Fall TV Previews: Up All Night, Free Agents
In this year's mixed bag of a new fall season, I tend to find myself touting several of the comedies more frequently than almost any of the dramas, which is rarely the case. There are plenty of sitcom stinkers this fall — one of tonight's, actually, is at the very bottom of my must-flee (as opposed to must-see) list. But with New Girl, 2 Broke Girls, Suburgatory and (tonight's pick) Up All Night, there's reason to believe that network comedy's renaissance — reflected in the fact that all six of this year's best-comedy Emmy nominees are network shows — may be here to stay.
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Up All Night is clearly a work in progress (as are most pilots), and its revamped opener shows the strain of rethinking Maya Rudolph's scene-stealing character post-production, awkwardly inserting new workplace scenes that aren't an especially smooth fit. (She went from being a neurotic public-relations exec to being a manically neurotic over-the-top daytime talk queen, sort of a mini-Oprah. Traces of Rudolph's justifiably praised SNL Oprah impersonation can be seen here, and I'll be curious to see how this develops.)
Rudolph is the wacky comic icing on what otherwise is a more grounded and endearingly realistic comedy about two exhausted new parents (Christina Applegate and Will Arnett) who are still adjusting to the loss of their it's-all-about-me, hard-partying lifestyle to make way for adorable baby Amy. One sign that they're not quite there yet: Their cooing over the baby is punctuated by oodles of bleeped cursing.
Theirs is the human comedy of anxiety and panic familiar (perhaps too familiar) to anyone who's new to the child-rearing game. As Reagan (Applegate) heads back to work for Ava the TV diva (Rudolph), leaving husband Chris (Arnett) to be Mr. Mom at home, she hears Matt Lauer snarking at her from the Today set on TV, and what she hears coming from Chris's mouth — "Babe. Worry. I can't totally do this" — rattles her even more. It's not much easier for Chris, whose first solo trip to the mega-supermarket with baby on board is a nightmare of disorientation. Applegate is, as always, disarming, but Arnett is the real revelation here, playing an actual human being for a change instead of an ironic comment on a character. We know he's brilliant at absurdism, but it's nice to see him get real.
NBC is hoping to launch a new Wednesday comedy block with this show, which may get a first-week boost by airing after the America's Got Talent finale. But considering that next week it goes up against ABC's broader and funnier The Middle, not to mention the juggernaut of Fox's The X Factor, the only real shot Up All Night has is if the network decides to move it to Thursdays, where its arch tone would be a decent fit among NBC's irony-laced cult faves. (It would definitely be more at home on Thursday than the shrill Whitney, which premieres next week.) Given that Lorne Michaels is attached to this one as an executive producer, NBC may give it another night and time to shine should it implode on Wednesdays.
Whereas I can't imagine any place where the toxic workplace comedy Free Agents would be welcomed. An unpleasant show about miserable people working in an environment (corporate public relations) that's about as welcoming as Chernobyl, this is the decidedly non-romantic story of newly divorced whiner Alex (Hank Azaria), who cries after sex and any time he hears a certain Archies song, and snappish co-worker Helen (Kathryn Hahn), who drowns her sorrows over her dead-too-soon fiancé, to whom she's turned her home into a creepy shrine.
Into their uninviting lives we're thrust after a post-coital opening scene and a morning-after standoff at work, where Helen informs Alex he's not ready for a relationship because he's an "absolute mess." (True enough. Still not funny.) PoorAlex, though, can't catch a break. He's hounded at work by grotesque boors, including a lascivious boss played by Buffy's Anthony Head — reprising his role from the original British series, which BBC America will begin showing next month — who keep urging the schnook to "get back on the horse." He's regularly mocked to his face by his snark-shark of an executive assistant Emma, whom he begs to "turn down the sass maybe one little notch." She doesn't. And being part of this year's trend of emasculated wusses, PoorAlex just shrugs it off.
Thankfully, where TV is concerned, we are all free agents, and can walk away from a train wreck like this without even a backward glance.
Finally, the CW is trying to convince people that tonight's pathetic new quasi-reality show H8R (pronounced "hater") is somehow a response to online bullying, the victims in this case being quasi-celebs (largely of the "reality" variety) like Snooki and the Kardashians, who really should develop thicker skins — if that's even possible — when it comes to taking abuse for being famous. Or infamous, as the case may be. The real victims in H8R are the everyday schmos who are ambushed, Punk'd-style, by that week's "star" and host Mario Lopez, who spend the bulk of each episode trying to convince their targets and us that these overexposed tabloid terrors aren't really so bad. Not buying it. Not watching it. Feel free to hate H8R, and should they come knocking, don't let them in. No one needs to be on TV this badly.
Up All Night and Free Agents premiere Wednesday, 10/9c and 10:30/9:30c, on NBC. Next week, they move to their regular time period in the 8/7c hour.
H8R premieres Wednesday at 8/7c on the CW.
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