NBC’s foray into Wednesday night comedy begins with “Up All Night.” The premise of the show is simple: Christina Applegate (“Samantha Who?”) and Will Arnett (“Arrested Development”) are a happy, carefree couple. They have a baby. Hijinx ensue.
Up All Night
Wednesdays at 8 p.m.
“Up All Night” is a show that shouldn’t fail, considering its impeccable pedigree. Lorne Michaels is the executive producer, and the showrunner Emily Spivey is a former “Saturday Night Live” writer who also wrote an episode of “Parks and Recreation.” Christina Applegate has comedy chops to spare, and on an unrelated note, she has an Emmy. Basically, if the show can stay out of its own way, it’ll be at least a solid half hour every week.
The “Up All Night” pilot largely lives up to its promise. Arnett and Applegate have a great rapport, and Maya Rudolph (“Saturday Night Live”) hamming it up is always fun to see. Spivey is a sharp writer, as her “Parks and Rec” episode, “Eagleton,” demonstrated. There weren’t too many laugh-out-loud moments, but the incisive and observational stuff is there. Chris and Reagan Brinkley (Arnett and Applegate’s characters, respectively) have a lengthy one-up contest over who slept less, and while most of us have never raised a baby, the bit is resonant enough. The show also gives Will Arnett a chance to be a normal human, or at least one who doesn’t ride around on a Segway performing illusions. His reaction mugs are great, and the high point of the pilot is probably his cheese-finding frenzy in a supermarket. There’s a lot of embryonic stuff here, and it augurs well for the show.
All that said, “Up All Night” is by no means a can’t-miss. The “busy new parents find balance between work, life and adorable baby” premise has the potential to be cloying, and we see a glimpse of how saccharine this dynamic can be during the end of the episode, when Reagan makes her “I choose work and family” stand. But Spivey doesn’t write with too heavy a hand; the hangover scene (“You know who doesn’t have a hangover? That baby!”) is enough to assuage any doubts about that.
Another potential worry is the incongruity between what is a fairly grounded home life for Chris and Reagan and a workplace environment that seems almost cartoonish. Maya Rudolph is a bit of an “it girl” at the moment, and her success in “Bridesmaids” led NBC to greatly expand her role. While Rudolph is a gifted comic actress who can do full ham and sardonic subtlety with equal aplomb, it doesn’t seem like the show knows quite what to do with her. Her scenes are very different tonally from the low-key domesticity we get in the Brinkleys’ home scenes. To be sure, Rudolph is the funniest part of the pilot, in the “eliciting audible laughs” sense. But it’s not entirely clear how the show will mesh her Jack Donaghy-like crazed mentor role with the wry and observational tone of the baby shenanigans. This is something to keep an eye on.
Comedy pilots don’t have to be transcendent, fully formed pieces of television. All a pilot needs to do is establish that, hey, the premise has potential and the characters are enjoyable. After that, would it be too much trouble to ask you to plop yourself on the couch for another pleasant half hour next week? In the case of “Up All Night,” the answer is a resounding “yes.” There are laughs, both belly-laughs and “heh, yeah, totally” laughs. It’s sentimental, but it also features Arnett and Applegate calling their baby “f***ing beautiful.” The pilot is good, and really, that’s more than a pilot needs to be. It’s an encouraging beginning from an excellent cast and crew. Keep this one on the DVR schedule.