I really thought I would like NBC’s new comedy series, Up All Night, which stars Christina Applegate (Reagan Brinkley) and Will Arnett (Chris Brinkley) as a married couple whose fun-filled, alcohol-drenched lives are interrupted by the birth of their daughter Amy. Reagan is the producer of Ava, an Oprah-esque talk show starring her best friend (played by Maya Rudolph), and Chris quits his job as a lawyer to be a stay-at-home dad. The premise led me to believe that a nuanced portrayal of the work/life balance might emerge. I also hoped the show might be funny.
Wrong on both fronts. For one, the show’s go-to jokes are pop culture references and ironic twists on pop culture references, which might be funny if they weren’t so abundant and so obviously a tool to demonstrate how tapped-in our characters are (or aren’t). Name drops abound. Ellen, Eddie Murphy, Stevie Nicks, Gwyneth Paltrow!!! Reagan and Chris are oh-so-cool, as evidenced by their eating of sushi and gnocchi, their drinking of tequila and Jägerbombs, their ownership of art books, their wearing of designer underwear, their super quotable quotes (Reagan: “Ironic is bad movies and malt liquor”), and their banal-masquerading-as-edgy jokes (Reagan: “I always wondered what butt tasted like. Now I know.”). Zing!
The show’s shtick is that Reagan and Chris struggle to maintain their coolness even as they embrace parenting. Which is an OK premise, but it implies that parenting and coolness are at odds, and that the best way to battle the uncoolness of parenting is to conceal its presence in one’s life. The actual baby, Amy, is mentioned almost exclusively in the context of how darn cute she is, and Reagan’s recent pregnancy and delivery (the baby is two months old) are glossed over and mentioned mostly in conjunction with Reagan’s concern with her weight and appearance. Does Reagan breastfeed? Certainly not, but there is no mention of this. So does she pump? I don’t know. Do Reagan and Chris ever look exhausted? Despite the show’s title, the answer is no. And while an entire episode’s plot is devoted to Reagan’s supposedly declining upkeep of appearance and clothing, the height of her dishevelment is reached when she drops a gnocchi on her shirt.
I certainly don’t think it’s the job of a TV show to centralize the physical aspects of parenting, but the minimization seems extreme, especially since the series’ marketing implied that the physical and emotional demands of parenting would be central to the plot. It’s almost as though the producers and writers (many of them women) are trying to prove something. “Having a baby can be cool! Look, Reagan and Chris are so cool! We don’t have to whine about breastfeeding and all that crap!” But … doesn’t this attitude delegitimize and conceal the realities of parenthood? I think the show’s producers want to prove that career success and motherhood (and househusbands and hipness) can be brought into tandem, and that’s great. Yet the conspicuous disdain for the grosser, more physical aspects of parenthood might be part of what’s making the series so boring, as New York Times film critic Alessandra Stanley suggests.
Wouldn’t it be more fruitful to show cool Reagan doing stuff that moms actually do, rather than evading them to prove her coolness? It’s not like Reagan is ignorant to issues of women’s health. In the very first episode, she suggests that the show she produces, Ava, do a whole week on the subject.
If this were a better show, my complaint might be about socioeconomics. I might point out that work/baby balancing acts can be easier for parents with clout. Reagan presumably got paid maternity leave because her company decided to offer this perk, though the issue is never mentioned. And when Reagan decided to stay with Amy rather than accompany her boss Ava to a work-related event, she simply said she couldn’t go (a luxury many working moms don’t have). Up All Night exists in a family-friendly bubble.
But these are not my quibbles. The parenting experiences of a producer and a lawyer are no less legitimate and could certainly make for great comedy. Producing a hit show while raising a baby? Can’t be easy. Giving up a life of (apparently gluttonous) drinking? Could be disorienting. But I don’t know what these basic life scenarios mean to Reagan and Chris, because their characters are flat composites of hip California people. So far, Up All Night seems a vehicle to parade Applegate’s clothes, Arnett’s lovability, and Rudolph’s histrionics.
Kelsey mentioned in an earlier post that the Reagan/Chris marriage is a rare representation of a supportive relationship, and I agree. Another positive aspect of Up All Night is Reagan’s freedom to bring her baby Amy to work. Most mothers don’t have this freedom, and it’s important to show (and therefore hopefully normalize) babies in the workplace. I’m on board with the general consensus that Applegate, Arnett, and Rudolph are talented actors, and apparently the series underwent some very last-minute changes, so I suspect funnier episodes might be on the horizon.
Still, I think this show falls flat on many levels. What do you think of Up All Night?