For the last decade, TV has presented Will Arnett to America, and America has responded with a resounding “No thanks.” It’s entirely possible that an entire segment of the television-viewing public—those who haven’t seen Arrested Development, missed Arnett’s appearances as 30 Rock’s conniving Devon Banks, don’t subscribe to IFC (and therefore have never heard of The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret), and somewhat rightfully skipped out on Running Wilde—views Arnett as a quantity akin to, say, Dan Fogler: a recognizable face who has received an inordinate number of chances to be comedy’s next big thing. (MAN UP PREMIÈRES TUESDAY, OCT. 18 AT 8:30/7:30 CENTRAL.)
But Arnett is not Fogler, because Arnett has appreciable, ample talents that appeal to the comedy nerds who keep tiny, little-series-that-could like Up All Night afloat. Before Up All Night, those talents were largely harnessed through a series of caustic, caddish doofuses—the type of characters comedy nerds love, but who largely fly over the head of casual TV viewers. Which is why the relatively down-to-earth (but still reliably doofy) Chris Brinkley might be the first Arnett character who appeals to people who aren’t sent into fits of Arrested Development-induced giggles when they hear Europe’s “The Final Countdown.”
“Working Late And Working It” is the first Chris-centric episode of Up All Night, and Arnett’s work here goes a long way toward showing that the actor is more than the guy who used to wear the $5,000 suits. (Come on!) Piqued that Reagan responded to a night of Gwyneth Paltrow-recommended gnocchi and sultry Cuban music by changing into an outfit that’s literally “more comfortable,” Chris seeks advice from his previously unseen and unnamed surfer friend, Reed (Will Forte). Reed’s advice: If Chris wants his marriage to avoid “sweatpants purgatory,” he has to ditch the Panama Jack T-shirt for a trendy V-neck and replace his smiley face boxers with form-fitting briefs designed by ’80s tennis phenom Bjorn Borg. It’s the type of hackneyed “If you want her to do this thing, you should do that thing” plot that’s been used by countless domestic sitcoms, but as is often the case with Up All Night, the specificity of Chris’ problem and his grounded way of trying to deal with it avoid the clichéd beats. Up All Night further detaches itself from realism with “Working Late And Working It,” which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when it leads to the shot of Arnett and Forte standing in the middle of Reed’s living room, just two pantsless dads sharing a high five. It might not be grounded in our reality, but it is grounded in the reality of the character, who’s enamored of his new friend and legitimately concerned about this new wrinkle in his marriage.
However, I’m not sure I buy Reagan’s initial response to the inevitable argument that ensues from Chris’ at-home wardrobe change: arriving at the breakfast table the next morning sporting an ornate gown and a haughty accent. Perhaps that’s just the insanity of her workplace encroaching on the boundaries of the Brinkleys' home life. Things are crazier than usual at the Ava offices, where the talk-show diva receives news that her ex-fiancé—the former Bobby to her Whitney, played by The Lonely Island’s Jorma Taccone—is getting married, prompting a failed attempt to tear apart the show’s control room. In a step up from the first two episodes, “Working Late And Working It” begins to give Ava a bit of humanity, ultimately revealing that she’s much better at helping other people with their relationships than she is at maintaining her own. Not that B. Ro was worth her computer cord-rending consternation: Taccone plays the former boy-band member and romancer of two-thirds of TLC (“It was only ‘T’ and ‘L’—‘C’ just stayed the night”) like a textbook Lonely Island pop-douche, whose greasy ponytail and unfortunate ear-piercing establish the character long before he can utter a single awkward, breathy come-on. (“Mmm, girl—pragmatically speaking, you’re the perfect option for me right now.”) When he meets for lunch with Ava and Reagan, it appears that he’s cleaned up his act, but once a loud-fighter-in-front-of-valet-lines, always a loud-fighter-in-front-of-valet lines, and he and Ava reignite the trailer-torching flame of their romance long enough to have it out in front of the paparazzi one last time.
Taccone’s appearance is a lot of fun, but it does give off an odd sense of self-doubt, just as Up All Night seems to be finding its legs. The video of Ava and B. Ro’s duet, “Basically,” is good for a few laughs, but it’s a little odd to see a low-rent take on The Lonely Island’s SNL Digital Shorts suddenly crop up in the middle of the episode. “Working Late And Working It” is a good enough piece of television on its own—there’s no need to prop it up on the notoriety of Taccone’s main gig. Former Late Night With Jimmy Fallon writer Tim McAuliffe gets credit for the episode’s script, though I have a sneaking suspicion that Lorne Michaels saw an early draft and said, “You’re going to have Jorma on the show? Make sure his character is like the lost ‘Dick In A Box’ guy.”
I find that troubling, because the more the leads come into their characters, the less Up All Night should have to lean on “Hey, remember the other things these people have done?” gags like the “Basically” video (or any time Ava sings, really). Arnett breaking type might’ve been one of the series’ biggest liabilities at the start, but it’s beginning to become one its strongest assets. And if Up All Night can make America (or 10.9 million Americans with televisions, at least) fall in love with the man formerly known as a magician named “GOB,” imagine what it could achieve if it took chances with its other regulars.
- It feels like I’m downplaying Christina Applegate’s contributions to this episode, but she feels like a secondary player in both Chris and Ava’s plots, either starting fires or putting them out. Which is weird, seeing as the show should be about Chris and Reagan, not Chris and Ava—we’ll see in the next few weeks if episode three is to be where the balance shifts between Up All Night’s origins as a domestic comedy and its retooled trajectory toward ensemble territory.
- All that talk about not wanting the actors to lean too hard on past efforts aside, styling Reagan like Kelly Bundy in the “Classic Ava B-Ro Meltdown” video was a funny Easter egg.
- Shit, I’m kind of starting to like Ava.
- I know I’m on record as hoping that Reed would remain an unseen character, but I like what Will Forte does with him in “Working Late And Working It.” Like Arnett, he’s also playing against type here—going for a more relaxed, stoner sage rather than his standard unhinged lunatic.
- “I have been studying Latin dance and discovered that it is… much too difficult.”
- “Like I tell my audience, there’s no beat more important than the heartbeat.”
- “They’re Swedish, made by Bjorn Borg.” “The tennis player makes underwear?” “No, the underwear maker played tennis.”
- “Me and Jodeci invested in that dope, 24-hour chicken pot pie restaurant. That’s money in the biz-ank.”
- “Without you, I’d be lost and alone. I would have a strange, non-ironic mustache.”