Welcome, fans of non-failing sitcoms starring Will Arnett and/or Christina Applegate, to Vulture’s weekly coverage of Up All Night. As a single, childless guy in his late twenties, I feel uniquely qualified to tackle a sitcom that deals in the issues of marriage, parenthood, and general maturity as an adult who washes his coffee mug more than once every few days. This is my show, people (as a fan of both Will Arnett and Christina Applegate and someone thrilled for their possible success)!
Fittingly, we start with an episode dedicated to new beginnings, or more accurately, New Year’s Eve. It begins with flashbacks to past New Year’s events with Reagan and Chris, getting progressively less blotto and goatee-d. In 2002, the two had different dates and only met for a fleeting moment after the big midnight kiss. A few years later they were dating proper and hanging out in a club, but couldn’t get any time alone before Ava blasted into Reagan’s periphery. Then it’s 2010 and Reagan is pregnant and not drinking. Chris and Reagan politely smooch at midnight in the company of a handful of friends. Now it’s 2011, so they decide to put Amy to bed and throw a low-key couples' game night. Ava shows up with her Joe the Plumber straw man Kevin (he’s My Name Is Earl with a salary bump), as does Missy and her shockingly charming and handsome and British — but way more shockingly half-J — boyfriend Isaac. And oh yeah, Chris hates it when Reagan plays games because of how competitive she can get, so he’s hidden them all.
(I know Ava and Reagan are great friends, but I never quite get why Ava is able to do a lot of the regular-person things that Reagan does without much hooplah. Like, she’s supposed to be a famous talk-show host, so wouldn’t she have prior obligations over New Year’s? If TV has lied to me about this, then what else have they gotten wrong?!)
At this point, “New Year’s Eve” is in danger of treading into some serious sitcom-y territory, but what I’ve come to really like about Up All Night is that it knows when to be understated, letting its most shocking moments burst out at random. Shows only feel hacky when they follow an emotional track that’s telegraphed a mile away. And that just doesn’t happen on Up All Night.
So yes, Chris sets up that he’s worried Reagan’s competitiveness will sour the evening, but when she threatens to tear off Chris’s skin if he gets a Trivial Pursuit answer wrong, he kind of brushes it off, bubbling only below the surface. Meanwhile, there’s a game being established where Isaac is seemingly the perfect guy, but Missy finds him insufferable. So the show makes him a really good guy with some adorable idiosyncrasies, like pronouncing aluminum alu-MIN-ee-um, and simply asks Missy to dial up her response as if he’d blurted out a moderately embarrassing secret. That way, when she announces to Ava and Reagan that on top of being a fantastic chef and a great lover he’s also a pediatric surgeon, Reagan can shout “What the fuck?” and it feels like the next logical step. Also: Bleeping swears is always funny.
There’s a similar, patient build when Chris and Reagan finally decide to have it out. They get out a giant whiteboard and start listing things each of them wants the other person to stop doing in 2012. Just as they’re getting into it, they promise to follow up that list with a list of all the things they like about each other, which again sets off my trope alarm. But they’re not yelling at each other while making the list. Actually, even though they start off a little annoyed with one another, they start having some fun with it, and get so carried away that the activity takes them right up until the final moments of 2011. In a hurry now, they’re not making a love list, but instead erasing things from each other’s annoying habit list, chalking each up as entirely forgivable given how much in love they are. Then midnight rolls around, and they get to have the first uninterrupted kiss in a long string of disappointing New Year’s Eves.
It was a nice moment that made Kevin’s plight feel cursory by comparison. Ava has yet to appear publicly with him, and Kevin thinks it’s because Ava is ashamed to be seen with such a schlub. Truth is, Kevin’s just a little insecure because Ava is worshipped everywhere she goes, and he probably doesn’t feel like he’s spectacular enough for someone who can get away with wearing a cape and carrying a scepter. While the rest of the cast enjoyed a nice emotional build to their stories, Kevin confides in Chris that he’s not thrilled with the dynamics of his relationship, then explodes at Ava over a tenuous Rock Band–related misunderstanding. Ava follows him into the streets and quickly convinces him that, in fact, she’s actually just scared that if they were to break up, she’d have to see his face plastered on TMZ and know she ruined one of the good ones. It was resolution in hyperdrive, spending much more time with the visual gag of the limo trying to turn around on a very narrow street. But I think they made a wise choice.
In conclusion, that was the best episode of Whitney I’ve ever seen.