Plenty of sitcoms change their course after the first season. 30 Rock tightened up its form and got rid of Rachel Dratch playing a whole host of characters, Family Matters enlisted Urkel to go from a family comedy to a giant excuse for him to drop his signature catch phrase, and even The New Girl relied less on Jess and more on her breakout roommates. Things change. That's cool. But nothing in modern memory has changed as much or as drastically as Up All Night. The first episode of the show's second season aired last night on NBC and we barely recognized it.
When the show debuted it was supposed to be about Reagan (Christina Appelgate), a working mother who was balancing the needs of her baby, her lawyer-turned-stay-at-home-dad husband Chris (Will Arnett), and her daytime diva boss Ava (Maya Rudolph). In season two, it is not about any of that at all. In fact, it's about the opposite.
As the episode kicks off, we learn that Ava's show has been cancelled, leaving both her and Reagan out of a job. Chris decides to go back to work as a lawyer so Reagan can stay home with the baby. But then he changes his mind. Instead, he quits his new/old job and decides to start a construction business with Reagan's newly-introduced younger brother Scott (Luka Jones). Yes, the show has gone from being about what happens when formerly hip people have a baby to being a crazy workplace drama about a working mother with pressures at home to being yet another show about how all women want to raise their babies while a father goes out and pursues his ludicrous dreams. This new show is not what I signed up for when I put the season pass into my DVR last September.
It took awhile for Up All Night to find its groove, but by the end of season one it was something really different an interesting, hence the season pass. It was a funny take on women having it all and the sacrifices men must make for that to happen. That is not like anything else that has ever been on TV. Also, everything involving Ava was hysterical. Rudolph's character is the funniest thing on the show (I would give her the Outstanding Funny Lady on a Comedy Show Emmy if I could) as was her dim bulb assistant Missy and her ongoing rivalry with a former protege turned fellow talk show host played with great bile by Megan Mullally. These were the things I loved most about the show, and now they are all gone.
I always said that the show would need more interesting characters if it wanted to survive for the long-term and yes, it needed a shift from Season 1, but I think this was the wrong direction. If I were running the show (and there is a reason I am writing about it and not actually running it) I would have bet everything on the Ava show, since that was usually the funniest and most rewarding part of the half hour. Instead it got the chop altogether. And Molly Shannon's wacky nanny and Will Forte as Chris' silly best friend don't seem to be around either, sadly. Where are all the great things about this show that I loved?
What's most troubling is this seems like the dramatic repositioning that a show goes through once it's in decline, when its best years are behind it, its big stars are leaving, and it needs a new hook (there's a reason you don't remember Laverne and Shirley moving to LA). The core cast of Up All Night, always its best asset, can do wonders with even the worst material (remember Arnett making it through the awful Running Wilde?) and they may have great new material to work with but where is the show we know and loved? If it was going to be overhauled so dramatically, why not just give it the axe and start over? What was great and refreshing was this was a female-centric show that looked at motherhood and family life in a totally revolutionary way. What we have now is a woman at home, a guy at work, and a standard sitcom formula. Let's hope these are just growing pains (not the Kirk Cameron show) and not a death knell.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: NBC]
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Jay Roach’s political comedy couldn’t have come at a better time. Just as the U.S. is beginning to suffer from the fatigue that comes with enduring the final months of the heated presidential campaign between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis give us exactly what we need: a good laugh.
The Campaign stars Ferrell as Conservative Senate shoe-in Cam Newton who gets himself in a bit of a campaigning pickle – if you can call a widely publicized sexual slip-up a pickle – and prompts the powers that be (an evil duo courtesy of the always fantastic John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) to bring in a ringer: Marty Huggins (Galifianakis). Huggins is flanked by his two trusty pugs and spends his days giving empty trolley tours of his tiny North Carolina town – a naïve happy existence that flummoxes his former political operator of a father (Brian Cox). But once Marty’s appointed campaign manager gangster Tim (a ruthless and surprisingly hilarious Dylan McDermott) Pretty-Womans the grinning familial misfit into a standard cutthroat political candidate the messy misinformation-driven games begin.
Everything we’ve ever feared or discovered about our shiny politicians during campaign season is magnified for the sake of this 90-minute cathartic joke. Right as Romney and Obama are getting headlines for the underhanded loosely regulated practice that is the campaign commercial Ferrell and Galifianakis’ characters take the seemingly lawless practice to a wonderful hyperbolic place where having a mustache makes you a friend of Sadam Hussein and splicing quotes to blaspheme your opponent is kosher. Oh wait that last part is actually true.
This story from frequent Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay along with Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell plays on the clichés of the campaign trail and dresses them up with baby-punching and butt-licking. Right out of the gate we’re treated to Ferrell cheating on his wife with a squealing harlot in a porta-potty. The writers have no mercy for the political world and coincidentally neither do most of us. And even as the film stretches the limits of our ability to stomach schlocky gross gags it’s not entirely uncalled for. In fact this over-the-top flick is practically an extension of the way many of us view the idea of campaigning in the U.S. – the key is abject cynicism.
Raunchy gags are the name of the game but The Campaign doesn’t shirk the necessary weight of its source material. Sure Ferrell’s requisite nude scene merits a few giggles but it’s the moments that are centered on speeches and strategy that really make the film. They’re rife with spot-on frustrated commentary about the emptiness of political speeches and promises and draped in the hilarious inflections of the films’ funnymen.
But beyond the parts that make us laugh hard enough to eke out a sideways tear The Campaign actually has something that most raunchy Ferrell comedies only purport deliver: a heart-warming gooey center. We can chalk this up to Galifianikis’ Marty who represents the political fantasy we try to believe in every election: the existence of a truly honest well-meaning politician. He’s the guy who runs on the platform that “Washington is a mess” and he actually believes he can clean it up. When Cam is running his mouth about loving America Marty is the one who actually offers up idealistic solutions. To some extent Marty is a character we’ve seen before but he’s this bright spot that keeps The Campaign from becoming a long-form rant.
In addition to Galifianakis’ lovable Marty we find gems in the form of McDermott – whose phantom-like presence throughout the film is always worth a laugh – and newcomer Katherine La Nasa as Rose Cam’s gut-wrenchingly opportunistic Barbie of a wife. Oddly enough a big name like Jason Sudeikis receives low-billing this time around and perhaps it’s because his role is a rather mild one for a man who’s solidified himself as the overgrown frat-boy du jour. Still it’s Galifianakis who carries the film and Farrell’s usual shtick that provides the platform for his character’s unavoidable goodness.
The Campaign is a surprising oddly adorable summer comedy combining the disgusting cringe-worthy visuals we’ve come to expect from a Will Ferrell flick with the brains we hope for any time we see the word “political” tied to a film.
Who would have guessed that Bud Selig is a revolutionary thinker?
(Who would have guessed that Bud Selig of all people would give me fodder for an article?)
Baseball's commish has ratified the owners' vote to drop two Major League Baseball teams before the start of next season. (Never mind the myriad legal battles that stand in his way.)
Now that the nation's downsizing trend has made its way to baseball burgs, Hollywood.com has taken the "drop-two" concept to entertainment groupings that might need a trim.
And, unlike baseball, we're not afraid to name our two, either.
Group: Harry Potter characters
Which Two Get Canned: Professor Dumbledore and Hermione Granger
Why: Both are stuck-up, righteous, know-it-alls. Who needs 'em?
Group: ABC primetime shows
Which Two Get Canned: Dharma & Greg, America's Funniest Home Videos
Why: True, the whole lineup deserves to be canned, but these shows rotted on the vine a long time ago.
Group: 'N Sync
Which Two Get Canned: Lance and Joey
Why: For one, they can't sing. For two, they starred in that God-awful movie, On the Line.
Group: James Bond movies
Which Two Get Canned: The Living Daylights, License to Kill
Why: Even George Lazenby was a better Bond than the wooden Mr. Dalton.
Which Two Get Canned: Ross and Monica
Why: The other four--especially Chandler--are actually funny at times.
Group: Destiny's Child
Which Two Get Canned: The two who aren't Beyonce
Why: Because we don't even know the names of the two who aren't Beyonce.
Group: Jackson 5
Which Two Get Canned: Marlon, Randy
Why: As if we'd ever get rid of Tito...
Group: Star Trek
Which Two Get Canned: Sulu, Transporter Chief Kyle
Why: They're the first two to go when a recession finally hits the Federation.
Group: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Which Two Get Canned: Commander Riker, Wesley Crusher
Why: Extraneous. Captain Picard needs Riker like he needs a third leg, and the young Mr. Crusher is just a skinny snot rag.
Group: Led Zeppelin
Which Two Get Canned: John Bonham, John Paul Jones
Why: They aren't Robert Plant or Jimmy Paige. This was essentially a two-man band.
Group: The Brady Bunch
Which Two Get Canned: Jan, Sam
Why: Their names have three letters. And Jan is just a whiny little snot rag. Hmm, maybe she should date Wesley Crusher.
Group: Rocky Franchise
Which Two Get Canned: IV, V
Why: Five was way too many Rocky movies. Even Sugar Ray Leonard didn't un-retire this many times.
Group: Late night TV hosts
Which Two Get Canned: Conan O'Brien, Charles Grodin
Why: Can't get rid of Jay or David; they have too much money. And we like Craig Kilborn and Charlie Rose too much.
Group: Star Wars movies
Which Two Get Canned: Return of the Jedi, Phantom Menace
Why: Jedi was the weak link of the first trio, and Attack of the Clones--despite the inane title--will be infinitely better than Phantom Menace.
Which Two Get Canned: Chloe, Luka
Why: Both of them have lost that lovin' feeling.
Which Two Get Canned: Ringo, George
Why: (See comment above, re: Led Zeppelin.)
Group: The Simpsons
Which Two Get Canned: Skinner's mom, Rod Flanders
Why: Agnes had sex with the Comic Book Guy, which is unforgivable. Rod, the elder Flanders son, has already left the straight-and-narrow path set by his dad: How boring.
And an honorable mention goes to The Sopranos, who don't need to be on this list. They do a good enough job of contraction all by themselves.