In theory, “Up All Night” ought to resonate with young families who can identify feeling cooped up and grounded by a new baby. The premise, however, proves more fertile (pardon the expression) than the actual show, which as presented plays like a one-note gag about as subtle as watching the central couple, Christina Applegate and Will Arnett, do a lot of bleeped-out cussing in front of their newborn. Clearly, responsible parents will put the kids to bed early, unless they want to brave exposing their offspring to an uninspired if harmless piece of (bleep).
A high-powered producer of an “Oprah”-style talkshow, Applegate’s Reagan hasn’t fully grasped what a crimp an infant will be to her velvet-roped, on-the-go lifestyle. Her husband Chris (Arnett) is equally clueless, other than marveling with her about how their baby is just so (bleep)ing beautiful, before realizing they might need to clean up their language.
Still, Reagan is heading back to work, which means Chris has to step up and watch the kid.
No problem, he insists — “Why hire a nanny when you got me?” he assures his wife — but of course, things don’t exactly work out that way for Mr. Mom.
Again, there’s a template here — as devised by series creator Emily Spivey (“SNL”) under the aegis of “SNL” patriarch Lorne Michaels — which should be ripe for comedy and strike a nerve within the demo the networks desperately want to reach. Feeling unprepared to handle a baby — despite professional credentials, as more people defer parenthood until they’re older — taps into a reality for many viewers, a la “Baby Boom.”
It’s in the delivery, alas, where “Up All Night” goes awry. Even a toned-down Arnett — back for more after last year’s short-lived starring stint in Fox’s “Running Wilde” — again demonstrates he’s more palatable in small (see “Arrested Development”) or sporadic (“30 Rock”) doses than cast as a series lead. Similarly, Applegate – — whose new mom theoretically provides some kind of emotional anchor — pretty much follows him off that over-the-top cliff.
The shift from the pilot’s original work milieu in a PR firm to a show-within-the-show scenario also makes this feel like a bit of a me-too “30 Rock,” and isn’t helped by Maya Rudolph’s performance as the crazy host Ava, who oscillates between irritating and merely obnoxious.
Paired with the even-less-appealing “Free Agents,” “Up All Night” will be the beneficiary of modest expectations as NBC tries to lead off Wednesdays with comedy once the new series shift to their regular timeslots.
Nevertheless, if the mysteries of parenting grow more fathomable with time, the opportunity to grow up and into its premise might be one of those scheduling luxuries “Up All Night” lacks.