Here's the problem with movies and TV shows about parenthood: Every one of them makes the same jokes about diapers filled with green ooze or offers the shocking revelation that, hey, newborns don't let you get a lot of sleep while assuming they're all disclosing some previously unobtainable truth about the human condition. Parents have known this stuff for eons, but it seems like every five or six years -- just enough time for first-time parent screenwriters to move on to scripting '80s remakes, in other words -- the next batch comes along and does the same thing all over again.
The question hovering over NBC's new sitcom Up All Night, therefore, is not whether they're going to find an incredibly original angle from which to approach this well-used topic, but whether the casting of talented but largely unappreciated comic actors like Will Arnett and Christina Applegate as the parents will freshen the material up at all. The jury's still out after last night's pilot episodes, but there are a few positive indicators.
Shot in the vérité style the networks now require of every post-Office sitcom, Up All Night is about new parents Reagan and Chris Brinkley. Reagan (Applegate) is executive producer/assistant (?) to Ava (Maya Rudolph), a talk show host who brings to mind a more neurotic Oprah. The plot, such as it is, is fairly straightforward and faced by millions of people every day: How does one juggle a baby, career and relationship without resorting to prescription drugs or felonious assault?
The baby-raising stress is alleviated somewhat by Chris (Arnett)'s decision to give up his law career to stay home with the kid. Caring for a newborn...well, really caring for any kid until the age of two is essentially just making sure they don't accidentally kill themselves. This is a little easier before they're capable of moving under their own power, but Chris commits the rookie mistake of not actually sleeping when his kid sleeps, instead watching hockey and playing video games.
Wait a minute, daytime hockey? What kind of Bizarro World is this show set in?
Reagan, meanwhile, must contend with Ava's often flaky demands ("We're all doing the cleanse!" Followed, two days later, by, "Everybody's off the cleanse! Get me a double meat/double cheese sub, stat!"). The Ava character, unfortunately (I say unfortunately because I love Maya Rudolph), steers Up All Night into traditional (read: clichéd) sitcom just about every time she's on screen.
Oh, who am I kidding? I could listen to her sing "Edge of Seventeen" all day.
The first episode culminates with Reagan and Chris attempting to enjoy their seventh anniversary, which soon devolves from dinner and drinks to an all-night drunken karaoke session. You, and everybody else, can see where this is going. But in the end, given the chance to go on a road trip with Ava instead of spending a hungover morning with Chris and the baby (what the hell is that kid's name?), she opts for the latter. Again, rookie mistake.
Pilots are difficult to judge on their own merits, since we have to be introduced to all the principals, spoon-fed the plot and somehow enticed to continue watching. I will say Applegate and Arnett are fine, and refreshingly understated (especially compared to Arrested Development and Married with Children). I mostly bought them as a married couple with a newborn, though I'm going to be watching Arnett's hairline closely. Shit doesn't look real.
Now let's rank the show on more important criteria. Namely, childrearing accuracy.
What They Got Right:
- Cussing: That does cause consternation for most new parents, even though most kids don't really remember anything before the age of four. Their tendency to repeat things said in their presence, however, should not be ignored. And from personal experience, an 18-month-old repeatedly yelling "Fuck!" is actually kind of funny.
- One-upmanship: The scene where Reagan and Chris tick off their respective sleep deprivation in a sort of misery contest was spot on.
- Hangovers: There are few things in this world more miserable than dealing with a hangover and kids in the morning. Maybe poison ivy, and even then it's close.
What They Got Wrong:
- Clueless Dad: Seriously, can we stop with the "men don't know how to shop" bullshit? He couldn't find cheese? Give me a break.
- Chronology: Reagan must get European amounts of maternity leave, because there's no way that baby is a "newborn." I'm saying six months, easy.
- Behavior: Also, that kid is pretty well-behaved. We'll see if they throw in a colic episode (or ten, which would be more accurate).
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Next week: Reagan and Christopher annoy the neighbors.