It’s a big week for Up All Night, with news coming in that the show will be joining NBC’s Thursday night comedy block come 2012 (It’s the big programming change at NBC that everyone’s buzzing about!). The Thursday night block is where the show should have been all along, as it fits in with the rest of the single-camera, laughtrack-free workplace shows on Thursdays much better than the multi-cam, studio audience-pleasing relationship show Whitney, which will be taking Up All Night’s current timeslot. Up All Night has been able to post decent ratings on Wednesday, but with a likeminded sitcom like The Office as a lead-in, it should only be able to grow more.
Just like last week, the latest Up All Night features a big name guest star dropping by. Molly Shannon plays Nancy, a new assistant on Ava’s show who’s been making one mistake after another. Reagan and Ava agree that Nancy needs to be fired, but Reagan changes her mind when she realizes Nancy is a mother and begins to sympathize with her. In the B plot, Chris is struggling to select a babysitter for Amy so that he can have some time to himself, with his pickiness getting in the way and causing him to fire a babysitter who he suspects is on drugs solely because she listens to the Grateful Dead.
With no one to watch the baby, Chris stops by Reagan’s office, where she’s engaged in a bitter stand-off with Ava over Nancy’s employment status. Chris patches things up with Reagan and Ava, helping them to get along in a scene that brings the show’s three lead characters together – a rarity for Up All Night. In one of the more predictable sitcom endings I’ve ever seen, the two problems facing our main characters solve each other, with motherly Nancy leaving her post at Ava’s show to take the job as Chris and Reagan’s babysitter. At least we get that unsettling last shot, so that everything isn’t wrapped up into too tidy of a package.
As I mentioned earlier, the end of the episode, in which Chris drops by the office to solve Reagan and Ava’s problems, is an uncommon scene in that it brings the show’s three leads together. This usually happens about once an episode, but Reagan, Chris, and Ava need to be in the same room together more often to get the show firing on all cylinders. Bored to Death is another comedy with a super-small central cast (this and Up All Night are two of the only sitcoms on TV with only four stars), and that show didn’t find its footing until the writers started putting its three lead actors, Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis, and Ted Danson, together at the end of the first season.
With a cast this small, it’s a necessity to bring everyone together often and to find a funny group dynamic for the three main characters. Up All Night is still nailing down the relationship between Reagan, Chris, and Ava as a trio, but continuing to explore it is a wise move and netted some funny moments here, such as Chris having to parent Reagan and Ava and to cover for their erratic behavior with the rest of the office. Christina Applegate, Will Arnett, and Maya Rudolph are three well-known, talented performers, and they’re the biggest asset the show has. The problem is, just as Reagan’s life is split between work and home, so is the show, and it sometimes feels a little disjointed. Chris will always be out of place at the TV studio, as will Ava at Chris and Reagan’s home, but the trio needs to come together in an organic way each week.
The most common complaint TV critics have had about Up All Night is that Ava often feels like she’s in her own show. It’s always either Reagan and Ava in a work crisis or Reagan and Chris in a home/family crisis in the A-plot, leaving whichever character is left out, Chris or Ava, to tackle a B-plot that feels disconnected from the rest of the episode. The two plotlines in “Hiring and Firing” intersect well, even if the solution to the story (Molly Shannon’s character taking the babysitter gig) is a bit of a contrivance.
“Hiring and Firing” also gives Jennifer Hall (who plays Ava’s assistant Missy) a different shade of her character to play, with the moments where she freaks out when she thinks she’s been fired being some of the highlights of the episode for me. Hall’s character is getting more and more filled out each week, and she’s really coming into her own. While she isn’t as accomplished a performer as Applegate, Rudolph, and Arnett yet, she’s been pulling her weight so far, and in this episode features an especially strong performance from her.
This wasn’t one of the best Up All Night’s, but it’s one that is continuing to explore what the show is. One strength the series has is the way it uses guest stars, in that the guests get big roles that majorly affect the plot but never take focus away from the main cast. There’s a tendency with sitcoms to let guest stars dominate the proceedings, but this hasn’t happened on Up All Night yet. A little bit of Molly Shannon goes a long way, and this is an episode that uses her just the right amount. The guest stars the show has been hiring (Will Forte, Jorman Taccone, Jason Lee) haven’t been examples of stunt casting either. These are capable comedic actors who are fairly well-known but not super-famous dropping by to add to the rest of the show, rather than distracting from it. These strengths will continue to work to the Up All Night’s benefit when it takes its new timeslot next year (I hear people on the Internet can’t wait for NBC’s midseason lineup to begin). Even if Up All Night somehow devolves into 22 minutes of Christina Applegate and Will Arnett playing peekaboo with their baby each week, it’ll still be a more fitting addition to NBC’s Thursday night comedy block than Whitney.
–We got a modified version of the opening credits this week, with shots from this episode of Chris playing hockey, Missy freaking out, and Reagan, Ava, and Chris hugging inserted in. The music seemed a little different, too.
–Molly Shannon is the third SNL star to appear on Up All Night, after Maya Rudolph and Will Forte (fourth if you count SNL writer and occasional uncredited actor Jorma Taccone). Creator Emily Spivey, a former SNL writer, and producer Lorne Michaels using their SNL connections has been an asset to the show so far.
–Anyone think Chris and Reagan’s daughter Amy is named after Will Arnett’s real-life wife, Amy Poehler? Just a theory. It’s a common name and could be a complete coincidence, but then, it could not. Poehler worked on SNL with Spivey, Rudolph, and Michaels, so there’s another piece of inconclusive evidence.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.