but not enough to subject myself to watching THAT.

Random Thoughts – Up All Night

  • The TV show setting gives it the show bit of a 30 Rock feel in some ways, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
  • “Babe, worry. I can’t totally do this.”
  • “I’m the same old me. Except sometimes now when I walk, talk, or breathe I pee.”
  • “At least you don’t have to work.” “Yeah… ‘cause raising a human’s not work at all.”
  • “That’s not even your real sex face. I wish it was.”
  • To reiterate, in case you’re listening NBC… this show has to end up on Thursdays. It fits too well there not to.

Random Thoughts – Free Agents

  • As a longtime Buffy The Vampire Slayer fan, I just love seeing Giles in something again. It’s just too bad that it’s this show.
  • The executive assistant character played by Natasha Leggero seems like too much of a stock sitcom character in a show devoid of them. That’s one of many areas that needs to be fixed for this show to have any chance of survival.
  • It does at least deserve points for the use of The Black Keys “Tighten Up.”
  • “Everyone’s telling me I need to get back on the horse. So, I was wondering if you’d like to be… that horse.”
  • “Because I have no plans to DJ at an Armenian gangster’s acquittal party.” Funny to a point, but that’s waaaay too specific a reference.

Written by jeremylikestv

September 21, 2011 at 8:56 pm

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