In its inaugural season, Up All Night has proved itself to be a show full of great, talented performers and interesting, funny ideas, but also one where the writing and the acting seem to run up against each other instead of meshing. It oscillated between irreverent and saccharine, interesting and trite, lively and lukewarm. The strength of the series is in the chemistry between Chris and Reagan, and in the flashes of real heartfelt hilarity that come when they work as a couple to figure out the whole parenting thing. It’s a slower-paced show than the other Thursday night NBC comedies, and it works the best when there’s room for the characters to bounce off each other and react.
“The Proposals” was a sweet but confusing finale, an episode that shoehorned Will Arnett, Christina Applegate, and Maya Rudolph into a plot that didn’t quite make sense. Why wouldn’t Chris have told Reagan he found her ring? Or at least, why wouldn’t we have known it the whole time, rather than in the weird reveal to Kevin? Why does Kevin keeping popping in and out of the series? Did he learn teleportation? But I am happy to report, at least, that Luke was nowhere in sight.
As the season has progressed, we’ve been getting more flashes of the beginnings of Chris and Reagan’s coupledom. “The Proposals,” appropriately enough, illustrates the way the two of them got engaged, a scene Reagan describes to a terribly dressed Gene and Terry at the dorky neighbors’ anniversary dinner. (Gene has reading glasses that snap in the front and an especially unfortunate plaid suit for the occasion; Terry is wearing the kind of dress that reminds me of my grandmother’s couch.) It was at a pub, Bonnie Tyler came on, and a drunk, happy, Reagan proposed to an amusingly mustached Chris. It’s totally consistent with her type-A personality that Reagan would pop the question to Chris. It’s equally compatible with Chris’ slightly nervous laid-back self that he would actually have had a ring in his pocket at the time, assent, and then high five his soused, newly-minted fiancé.
This little flashback underlines the urgency behind Reagan’s search when she suddenly can’t find her wedding ring. Turns out it was made from Chris’ grandmother’s earring, and Chris’ grandmother dislikes Reagan enough that she offered her $250 at their wedding to walk away. As she digs through ball pit, used diaper bin, and hemorrhoid cream aisle, Chris runs over to Ava’s house to protect the lonely talk show host from such horrors as pool noodles in the backyard and stray silverfish. Reagan resolves to go to Chris’ grandmother to beg for the other earring and fashion it into a replacement ring.
Here is where things ran definitively off the rails, plot-wise. Chris’ grandmother, chain smoking in a purple velour suit, refuses to give Reagan the earring. But she gives in, as you know she must, when Reagan tries to steal it from her. Gami-gate is a sitcom obstacle, someone that seems lifted from another show and inserted into the Brinkleys’ world without much going for her. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn't particularly funny, and the scene was strained from the beginning.
In fact, the way the second half of the episode went was frankly weird. Chris uses some magic to bring Kevin back from Idaho and into Ava’s office in order to help her with the silverfish/handyman problem, but since Kevin never really said goodbye, his return was out of nowhere. Ava shuts him down, but her exaggerated boy toy Julian comes to the club where Kevin is line-dancing by himself to announce that he must win her back. This is a move from a lesser Sandra Bullock romantic comedy, not a sitcom with some basis in real life’s daily trials. But Kevin agrees, and he’s set on proposing to Ava. This gives Chris the idea of re-proposing to Reagan with, hey! The ring that was never actually missing, only taken from the soap dish to have another stone set in it. This tidbit of information was wedged into the line-dancing without much explanation of Chris’ plans, but the rest of “The Proposals” obviously hinges on it. Reagan, new ring fashioned from Gami’s earring, also hits upon the idea of re-proposing.
The actual scene where Chris begins singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” backed up by the sudden a cappella group that appears in the bar, is nice, if a bit in the Love, Actually mode. And Reagan’s decision to put away her box and let Chris have the moment is a nice touch. Kevn’s proposal to Ava gets hindered by Ava’s reaction, which is to chug two glasses of wine and change out of her cozies while he’s left kneeling in her living room. But they don’t go through with the engagement, probably wisely, and instead join Chris and Reagan to do shots at a bar. But for the part with Gene and Terry, “The Proposals” was the credit sequence, expanded. And it’s probably better as a credit sequence, honestly. But I’ll take it over an episode of Whitney any day, and if Up All Night returns in the fall, I’ll be tuning in again.
- Julian’s latest lounge was an amazingly hellish vision, complete with old sex ed tapes playing on the walls: “We transform he Sylvan Learning Center into the sexiest club in town.”
- Kevin’s solo dancing was one of the times I laughed out loud this episode, particularly when he yelled “Heel slap!”
- Another ridiculous Julian-ism: “My pants Pinocchio told me a small lie.”
- Would Gami really be wearing just the one earring all the time? Even if she was “keeping it warm for Chris’ second wife.” Yowch.