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Up All Night Recap: You Do the Math

UP ALL NIGHT -- "Daddy Daughter Time" Episode 121 -- Pictured: (l-r) Henry Winkler as Robert Alexander, Maya Rudolph as Ava Alexander -- (Photo by: Colleen Hayes/NBC)

Normally I wouldn't start a recap at the end of an episode, but the tag that closed out “Daddy Daughter Time” was a moment that encapsulated the promise of Up All Night when it first debuted. Chris and Reagan were in bed after a pretty chaotic day: Chris had been hired as Ava's resident law-talking-guy (in the parlance of Lionel Hutz), then fired when Reagan couldn't deal with having him around the office and at home. Unable to do the deed herself, she recruited Ava to make up a lie that the original lawyer needed the health insurance for his MS — a disease so bad, there are multiple sclerosis's involved. Chris had felt like a pretty noble guy for stepping aside so a person in need could be helped.

But Reagan, plagued with guilt, let it slip that she was the one who pulled the trigger. He felt manipulated, and rightfully called Reagan out on it. In response, Reagan told Chris that he could be brutally honest with her about something he'd been saving up. He took a moment, composed himself, and said, “I never told you this because I didn't know how … but you get more and more beautiful every day.” Then he rolled over and went to sleep. It was a moment that evoked equal parts pathos and catharsis, that had it been done by two less comically gifted actors would have probably made the tone of “Daddy Daughter Time” far too dark. But it worked — a peek into a very specific relationship moment, told wonderfully and purely in this sitcom. 

It's weird that the show would bury this kind of thing in the episode tag — the place where, a half-hour earlier, Weird Al had sung his own rendition of the 30 Rock theme song; the tag is the place where story runoff gets a second life.

And I think Up All Night's decision to shove the scene at the end speaks to how, even after 21 episodes, the show hasn't quite figured out why people watch.

I mentioned the talented cast, and I'm sure that's a huge reason. I mean, when that pilot aired, would you have tuned in had the three leads not been such comedic juggernauts (that have mostly been displaced from failed sitcoms)? I wouldn't. There's going to be a part of Up All Night that will always be driven by, “Hey, isn't it nice that Will Arnett and Christina Applegate are doing something together?” Then, after Bridesmaids, the fact that Maya Rudolph remains a series regular is icing on the cake.

Fittingly, “Daddy Daughter Time” filled itself with scenes that allowed these comics to simply goof off, having little or nothing to do with the plot. The first time Chris appeared on the show, it was only because he overheard Reagan and Ava talking about how desperately they needed a lawyer. And he was so blinded by overconfidence that he failed to heed even the simplest of Reagan's requests. He couldn't follow the giant red light that indicated which camera was the active one; and he gesticulated so wildly with his hands that he threw off his train of thought in the process, reducing himself to a pull-string doll that repeated the phrase, “You do the math.” It was not Chris's finest moment, and it allowed for Arnett to do that sad little embarrassed Gob face he did so often on Arrested Development. Then there was the opposite: Reagan provided Chris with some constructive criticism, and Chris nailed his next appearance, which included a bump up to Dr. Phil levels of appearances. So excited to be part of the office culture, Chris and Ava (among other things) hid behind a huge piece of posterboard, pestering Reagan by standing up one at a time while the other provided the voice, essentially making them life-size puppets. Plus, Chris raided the women's restroom and started jonesing for some bronzer.

This all represented the cartoonishness that Up All Night usually stifles, which made “Daddy Daughter Time” a whole lot more enjoyable. There was a zippiness to the pace that really helped the jokes land, and allowed all three of the leads to play off each other as if they were at a live show. Nobody was keeping anybody in check.

But maybe you're watching Up All Night for the Real Talk About Parenting (capitalized), another prominent part of the viewing experience and arguably what really sets the show apart from its single-person-minded NBC counterparts. Well, “Daddy Daughter Time” had a lot of that, though surprisingly it had nothing to do with Amy. Do the Brinkley's even have a daughter anymore?

See, The Fonz was in town. Or rather, Ava's dad decided to pay her a visit, and he was played by Henry Winkler — another actor, like Megan Mullally, whose Up All Night appearance would have felt like overkill if not for the sheer charisma emanating from that man. And while Ava was really looking forward to spending time with her pops (who, oddly, identifies with the plight of the young African-American male), he had other plans. He invited his new wife Linda and her twins, then insisted on carting them around even to what were supposed to be solo daddy-daughter bonding moments. Ava was even forced to speak to her nemesis Sharon Osbourne and give up her good parking spot, just so her dad could snap a photo with the living embodiment of NBC cross-promotion.

But much like that moment with Reagan and Chris in bed, the solution to Ava's dilemma wasn't a simple one. After trying multiple times to get close to her father, she flat-out asked if he was avoiding her. His answer came a day later: Yes, but only because he felt ashamed at not being a better father. Even if he hadn't said something that sweet, it's still impossible to be angry at The Fonz. After all, there's a reason why The Muppets called that character Fonzie Bear (#funwithspellingerrors).

“Daddy Daughter Time” tore itself in two directions — one pure silliness, one pure heart — and pulled both off, proving that if the show just goes for it, Up All Night can work some magic. Real solid parenting- and women's-talk-show-based magic: my wheelhouse.

Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC