Holiday episodes are a sitcom staple, allowing shows to spit out fun and exciting one-off installments that place all of the characters in unusual and high-stakes circumstances. Since Up All Night skipped Halloween this inaugural season, last night’s Christmas show was its first holiday-themed episode, and I’d say it was a success. The show seems to have cured itself of that early problem of Ava seeming like she was stuck in a different show than Reagan and Chris, the writers wisely remedying the situation by implementing her relationship with their neighbor Kevin (recurring guest Jason Lee) and having Chris drop by Reagan’s work more often. With that particular issue firmly in the show’s past, I’m going to stop mentioning it in these recaps from now on!
Inspired by her weird neighbors Gene and Terry’s Griswoldian Christmas lawn display, Reagan makes a last-minute decision to go all out for Amy’s first Christmas. She goes overboard decorating the house and even manages to corral her mother (returning guest star Blythe Danner*), who deprived Reagan of excessive holiday decor throughout her childhood, into the proceedings. Reagan’s sudden interest in Christmas sends Chris into a tizzy as he braves the frightening battleground that is an American mall on Christmas Eve to find her the perfect gift. Chris’s complete ineptitude with shopping during his mall adventure recalls his horror-filled trip to the grocery store in Up All Night’s pilot when he was still new to the whole stay-at-home dad thing. Despite the cards being stacked against him, Chris returns from the war-torn aisles of the local retail nexus with a great gift for Reagan, despite having been sprayed in the eye with cologne, accosted by a woman in a department store, and winning a wrestling match against a retired police officer
(*Richard Schiff, who played Amy’s father in her parents’ previous appearance, is MIA).
Ava has big plans for Christmas with her still-new boyfriend, Reagan and Chris’s neighbor Kevin. Ava and Kevin have a “ski snow vacation” set up, but Kevin backs out, opting to spend the holiday with his ex-wife and daughter for the kid’s sake. Ava, pretending not to be bothered, tells Kevin she’s still heading to Utah for the trip, whilst spying on him and his ex-wife from Reagan and Chris’s house across the street. When Kevin catches on, Ava’s worried she’s upset him, but the stalking doesn’t really seem to bother him and their relationship seems stronger than ever. The end of the episode is a sweet moment for these two characters, but the writers of Up All Night might want to be careful about the mixed message they are sending to the stalkers of America. Remember that stalking is a criminal offense and, despite what this episode tells us, it will not result in a sweet, romantic Hallmark Christmas.
Watching “First Christmas,” I was struck by the nice slew of supporting characters Up All Night has slowly built up. With only four actors in the central cast, developing a rich universe of bit characters is a must. The writers have done this well over the course of the first half of the season and will hopefully continue to round out the supporting ensemble when the show returns in the new year. “First Christmas” almost felt a little cluttered, in that it featured appearances from Jason Lee, Blythe Danner, and Matt Braunger and Jean Villepique as my favorite recurring characters, the Brinkleys’ freaky neighbors Gene and Terry.
When Up All Night returns January 12th, it’ll be on a new night and time, switching spots with Whitney for a cushy timeslot Thursday nights right after The Office. The new slot should serve Up All Night well as The Office, NBC’s highest-rated comedy, will be a strong lead-in. Plus, Up All Night, a single camera, live audience-free show that partly revolves around a workplace, will fit right in with NBC’s Thursday night block in a way that Whitney simply doesn’t. Of course, my projections of Up All Night's smooth transition to its new time could be thwarted by crazed, misguided Community fans occupying the set and demanding that production be shut down. We'll see what happens.
- This episode featured, I believe, the first mention of Ava’s last name (Alexander). Since she’s a big celebrity in the show’s universe, it’s odd we haven’t heard her full name before. To be fair, though, the character is modeled after Oprah, whose last name you don’t hear nearly as often as her first.
- Gene and Terry were amazing in the cold open and tag. Here’s hoping that we get a Gene and Terry-centric episode in 2012!
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.