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'Up All Night' Recap: 'New Car'

October 6th, 2011 9:06am EDT | Becky Broderick By: Becky Broderick

Like all new parents, Chris and Reagan Brinkley have been dealing with a lot of changes—both as a couple and as individuals. So far, "Up All Night" has focused on the resulting inner turmoil, like the fear of no longer being cool, the struggle to keep passion alive in their relationship, and just the general panic that comes with the responsibility of caring for a tiny human being. This week's episode steers away from the emotional and into the superficial, as Chris tries to convince Reagan to give up her other baby, a sweet (and impractical) BMW convertible. 

Perhaps this decision is somewhat emotional. People do get very attached to their cars and the status that one like a BMW brings. In Reagan's case, she likes to imagine that other drivers make up glamorous stories about her while she's speeding down the highway, blonde hair blowing in the breeze, sexy shades reflecting back the jealous faces of all she passes. But emotional attachment to the car or no, pouting over the loss of a status symbol neither garners much sympathy for Reagan nor makes for a very compelling storyline.

Luckily, the episode doesn't remain mired in "poor me, I have to give up the Beamer" mode, thanks mostly to Chris, who swoops in as the gently-prodding voice of reason (and during a commercial break, the voice of GMC). The most engaging segment of the story is when the couple finally gets on the same (web) page and begins actively searching for a new vehicle. Thanks to several bottles of wine, Chris's voice of reason is drowned and serious online shopping devolves into giddy Googling for pop cultural rides of the past (Doc Brown's DeLorean and the "A-Team" van), culminating in the purchase of a clunky '70s van painted to look like a sunset, personally delivered by a mystical Indian eBayer.

Planning to trade the van in, the pair heads to a dealer to test drive a soccer mom-approved SUV, but balk at buying when the annoying neighbors, Gene and Terry, pull up alongside in the same exact model. And I do feel sympathy for Reagan at this point because, really, who wants to be like Gene and Terry?

Once again, Chris swoops in to save the day, as he picks Reagan up for work in a sleek, black SUV equipped with tinted windows, a sunset stripe down the side and a dreamcatcher hanging from the rear-view. Oh, and bonus: the baby seat fits safely and snugly in the back.

Of course, there is an "Ava freaks out about something" B-plot. This time around, the "something" is a magazine story about the Top 10 Celebrity Drop-Outs, in which Ava lands at #8, sandwiched between two people she's never heard of: H.G. Wells and Billy Joel. Not wanting the public to think she's dumb, she books an economist author as a guest, but then fails to read his boring book. Chris tries to explain the book to Ava in a late-night cram session, which apparently works (who wouldn't hang on to every word uttered by that voice?), since she's able to fire off some impressive economic mumbo jumbo during the show. However, realizing that such a dry topic just isn't her style, she veers the interview into personal territory, quickly getting the author to reveal that he was bullied and sexually abused as a teenager. Gasps and applause all around.

Look, I like Maya Rudolph. And in my last recap, I said that I was starting to like her character. However, I think that the Ava storylines keep this show from being grade-A material every week. "Up All Night" is essentially about a couple's relationship, and it's at its best when it's examining that relationship and the personalities of the people in it. The problem with the Ava stories is that they always feel like they're part of a different show, and they never comfortably intersect with what Chris and Reagan are doing. For instance, last week, Ava had her own story until the last act, when she suddenly had the answer to Reagan's "sexy" problem. This week, Ava has her own story until almost the last act, when Chris is brought in to help her with her "smart" problem. All of the threads never quite tie together in a neat little package.

Evidently, Rudolph is supposed to be to "Up All Night" what Tracy Morgan is to "30 Rock." Or maybe some sort of Tracy Morgan/Jane Krakowski hybrid. And that's fine, but the difference between the two shows is that "30 Rock" always manages to expertly weave Tracy's and Jenna's crazy shenanigans into the fabric of the episodes. On "Up All Night," there is no—to use one of Jack Donaghy's favorite words—synergy between the two storylines. The writers seem so hell-bent on making Rudolph a third lead that they continue to split this show down the middle, consequently missing some golden opportunities to let Christina Applegate and Will Arnett really shine.

In her work world, Reagan is usually relegated to the role of supportive friend/co-worker who just reacts to whatever nonsense Ava is cooking up. Why not have Reagan and Ava do more things together? Or maybe we could see Reagan as something other than Ava's supporter or Chris's wife? Maybe she teams up with Missy (Jennifer Hall) and Calvin (Nick Cannon) to thwart whatever crazy plan Ava's concocted? Maybe she befriends the pregnant hipster across the street and gets some girl time with someone other than Ava? Maybe we meet her family? Luckily, the show has cast Richard Schiff ("The West Wing") in the recurring role of Reagan's psychologist father, which should help greatly in fleshing out Applegate's character.

And then there's Chris. So far, he's been portrayed as the dorky but pretty-close-to-perfect and dutiful husband. But what does he do all day while Reagan's at work? We got a glimpse of his friendship with Reed (Will Forte) last week, but not much else. (Well, besides those nice legs.) Arnett is so gifted at playing strange, awkward characters, which presents so many possibilities for Chris. In Arnett's capable hands, even a scenario as simple as "Amy won't stop crying so Chris tries a variety of things to entertain her" could result in some serious laughs. Or maybe the show could just bring in an aggressive MILF-next-door character (how about the original "Up All Night" girl, Rhonda Shear?) to harrass and objectify Chris every week? That's not necessarily the most original idea, but if it gets Arnett in his skivvies again, I'm all for it.    

Also, that baby is so freaking cute...can't we see some more of her?

Maya Rudolph in Grade: C+

Random Thoughts:

• Had it not been for the Ava plot, I probably would have given this episode a B or B-.

• I love that Chris continues to love irrelevant artists, like J. Geils Band and The Spin Doctors.

• Best quotes:

Reagan: "Honey, I think Pete just shapeshifted into a bird."
Chris: "That's totally Pete."

Chris: "I tried calling Pete Little Bear and I got his daughter. It was a really bad connection but I'm pretty sure she said that Pete died 32 years ago."

Chris: "Don't worry, we are gonna get into how the SEC dropped the ball—that's coming—but first we gotta start with the monetary policy...(laughing)...then we'll get into the hilari...DERIVATIVES...don't even...that's gonna be fun!
Ava: "Nerd, right?"
Reagan: "Yeah."

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Photo Credits: © NBC Universal, Inc.


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