Since Up All Night moved to the tail end of the Thursday night NBC comedy block, it hasn’t really lived up to its potential. Both “New Year’s Eve” and “Rivals” were lackluster, revolving too much around Reagan and Chris’ couple-squabbles without letting the tremendously strong cast have much room to do their thing. But then comes along an episode like “Preschool Auction,” and my once-waning faith in the show is restored again.
Tonight’s installment struck just the right balance of funny and sweet, managing to bridge the gap between the Ava offices and the Brinkley household effortlessly. Basing an episode around Amy can be problematic, since the adorable little tyke can’t form a sentence yet and this isn’t Look Who’s Talking: Lorne Michaels Edition. (Though wouldn’t that be awesome?) “Preschool Auction” was successful because it managed to involve Amy without having her take over the action, focusing instead on the way that Reagan can channel her control freak-dom in a semi-productive, new-parent kind of way.
It was good to see Reagan in a good light. In the last few episodes, Reagan’s nitpicking type-A personality has edged into being shrill and self-absorbed, instead of acting as an amusing counterpoint to Chris’ laid-back goofiness. Tonight, Reagan got to put her skills to good use again, working the director of Little Nudge Academy Preschool in order to guarantee Amy a spot on their Tempur-Pedic nap floor and Steinway-equipped music room. Fancy preschools are certainly low-hanging comedic fruit, but Chris and Reagan’s awkward delight in the elaborately upscale baby surroundings was charming, particularly Chris’ envisioning of Amy at Harvard: “All foliage, rowing crew, dating the son of a vice-president… in a chaste way.”
Of course, Reagan volunteers to take control of the upcoming preschool charity auction, the kind of event that Party Downtackled in “Precious Lights Preschool Party.” The event is snooty and star-driven and just the kind of thing that Reagan is already equipped to handle after wrangling Ava and her guests every day. Apparently she works some serious magic—items in the auction include a host of Dyson vacuums (come on, you want one) and an orange Vespa, not to mention private guitar lessons with C. C. DeVille.
Ava’s plotline was also well-done tonight, first shying away from involvement in the auction, then being lured in by Amy in a panda hat and, obviously, “a creepy baby voice and a grim hypothetical.” Ava shows up to the auction drunk, and her patter is a hilarious mixture of mimicking auctioneers on television and nonsense pop-culture phrases. It can’t be the first time the auctioneer has yelled “mamase mamasa mamakusa” in the bidding, right? It’s a funny moment, but instead of turning into another plotline where Reagan has to hold Ava’s hand through another situation, Ava also gets to drop some drunk celebrity wisdom. When the preschool director gives a Little Nudge onesie to Reagan and asks if she can bring her other famous friends by, Reagan’s face crumples into the realization that she should maybe look for a school that is more interested in courting Amy than the Gyllenhaals. “They’re starfuckers, huh?” Ava asks gently. It’s funny, but it works well because it’s also a moment that shows the strengthening of Ava and Reagan’s relationship, moving further away from the “put-upon producer babysits hapless celebrity” dynamic they had when the show began.
Chris’ plot this week was equally as good. I complained last time that Up All Night tends to underutilize its guest stars, but Dean Winters (who we know and love as Allstate’s embodiment of disaster and Liz Lemon’s terrible ex-boyfriend Dennis Duffy) played Chris’ brother Casey wonderfully. Winters brought both complexity and a kind of believable warmth to Casey. You could see him and Will Arnett hanging out, playing video games, cracking beers, and one-upping each other.
The actual throughline of the story was fairly familiar: Competing brothers hide what’s really going on in their lives to maintain an image, break down and confess their hardships and bond over basketball. But the way the Chris and Casey story played out was fresh and sharp. The scene where Casey finds a BabyBjörn in the car, teases Chris for doing some kinky things with Reagan, and then drops it in disgust once he learns its actual use was one of my favorite moments, as was the one where Casey and Reagan bonded over Chris’ dweeby Husky modeling pictures. Even the resolution, where Reagan essentially pulls them both into a hallway and forces Chris to explain that he’s a stay-at-home Dad and Casey to confess that he’s been out of work for a year had a degree of tenderness amongst the jokes that had been missing from the show. If Up All Night keeps going like this, it’ll be more than a solid addition to the NBC comedy night; it'll be at the front of the pack.
- “The yen is punching the Euro in the balls.”
- “You know what they say: Pashmina caught in a door twice, shame on me.”
- “It’s tough to sell a psychedelic houseboat in this market.”
- “You know the saying: ‘Youngs be strapped with the sharpest shivs.’”