It’s that time of the year–a certain crispness in the air (unless you live in LA), crinkling leaves littering the ground (unless you live in LA), and the mingling sense of desperation and excitement that announces the arrival of pilot season (only if you live in LA).
I want to like Up All Night. Arrested Development ended five years ago and Will Arnett needs a hit. I love the incredibly talented Maya Rudolph, and Christina Applegate is a perfectly acceptable blond everywoman. She’s not especially quirky, but that’s okay, since she’s playing the generic mommy-executive type.
The premise is unfortunately simple: Mommy (Applegate) returns to work after having Baby, Daddy (Arnett) used to work (apparently he played hockey and worked in a law firm, definitively establishing Arnett’s Canadian heritage) but now he’s Mr. Mom, and Mommy’s boss is a real wackadoo (Rudolph). How will Mommy balance career and family? Will Daddy get resentful as Baby’s primary caregiver? And how will Crazy Boss provide hilarious comic relief? Pretty standard stuff.
Up All Night is completely watchable, but I’m having some real difficulty pinpointing exactly what is so boring about this show. At times the dialogue is pretty snappy, but then there are some clunky expository lines that hopefully will disappear once the show gets underway. There’s a certain leniency required to critique a pilot episode because its demands are so wholly different from an episode that comes halfway through an established series. So I’m willing to forgive the leaden repartee between Arnett’s character and Applegate’s in this early episode, but that doesn’t change the fact that Up All Night is just plain tedious.
If Emily Spivey, the creator, is sincerely trying to create a series that provokes the same feelings of ennui and malaise (god bless the French) in her audience that the Mommy and Daddy characters feel, then job well done. A rousing success.
The problem is that this strategy is too successful. Maybe it’s because I don’t have a mewling brat clinging to my neck as I puree real food into baby slops, but this show is tedious. I’m inclined to think that even if I could relate to the PARENTING EXPERIENCE (emphasis mine), I’d still find Up All Night dull and uninspired.
Yeah, babies change your life. It’s really tough at first, but then you get used to it. Almost 7 billion people have had or will have this revelation. Does this really mean we need a sitcom about it? And who’s the target audience for a show about the difficulties of being young(ish), white, middle-class, and raising a kid? Do other youngish, white, middle-class people really want to watch a show about the struggles of their peers? If I’ve been at work all day dealing with an infantile boss, or I’ve been home dealing with an actual infant, do I really want to come home and watch more of the same?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: good television is an escape from the mundane; great television is an escape, but it also makes you think. Mildly watchable, but mostly uninteresting, television is home movies with higher production values. And no one wants to see another YouTube video of your adorable baby. Just like homemade sex videos, keep that shit to yourself.
Incidentally, if anyone wants to see an awesome show that’s superficially about parenting, I would recommend Raising Hope. I caught up on the first season of Raising Hope a few months ago and it’s easily one of the best sitcoms on television right now. Up All Night is about raising a baby, but Raising Hope is about the people raising a baby.
This may seem like a negligible discrepancy, but it makes all the difference. Applegate and Arnett’s characters are bland, suburban parents, while Rudolph’s character is the insane outlier that redeems the show from the domain of the purely mediocre. Raising Hope inverts this formula: the Mommy and Daddy characters are cut from the same cloth as Rudolph’s Up all Night character, as are many of the supporting roles, and only the Baby-Daddy’s character is bland–but necessarily so, as a foil to the trash-talking, chain-smoking Mommy and the oblivious, but well-meaning, Daddy. If you’re looking for diversion over parenting tips, laughs over commiseration, skip Up All Night and check out Raising Hope instead. The second season premieres next week on FOX, so you’ve still got a week to catch up. Stay tuned!