Plot-wise, Up All Night is a sitcom that isn’t all that innovative. Many of the episode titles seem like shorthand for scenarios any avid TV watcher has seen played out on a couple different shows, like tonight’s “Couple Friends,” which called to mind a similar awkward double date situation on How I Met Your Mother. Lately, Up All Night’s strategy has been to cull things from a bin of familiar new parent narratives—over-friendly neighbors, a stressful toddler birthday, a weird new preschool—and twist them into something more interesting. Sometimes it works well, and sometimes it falls flat.
“Couple Friends” was a funny, well done episode. It was a gambit on the tiresome couple-matching game that worked, and produced some really strong jokes. But there was something about it that made it seem like a different show than the one we’ve been watching, something a little rangier. The writers leaned more heavily on awkward humor of the mockumentary sort than usual, which is luckily Will Arnett’s specialty. Plus, the number of one-liners jumped up something like 30 percent.
After a pretty great cold opening showing Reagan and Chris getting amped up for a dub step show in a field before admitting defeat and collapsing with some Downton Abbey reruns, the Brinkleys meet couple Justin and Lawrence (Bob Forte and the recent Oscar-winner Nat Faxon) at Terry and Gene’s neighborhood safety rally. Apparently someone has keyed a dong into the front of their minivan, but no prizes for guessing which couple was presumably responsible. Chris and Reagan take a liking to the new couple and, after a quick discussion of “gay caché,” make a date with them to go bowling. This is also the occasion for the first of Will Arnett’s best line deliveries of the evening, when Reagan explains that she and Chris had just been about to ask if they wanted to come and drink a little vino. Arnett has this great way of deflating hilariously mid-sentence, beginning with confidence and ending with self-mockery. “I love….saying vino,” he half-enthuses and half-cringes.
The other great Arnett delivery is on the occasion of the actual bowling date, where he arrives wearing an ironic bowling shirt. Reagan scold him for looking like Vince Vaugh circa 1994, and Will Arnett’s defense is the same quick transition from bluster to whimper: “But…it’s so money.” Little wonder that the Brinkleys get along with Justin and Lawrence: Chris and Lawrence have the same laid-back conflict avoidance personality, while Justin and Reagan are both type-A need-to-win kind of folks. Inevitably, Reagan gets competitive and nitpicks Justin for a foot fault after she loses, which is all pretty standard Up All Night far. The uncomfortable part came when Ava sauntered into the bowling alley and, recognizing a gay couple in her midst, called out “Hey you bitches, Mama’s home!” Chris and Reagan’s cover for her is one of the more wrenchingly awkward moments of the show to date.
The breaking point in their friendship isn't over sportsmanship or Ava's faux pas, but back in the Brinkley home where Justin and Lawrence come have some coffee post-safety watch and bring along their terrifyingly hyperactive toddler Foster. Chris and Reagan haltingly offer parenting advice about boundaries, which their couple friends take very well. But when they reciprocate, it leads to the Brinkleys slamming the door on them. End scene.
Meanwhile, Ava went from last week’s sodden sad sack into a dynamo. The writers have done a good job taking her from a slapstick drama mess into a character with some depth, but her hidden wiles for getting along with the good ol’ boys seemed like an odd turn. When she shows up at a Southern affiliates meeting with Luke, I was sure she was going to set a boom box down on the table and start singing or something. But instead she pulls out a stream of chatter and impresses the hell out of Luke. Bringing her closer to the hated interloper boss was pretty inevitable. Up All Night isn’t a show about terrible divides, just mild irritations. I particularly loved her deadpan delivery of the lyrics of “Night Moves.” I like that they’re doing more with Ava than having her be a crazy intrusion into the Brinkleys’ life, but I hope they turn Luke into more than a side joke soon.
- As a native Alabamian, I was pretty thrilled to hear Ava mention Bama coach Nick Saban, even if she mispronounced his last name like whoa.
- Christina Applegate’s Southern impression was amazingly terrible. “They’re not cartoon rosters,” as Luke said.
- How many of you had Big Lebowski flashbacks when Bill Forte shined his bowling ball?
- Arnett’s third best line delivery of the night: “I own three pairs of crocs and I wear a “Life is Good” shirt.