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Friday, January 20th, 2012

Up All Night Recap: "Rivals"

After a string of holiday episodes that saw the action on Up All Night shifting to the domestic front – thanks largely to Ava’s relationship with Kevin (Jason Lee) taking center stage – the latest episode of the show returned to the workplace/domestic split that’s been the norm on Up All Night in an installment that didn’t feature Jason Lee’s character. “Rivals” did a much better job than most Up All Night episodes that have tried to tackle both Reagan’s home and work lives, offering up two very funny plotlines that were equally engaging.

Reagan’s work crisis this week begins when Shayna (Megan Mullally), the Southern host of Ava’s rival show, starts stealing the topics from Ava’s show and doing them first on her own program. Shayna’s backstory is especially funny and well-observed, providing the episode with a lot of fuel. She’s a former homebound obese woman from Oklahoma who Ava rescued, and she now hosts her own talk show that competes with Ava’s. Shayna even uses a pair of her old pants from when she was obese as a prop, echoing Jared the Subway Guy. A surprise appearance by Shayna on Ava’s show, during which Shayna thanks Ava for everything she’s done for her, helps to patch things up between the two old friends and colleagues.

Back at home, Chris strikes up a friendship with a mother from the baby’s play group named Laura (Emily Rutherfurd, The New Adventures of Old Christine). Reagan has become an increasingly disappointing Friday Night Lights-viewing buddy for Chris, with the two of them watching Friday Night Lights having devolved into Reagan shushing Chris nonstop until she passes out. Chris finds out that Laura watches the show too, and the two secretly watch the finale without telling their spouses. When Reagan feels jealous of Chris’s new female friend, she invites Laura and her husband over for dinner. At dinner, though, Chris and Laura’s exclusive inside jokes quickly rankle Reagan, who’s made all the more mad when she finds out that the two of them watched Friday Night Lights secretly. It’s a B-plot that accurately captures obsessively watching a TV series on DVD and the frustrations involved therein, and Reagan’s rivalry with Laura thematically works with and nicely juxtaposes Ava’s competition with Shayna.

“Rivals” is the latest in Megan Mullally’s quest to guest star on every awesome comedy on TV. In addition to regular stints on Childrens Hospital and Party Down, Mullally has also appeared on 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, Happy Endings, Bob’s Burgers, and now, Up All Night. If she keeps this up, she’ll also have Community, Always Sunny, and Portlandia under her belt by next year.

Thanks to a funny script by writer Caroline Williams and a solid guest performance by Megan Mullally, “Rivals” was one of the best episodes of Up All Night so far. The Shayna stuff went down a more satirical route than is typical for the show, but the choice to ridicule an element pop culture in a more pointed way definitely paid off. While Up All Night still has a ways to go before it joins the ranks of shows like 30 Rock and Parks and Rec, it sure is justifying its newfound placement in NBC's acclaimed Thursday night comedy block with this especially strong episode.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

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