By now most people should know that TV critics receive screeners for new shows sometimes months before they actually premiere. Many of these are rough edits with incomplete special effects, missing titles, and sometimes even placeholder casting, so they all come with disclaimers politely asking the critic not to actually review these versions. In the case of Ringer, I didn't think much of the now-famously bad special effects in the speedboat scene, as I believed it'd be fixed in the final version. Whoops! But something curious happened to Up All Night between the screener I watched and what aired last night on NBC: It changed—in small yet major ways—and not for the better.
Now, it's probably unfair for me to criticize a show based on a version that wasn't intended for audiences to see. Heck, it's probably even unethical (in which case, whoops, guess I'm going to TV critic jail! Byeeeee!) However, for weeks I've been telling anyone who would listen about how great Up All Night is, and while I still think it is one of the strongest new comedies of the fall season, I feel like I have to rescind some of those raves now. Sorry, NBC!
The worst change relates to the Christina Applegate character's job and especially her boss (played by Maya Rudolph), who is now an upbeat, Oprah-like talk show host rather than the slightly scary type-A publicist she used to be. Creator and former SNL writer Emily Spivey attributes the change to wanting a more comedically fruitful occupation for Rudolph to inhabit (I guess the bizarre nightmare jungle of PR isn't ripe enough). The problem is that Up All Night's greatest strength was its ability to balance semi-realistic, situational comedy centered on new parents with the somewhat serious reality of working a sucky job you could get fired from. Before, there was a real tension, when Applegate's character Reagan had to decide whether to honor her boss' demands to work late or instead go home to celebrate her seventh wedding anniversary, and it was actually painful when she chose to work late instead. But now that she works in a cartoonish candyland of an office, Reagan just sort of seems like a jerk for standing her husband up.
The biggest bummer about giving Maya Rudolph's character an allegedly "funnier" occupation is that, in the anything-goes world of entertainment, her increased zaniness ends up coming across as less funny—and worse, it undercuts the semi-realism the show had previously nailed. My favorite scene in the original cut of Up All Night—which also aired in ads on NBC throughout most of the summer—involved Reagan's first day back at work and her boss pretending to know the name and gender of Reagan's baby but getting everything wrong. The lady just doesn't care about Reagan's baby, and it was funny watching her pretend to. In the version that aired last night, that entire scene was gone and instead there was a super broad bit about the whole office doing a cleanse or something? I don't even remember! All I know is, now Rudolph's character, Ava, is just a nice woman who isn't totally there, whereas before she was slightly ruthless and self-absorbed but had an occasional streak of decency. In that case it actually meant something when she unexpectedly showed up to do karaoke with Reagan and her husband Chris. And then it meant something when she gave Reagan the next day off. In altering this particular working dynamic to broad-strokes comedy without stakes, it kind of changed the entire tone of the show. Again, it might seem like a tiny change, but for me the result was kind of big: I think I care about the characters less now.
Thanks for listening guys, I just really needed to get that off my chest. Anyway, now that I've mentioned the stuff that bugged me about this new and "improved" version of Up All Night, it's only fair that I point out the BEST stuff about last night's premiere (and there were tons of good moments). Credit where credit's due!
The only Maya Rudolph-related improvement that I'll admit to liking: The opening credits of her character's talk show. Apparently her "hardscrabble upbringing" included a stint in a TLC-esque all-girl R&B; group. Yup, the new Up All Night is a wigs 'n costumes kind of show, but then again, I am always a sucker for good TLC joke.
The old lady stalking Chris and the baby through the grocery store was such a weird, funny throwaway joke. So good.
I was so glad this bit survived the retool: Ava slurring the lyrics to "It's Raining Men." I want this to be my new ringtone!
And not to get all mushy, but I really loved the closing scene—which mirrored the also-awesome opening scene—in which Reagan paints a grim yet heartfelt portrait about her future in a rest home (Chris will be dead, as she informs him) and then promises that no amount of partying or sloppy parenting will ever prevent her from being there for her child. It was just so earnest without being overly sentimental, and perfectly summed up who these people are, why they're so weird, and especially why they may prove to be the best marriage on television.
So just so we're clear, I think Up All Night has a ton going for it. It's got a crackling sense of humor that verges on thoughtful, and the way it avoids baby-related comedy cliches is truly outstanding. And the bleeped-out swearing! I love me some bleeped-out swearing. (However, in the new version, even the bleeps had been altered to be less funny. Oh chill out, NBC Standards & Practices!) I'm going to continue tuning in every week, but hopefully Up All Night will gravitate back to the organic, realistic humor that won me over in the first place. Leave the broad workplace comedy to 30 Rock, please.
What did you guys think? Am I being too harsh?