Up All Night has had a sad, slow death this season. From the promising show with an overwhelmingly likeable cast that premiered last year, it’s slipped into a confusing mass of sitcom clichés and half-funny lines executed by the still likeable but underused cast. Tonight’s episode exemplified why that slip has been so frustrating. At its core, Up All Night is a quiet and funny show, the kind of sitcom that had so many directions to grow. Instead, the retool that started season two has led it into a kind of stagnancy.
It’s Thanksgiving in the Brinkley household, a time that last season tackled with considerable finesse. Poor timing and a cancelled booking foil the airplane trek to Chris’ house this time, even though the sleepy Brinkleys manage to almost make it out of the house with Chris wearing Reagan’s pregnancy pants and a deep v-neck. Faced with the prospect of eating dinner with Gene and Terry, Reagan resolves to make their own, better-than-ever Thanksgiving.
But waiting until the last minute has some predictable problems. The only turkeys left are miniature or gigantic. The Brinkleys snag the last of the poultry, a 30-pounder they name “The Big Lebowski.” They return home to find Scott and his divorced bros doing keg stands on the floor. In the spirit of the season, Chris invites all the dudes to the meal. What follows is a predictable glut of Thanksgiving comedy clichés. The guest list grows, the food is a disaster—even the Jello fails—and Reagan freaks out about her homemaking abilities. Ava and Walter abandon their pampering at a hotel only to realize that the needy are glutted with volunteers. Walter puts out a fire at the Brinkleys’ house with whipped cream. Ava leaves several fake nails in the stuffing. Gene and Terry come over with Pilgrim and Indian garb, managing to be both offensive and well-meaning at the same time. Finally, Chris and Reagan manage to drop the turkey en route from Gene and Terry’s home, the enormous bird crashing into the front of a Kia.
The problem is not in the execution. Will Arnett, Christina Applegate, and Maya Rudolph are as fantastic as they ever were. The acting in the show puts what little life there is into a flaccid script. But if Up All Night proves anything, it’s that a solid cast isn’t enough to save a flagging show if there’s no direction. The rehabbed Thanksgiving dinner ends up taking place at a pizza joint, where Chris makes a heartwarming speech about Reagan and Amy. Ava climbs inside the claw machine to grab a knockoff Curious George plush animal for Scott. There’s a jukebox with far too much Eddie Money. And the audience is left wondering: What happened to this promising show? Will the proposed NBC retool be enough to save it? Or should we optimistic watchers, like the Brinkleys, call an audible and jump ship? Though I’ll watch the first few episodes of the newly retooled version of the show, my suspicion is that you shouldn’t keep your hopes up.
- Sadly, this is the end of our coverage of Up All Night. We will check in when the show returns in its new, multi-camera guise, but this is it for now. Thanks for reading!