Nobody asked me…
But here are my thoughts about a new NBC comedy series called Up All Night.
First, let me tell you what I have nothing to say about. At least nothing significantly meaningful.
I have nothing to say about the issue of commercial popularity. I have long ago lost – and I never much had – any ability to determine whether a show will become a hit. If I possessed such an ability, I’d have a big office at a studio developing “Can’t miss” projects for the networks, I’d be sitting on panels pontificating on “The Future of Situation Comedy”, and I’d be a sitting on a dais sharpening my bon mots for the Charlie Sheen “roast.” I am, instead, wearing slippers in my office at home, and I’m writing this blog.
I have nothing to say about the comedic gifts of the regular actors on the show. All three performers – Christina Applegate, Maya Rudolph and Canada’s own Will Arnett – have impressive comedy credentials, but Larry David, in my view, beats everyone in that department, and some people would not be caught dead watching Curb Your Enthusiasm. Talent is certainly helpful, but it Is unequivocally not the ballgame.
I have nothing to say about “Is it funny?” Maya Rudolph does what I believe is a reprise – with a different name – of her “Oprah” characterization from SNL, and I recall chuckling several times at her performance. (I have never seen the SNL version.) I have to admit, much of the rest of the show’s dialogue slipped by me, sounding mumbled or “thrown away”. However, that could be hearing impairment on my part.
I have nothing to say about the show’s premise – a former “party hearty couple” now tied down with a baby, the mother returning to work after “Maternal Leave”, the Dad staying home with the baby – because premises rarely make or break a series. (Notable Exception: My Mother, The Car.) It’s what you do with them. If I’d created M*A*S*H, the doctors would have shut down the Operating Theaters – too bloody – and gone out to try and make peace with the Koreans. Or maybe I’d have changed their professions to battlefield accountants.
I have nothing to say about the number of “Lead Characters”, which, in the case of Up All Night, is three. I recall famously complaining that Frasier didn’t have nearly enough lead characters to hold my attention – two brothers, a Dad, and his nurse – but I believe the show proved me hideously mistaken.
I have nothing to say about the pilot story – a workplace emergency causes Christina Applegate to renege on her promise to “party like it’s before we had the baby” with the housebound Arnett on their anniversary night, leading ultimately to a confrontation with her needy and demanding diva boss – Rudolph – over her priorities. My reason for remaining “mum” on this subject is the ditto of the show’s premise. It’s not what it is; it’s what you do with it.
I have nothing to say about the series’ marrying realistic characterizations (Applegate’s and Arnett’s) with a sketch-like, broad characterization (Rudolph’s). I had similar concerns about 30 Rock, where the Tina Fey-Alec Baldwin interactions seemed positively documentary-like, as compared with the surreal comic stylings of Tracy Morgan (I believe there was an “abducted by aliens” subplot) and Jane Krakowsky (didn’t she have a boyfriend who, as a turn-on, dressed exactly like she did?) But that show did pretty well. Headed for syndication, I believe.
I have nothing to say about the production format. My instincts suggest that these tested comedians would soar performing before a live studio audience, rather than toiling in the feedback-free bubble of single-camera entombment. But I don’t really know. The show’s current rhythm, tone and style could be exactly what makes it.
In conclusion, there are a lot of things – wait, I’m going back to count them – okay, I’m back – eight things…I have nothing to say about. Why do I have nothing to say about them? Because they are all subjective concerns.
Every category of evaluation I have mentioned is a matter less of professional adjudication than of individual taste. Series are no longer required to appeal to everyone. (The television critic for the L.A. Times admitted recently that he did not find Two and a Half Men funny. The show seems to be doing quite nicely without him.)
Today’s TV series need only to appeal to enough people. And if those people happen to be eighteen to thirty-five, Up All Night’s creator, Emily Spivey, can start pricing really expensive automobiles.
There is, however, one thing about the Up All Night pilot that I can say something about. It concerns a major, and, to me, egregious, misplaced priority in its presentation. This criticism is not subjective. It’s a “not taking care of business” error that a professional writer notices, and an audience senses in their bones, feeling a vague dissatisfaction with the product, without exactly knowing why.
(This may also be subjective, in that fans may be onboard for the show regardless. However, the issue in question is a structural one, and if they had done things – pardon my hubris – correctly, it would not have impeded their enjoyment, it would only have made things better.)
This glaring miscalculation, and how I would have proposed to ameliorate it had I been consulted, I will discuss with you next time.