Sarah Anne Lloyd, 2011.
While the fall television season may bring cheer to more discerning couch potatoes through bringing back time-tested serial delights, it's also the time for television newcomers to step up to the plate and get crowds buzzing for the next big thing. NBC has no shortage of new shows this season, but the jewel of its new comedic stable most certainly seems to be former SNL writer Emily Spivey's take on modern parenthood, Up All Night. TV Dinner will pair this baby-crazy new show with the similarly insomniac Seattle pizzeria that also touts a less-than-ingenious title: A Pizza Mart.The Cuisine: A Pizza Mart (or A-Pizza Mart, whether you want to believe the branding on their menus or their boxes) is the scrappy, bare-bones local pizza franchise whose unpretentious pies have at least gained its more urban locations a relatively high popular reputation on sites like Yelp or Urbanspoon, despite the fact that most critics won't touch them with a 10-foot pole. This crowd-pleasing pizzeria probably owes most of this acclaim to a pervasive blandness that can at least keep finicky eaters on the level, graciously late delivery hours, and even a full bar at most locations.
Of A Pizza Mart's snarled list of specialty pizzas, I got the Americana: red onion, tomatoes, ground beef, mozzarella cheese and . . . Canadian bacon. It didn't make a whole lot of sense, but it did have the express benefit of possessing all of the things I wanted to eat. Mart's pies are as straight-to-business as its aggressively impersonal website--crust that's thin enough to be decorative, a light glaze of pizza sauce, and pretty much no frills besides the ones you ask for. As for the cheesy breadsticks, the side order was so austere beyond the two titular ingredients that it made the pizza look like a veritable craft masterpiece.Then again, when it's 3 a.m. and you realize you haven't eaten anything in 10 hours, that sort of honesty is refreshing.
The Entertainment: Up All Night seems like it at least had a helluva pitch meeting. Perennial sitcom titans Will Arnett and Christina Applegate team up as Chris and Regan Brinkley, a sexy, active couple with an adorable newborn child. Capitalizing on the success of unconventional family-centric sitcoms like Emmy darling Modern Family, Chris plays the stay-at-home dad to Regan's ambitious, highly successful breadwinner. While Chris deals with the brunt of a wildly different domestic life, Regan struggles to keep her fast-paced career as a television producer on track. However, as the couple enters full maturity, both find themselves needing to let go of the excessive partying and fecklessness that used to define their relationship.
Here I'd say one of the show's most glaring issues presents itself: the "reckless, party-hard parent" angle (read: pretty much the whole concept of the fucking show) seems to have been nerfed heavily for the benefit of sponsors, censors, or any other people who are bothered by anything of remote excitement happening near a cute baby. While future episodes might push the envelope on Arnettgate's "wild side" in a more compelling manner, the dramatic hurdles that the purportedly immature married couple have to jump are set boringly low, having to do with (kind of) late nights of comparatively mild drinking and salty language.
Maybe it's just that I'm a hopelessly wrecked 20-something with the absolute bare minimum of responsibilities, but when you consider the broad spectrum of potentially unfit television comedy parents, The Brinkleys are closer to a slightly inebriated version of the Partridges and Bradys, where the tawdry concept should probably have them sidling up alongside the Bunkers at the bare minimum. When you consider that Showtime is about to start season six of a series starring a bona fide serial killer/single parent raising a newborn, the idea of trying to get an emotional response out of a young, loving well-balanced couple dropping few stray F-bombs around Baby is probably the biggest laugh Up All Night has to offer.
Another problem comes from a bit of a misfire from the lately flawless Maya Rudolph. After seeing Bridesmaids, its easy to figure out why Rudolph's part was beefed up in wake of the film's success, but we really don't see much of the organic, charming side that has been endearing audiences in her big screen endeavors. Instead, we get the tiresomely wacky character work that takes us back to when she was just a middling SNL cast member straining to make any kind of impact. Rudolph's kooky, attention-starved talk-show-host persona wore itself pretty thin on the very first episode--as if NBC tried again to capture the "Star as Surrogate Child" magic played out perfectly by Tracy Morgan and Jane Krakowski on 30 Rock, but stripped that element of all the subtlety and character development it needed to thrive on a comedy that primarily focuses on the humanity of its protagonists.
Overall, Up All Night seems to hit a lot of false notes in its pilot, but at least the cast seems to have enough chemistry with each other to not write off as a loss right off the bat. The show's apparent commitment to babyproofing its narrative from any incidentally intriguing new concepts is a pretty hefty handicap comedy-wise, but plenty of good shows have come out of nigh-unbearable pilots. All in all, if you're looking for a fun new comedy to warm you up for Modern Family on Wednesday nights, I'd suggest keeping an eye on this one for at least the next couple weeks.
The Pairing: Both Up All Night and A Pizza Mart have a few solid positives that keep them afloat through a veritable sea of bland drawbacks. They certainly aren't your best options for either a family-friendly sitcom or a Seattle take-out pizza place, but with Up All Night coming into a year that looks rather grisly when it comes to new sitcom offerings and A Pizza Mart offering delivery until 4 a.m, they're a fine last resort.