The freshman NBC sitcom Up All Night rang in a new year and a new timeslot last night, replacing Whitney in the spot right after NBC’s current highest-rated comedy, The Office. It’s a big move for the show and one that should put a lot more eyes on it. A position in NBC’s Thursday night comedy block is just what Up All Night needs as the show continues to discover and utilize its strengths in what’s been, so far, a successful first season.
The latest episode begins with a series of quick flashbacks to Reagan, Chris, and Ava’s past New Year’s Eves, from Reagan and Chris's first meeting in 2002 to Reagan’s miserable sober, pregnant New Year’s in 2010. These flashbacks are becoming a staple of the show, and these glimpses at Reagan and Chris’s past are always fun and aren’t something that mockumentary sitcoms like The Office or Parks and Rec can get away with. For New Year’s 2011, Reagan and Chris decide to celebrate at their home, inviting Ava and her boyfriend Kevin (played by Jason Lee), as well as Missy and the new man in her life, Isaac (played by Reggie Austin), over for game night.
At game night, the three couples each face their own crisis, with Chris’s hatred of Reagan’s competitive nature turning the two of them against each other during a game of Rock Band, Kevin becoming angry that Ava didn’t invite him to sit on a float in a New Year’s parade with her, and Missy feeling jealous of the attention her charming British boyfriend Isaac (who’s both a surgeon and a gourmet chef) is getting from everyone else at the shindig. By the time midnight rolls around, though, all of the couples forgive one another and ring in 2012 with a New Year’s kiss. It’s a feel-good ending that feels a little forced, but Kevin blowing a roasted chicken up with fireworks right before the credits is a nice juxtaposition that keeps things from getting too gooey. I mean “gooey” in terms of sentiment, not in terms of flying chicken innards. His firework stunt did make things gooier in that sense.
Jennifer Hall, who plays Ava’s assistant Missy, is the unsung hero of Up All Night, capable of absolutely nailing lines like “I’d give anything to wear a cape and have people like it.” Hall is one-fourth of the show’s tiny cast, but she still manages to score big laughs and hold her own with the three more experienced performers who round out the rest of the cast.
Up All Night has always been a show that was split between the workplace and domestic settings, but “New Year’s Eve” and the two episodes that preceded it have largely eschewed the workplace stuff to focus on Reagan, Chris, and Ava as a group of friends. It’s helped to unify the show and keep all of the characters on the same turf, but one wonders what will happen to the show’s dynamic when the workplace plotlines start popping up again. This latest episode incorporated Ava and Missy into Reagan and Chris’s suburban world nicely, but pulling Chris and Kevin (recurring guest Jason Lee’s character, who’s becoming a bigger and bigger part of the show) into the workplace this effectively will be the key to the show’s success. With perhaps the most coveted timeslot for a comedy on NBC’s schedule, 2012 will hopefully see Up All Night rise to the occasion and cement itself as a vital part of the network’s sitcom lineup.
Bradford Evans is perfectly capable of coming up with something clever to put here but doesn’t feel like it.