In the quest to humanize Ava and make it seem like she was always intended to play a central role in Up All Night, there will be some casualties. Songs will be murdered by Maya Rudolph’s comically exaggerated melisma. Viewers may have to spend more time with Nick Cannon than they’re comfortable with. (So far, Cannon’s done a really good job of sticking to the margins of the show.) And, every once in a while, Christina Applegate and Will Arnett will lose some screentime, as is the case with “First Night Away.” Chris and Reagan eventually find a way to insinuate themselves into Ava’s plot in the episode, but “First Night Away” is mostly Ava’s show. She’s the one heeding the call to babysit Amy. She’s the one who realizes there’s an essential, recurrent flaw in her love life. And she’s also the one who has all the direct interaction with the episode’s guest star, Jason Lee. The one-time professional skateboarder and current on-call sweeps-month cameo-taker appears here as Kevin, a single father who holds the top spot on the Brinkley’s emergency call list—and is now sitting in the pole position in the race for Ava’s heart.
Kevin may only be a temporary distraction for Ava, but his presence here marks a few steps toward dimensionalizing Maya Rudolph’s character. I wrote a few weeks back that the show needs to give Ava real wants and needs if she’s ever going to be more than a live-action cartoon who causes problems for Reagan—and while romantic interest is the most basic type of need to fulfill, I appreciate the efforts “First Night Away” makes. It’s not the funniest episode of the series—which for a comedy, seems like kind of a waste—but it at least lays the groundwork for funny stuff to come from Ava that doesn’t involve her yelling at assistants or behaving like a person in her position and level of influence would behave.
The seeds for Ava and Kevin’s meetings are planted in the episode’s first act, where we’re introduced to Ava’s most recent, slimiest suitor, Julian (a terrifically slimy Chris Diamantopoulous). Julian is a night-club owner, which is one of several reasons Ava has yet to tell Reagan about the guy. Following the precedent set by Jorma Taccone’s B. Ro, this is the type of boyfriend of which Ava’s best friend just wouldn’t approve—because long before Reagan was Amy’s mother, she was Ava’s mother. Ava decides that she should start dating nice, normal guys who don’t shower her with belly chains, and once a babysitting gig for Amy puts her in contact with Kevin, she’s convinced she’s found the perfect specimen of “normal guy.” He’s a caring father, he wears flannel, he knows how to remove a baby trapped in a high chair, so what’s not to love? True to Ava’s impulsive nature, she gets directly to wooing—after some intense quizzing of both Kevin and his daughter.
You have to take advantage of a Jason Lee appearance before he can book his meal ticket for the next sweeps period (and even then, you’ve got to make sure Greg Garcia hasn’t called “dibs” on his former My Name Is Earl lead), so I can excuse how quickly things unfold here. It’s harder to excuse how quickly Ava warms up to the idea of babysitting Amy, seeing as the bulk of her interactions with the Brinkley’s baby have involved several shades of squeamishness. In making Ava more like a real person, the writers be careful not to sacrifice some of the things that were actual funny about her initial characterization. At least her general ineptitude in matters not involving her talk show came into play here, as seen through the way that her one-night charge is absolutely covered in food before Ava calls Kevin. Her cluelessness is also the source of a great phone call to Reagan and Chris—who are off on a brief, romantic retreat—where her opening line is “Where does Amy usually hide?”
The Brinkleys leave Amy under Ava’s supervision because they too have a basic need to fulfill in “First Night Away”: They each need to get laid. And just like a group of horny friends students in a 1980s sex comedy, Chris and Reagan end up at a high-school dance—though not on purpose. The homecoming shindig just happens to take place at the same hotel where they’ve booked their Amy-free getaway, and while I felt a twinge of “Oh God, please don’t let Chris and Reagan end up at that dance” panic when this information is introduced, the episode manages to have some fun with it. And in light of the revelations made in last week’s episode, it makes sense that the couples’ time as fake chaperones is Reagan’s first experience at such an event. I feel like the Brinkleys could’ve stayed at the dance longer than they actually do, but “First Night Away” gets in a few solid dance-floor laughs—Chris sliding Reagan’s hands from his ass to his lower back; the cut between Chris asking “Should I request our song” and the crowd losing its shit to the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”—without overplaying the “Chris and Reagan’s fleeting youth” card. Besides, they had other first-time do-overs to get to, as well as that long-delayed lovin’ to be made.
I’m less crazy about The Brinkleys eventually spying on Ava and Kevin’s accelerated courtship, but their anxiety about leaving Amy for the night (and with Ava of all people) was bound to get the best of them. Once they’re back at the house, they play a weird sort of Greek chorus to the proceedings, commenting on the flirtation unfolding in their kitchen—though the episode thankfully allows us to hear Ava’s most important question for Kevin: If Ava were to buy a peacock, what type of fence would Kevin, who owns a fencing business (but not that type of fencing) recommend? The words “galvanized steel and mesh” have never sounded so to her, and the two come together in a kiss. It’s apparently the perfect answer to a very “Ava” question—and thanks to “First Night Away,” we now know how to better define an “Ava” question.
- Chris’ Maple Leafs shirt this week: Could it be mustachioed winger Wendel Clark? Or, as they used to say on Hockey Night In Canada, “WEN-dull Clark.”
- Did anyone happen to catch Chris and Reagan’s fake chaperone names? I think I heard Mr. Zamboni and Mrs. Cheldratch.
- Regan’s plans for the one-night getaway are deceptive: “Have I got a surprise for you—it involves doing it and our babysitter Patricia.”
- Ava turns to her character’s model for romantic guidance: “How did Oprah meet Stedman?” “No one has that information.”
- Ava hears Reagan and Chris sneaking around, and thinks they’re home-invaders. Her warning: “I have a Glock in my purse and superb night vision.”