NBC has taken a bold step this Fall by unveiling a Wednesday night comedy block directly against ABC's highly succesful lineup. The two shows both premiered last night ahead of ABC in hopes that it could gain some early ground. One of the shows showed potential, while the other did not. Check out our reviews.
Up All Night:
With a killer cast, a prestigious executive producer behind it and a network that's opening a comedy block with it as the lead program, Up All Night has a lot going for it.
Unfortunately, like a timid child entering school on the first day, it doesn't exactly dive head first into its new slot/opportunity. In Pilot, we are introduced to Chris (Will Arnett) and Reagan (Christina Applegate), a married couple who has unexpectedly had their first child, Amy.
Chris plays the stay at home dad while Reagan is a producer for a TV talk show host Ava (Maya Rudolph). Ava loves to party and live a very adult life. In one scene, she brings a gift basket for the baby that includes pepper cheese and wine.
Chris and Reagan, like many new parents, must deal with the fact their previous, party-filled life is no more and they are forced to a life of no sleep and much sacrifice. They still try to live it up; and for their seven year anniversary go out and party like the old times. However, they wake up the next day and realize the consequences of this brief binge.
By the end of the pilot, Reagan decides to skip out on an all day work related party adventure with Ava to hang out with Chris and Amy. It's a sweet moment in a show that needed it badly.
Up All Night is a project of Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels while former SNL writer Emily Spivey is the show runner. Too often during Pilot, especially during the scene where Chris, Reagan and Ava are out partying, Up All Night felt like an extended SNL skit. Rudolph's Ava is not unlike some of the characters/impressions she did on SNL. The humor has the same sharp tone you'd see on Michaels' other NBC sitcom, 30 Rock.
This kind of humor works on 30 Rock because that show is a parody of SNL. Up All Night isn't and shouldn't try to be. It all feels like the crew is trying to fall back in familiar territory and this makes it way too forced.
Luckily, there's potential. As talented, comedy TV veterans, the trio of Arnett, Applegate and Rudolph have the ability to carry this show. Already, Arnett plays the slightly emasculated Chris perfectly. His relationship with Applegate is natural enough to be believable. If the writers tone down Rudolph, she can even fit into the show quite nicely.
If Up All Night has time to develop the three leads and ditch the SNL type parts - it can work. like Parks and Rec and 30 Rock started slow and developed into two of NBC's powerhouses. So there's hope for this one.
Sadly, there isn't as much hope for Up All Night's neighbor in the new NBC Wednesday comedy block.
Free Agents, stars Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn as Alex and Helen, co-workers at a big-time corporate PR firm who are in bed together in the show's opening moments. Both are in their 40s and are recently single, Alex is divorced and Helen's finance died.
Both Alex and Helen are in bad places. Alex cries every time he thinks of his kids and the happy life that has been torn away from him. Hahn is unable to move past her fiance's death, especially with 22 pictures of him in her apartment. They both use each other to get through this rough patch.
When Alex tries to make it something more, Helen tries to tell them they are just friends. When another co-worker, Dan (Mo Mandel), tries to set up Alex on a double date, Helen encourages him to go. She even helps him pick out an outfit.
Naturally, they are drawn to each other at the end of the episode once again. At the end of the episode, they are back in bed together.
If the above sounds like a clichéd romantic comedic film then it's no shock that the episode plays out like one. Except unlike many classic romantic comedies, there's no chemistry between the leads. Azaria and Hahn are funny, talented and versatile actors. However, in the lead roles for this show, they just don't work together.
The supporting characters are even worse - all of whom are Alex and Helen's co-workers. There's the arrogant, aforementioned Dan, the obnoxious office punching bag Walter (Al Madrigal), the cold-hearted assistant Emma (Natasha Leggero) and the perverted British boss (Anthony Head). None of these one-bit characters are funny in the premiere and leave little hope for beyond.
Free Agents is a remake of a British sitcom of the same name. Like The Office before it, itneeds to find its own distinct American tone if it wants to have a life. Unlike The Office, I don't see the talent coming through and delivering that.