Last week’s airport-focused episode proved that Chris and Reagan don’t really get along with a bunch of total strangers. “First Birthday” proved they don’t really get along with anyone, even people in the neighborhood. Part of the problem is that they’re both really picky people; both parties like things a certain way and loathe when others try to stick their noses where they don’t belong. They also have a very established way of interacting with people: Reagan is the person who says no — the hammer — leaving Chris to be the cooler, go-with-the-flow guy. It’s always worked, and there’s been no reason to question it.
As it turns out, they’ve pegged each other the wrong way. After Chris got cornered by Gene and Terry from across the street, and pressured into having a joint birthday party for Amy and Roger, Reagan decided that enough was enough. Chris was going to learn how to say no, even if it meant turning off the part of her brain that wants so desperately to yell at people for being gross. Old guy sticking his feet near the cheese? Delicious. Random Gene/Terry family member using the master bathroom? Thank you sir, may I have another? The entire party being too loud and unruly due to Gene and Terry’s family inclination to have lots of kids and just not die? Yes. Reagan might have been killing herself on the inside, but outwardly she remained pretty calm and made funny faces to the amusement of the other moms. Meanwhile, Chris was finding himself annoyed at the tiniest things, like the MOST HIDEOUS PAINTING OF A LIVING PERSON, gifted by Ava as her homage to Amy. It had eyes that followed you like the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Up All Night loves to play around with the Reagan/Chris dynamic, and often begins episodes with the typical behavior trope: “You’re always like this, and I’m always like this — but I love you anyway.” In “First Birthday,” the show was more threadbare than it had been in a while. It wasn’t enough that the casual/uptight conflict was manifesting itself at the party; they had to dig up conflicts from the past and demonstrate how Chris has always been the pushover when Reagan wasn’t around. When Ava asked to be Amy’s godmother in a flashback, Chris said yes just as fast, if not faster than when he agreed to host the joint birthday party. “First Birthday” also brought back Molly Shannon as Nancy the babysitter, and had her fall for a dad friend of Chris’s and ask to be set up on a date. And when Ned the friend fell for Nancy, she asked that Chris get the needy Ned off her back, forcing Chris into the middle of the conflict like they were back in high school passing notes to each other.
Normally the introduction of all these outside forces wouldn’t be a big deal, except that the show still hasn’t quite figured out how to turn out a cohesive episode melding all the storylines together. In “First Birthday,” Ava once again made herself the focus of everyone’s attention (though it was weird that it wasn’t a bigger deal that a huge celebrity was at this party). And her major conflict — learning that she was not the godmother — happened quietly off in the bouncy castle, with Chris and Reagan leaving the party so they could talk her down. None of the other party attendees even noticed that Ava was there, let alone gone. And at the end of the episode, Ava received her own private moment of validation when Amy said her name and Chris/Reagan falsely claimed it was Amy’s first word. The episode managed to stick the landing, but Ava’s story was serious compared to the playfulness Reagan and Chris were sharing having owned up to their new hard-ass/go-with-the-flow roles. A little emotional heft is never a bad thing in comedy, unless it rubs the opposite way of the episode’s general vibe.
At least everyone agreed they hated Gene, Terry and their stupid sheet cake. If there’s one thing that can unify characters on any TV show, it’s loathing.