Do You Feel Lucky?

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fall TV Preview Review! A New Feature! Episode 1: "Up All Night"

As always with Preview Review, this piece is based solely on the ad. I haven't seen the show yet! So a grain of salt, please - and please don't come telling me any of this is a SPOILER. It cannot possibly be a SPOILER. All I've seen is the ad.

NBC's new show "Up All Night" features the always wry & charming Will Arnett (formerly of "Arrested Development") plus the sharp, spunky stylings of Christina Applegate (soon to be wowing crowds in the upcoming Anchorman III: Run Ron Jeremy Run! The San Diego City Councilman Story) who if I may say so is in the midst of a career reinvention! These two sparks-striking leads shine as the parents of an adorable newborn, whose loud squalls and boisterous demands for attention and comforting keep 'em "Up All Night."

I'm pretty sure it's NBC. It's definitely a network show! Not one of those po-dunk off-broadway cable channel deals. To be on the safe side, let's just say "NBC" as an example of a network that this show might be on.

In any case, the pairing looks like a smart comedy fan's dream come true, and the premise taps a rich vein of humor gold that almost anyone can relate to either personally or by proxy, in these baby-crazy days. I see a possible problem, though: yes, the premise is strong, but that same premise has a built-in self-limiter to it, doesn't it? What do they do if the show's a huge hit? How can it believably run on for season after season, for years and years? Interminable as it seems while it lasts, that baby keeping you up all night crap is just a phase. As the kid expands, and his or her ratio of surface area to internal volume correspondingly drops, science makes sure that baby eventually knocks that shit off and acquires the ability to sleep peacefully through the night. In the face of what we now know about babies, can this premise be believable going into even the second season? From a suspension of disbelief standpoint, I give it eight months, tops.

An achilles heel, perhaps. Yet the mark of sharp comedy writers is the ability to improvise, get creative. Tweak the premise as the needs of believability (or the real world!) intrude. As we've seen in real life, sometimes Charlie Sheen just goes stark fucking nuts, and somebody has to die. As a tv writer (or a roomful of them!), you need to be able to juke and jump, hit that fadeaway "J" for the winning two points when the chips are down, and the original game plan has to go out the window.

So for a show like this, with its built-in ticking clock, what do you do? Keep the players. Keep the storyline - but throw in one hell of a loop-de-loop arc: Change the genre.

That's right. A bold, audacious move like that has rarely, possibly never been tried, but when it does...expect television history! As this series rounds into its eighth month, cue a big "very special" 1-hour episode, with a twist that turns the weekly 30-minute sitcom on its ear - and turns "Up All Night" into a weekly one hour drama. The plot point that does it all? SIDS. One bright morning's cheerful realization that baby finally slept through the night dawns into a living nightmare, that takes the show's name into a whole new world of sleeplessness.

For the characters, a nightmare. For the principal actors, and for discerning critics and hard-hitting fans of risk-taking television everywhere, it's hard to imagine a better dream come true. What a chance for Arnett and Applegate to strut their chops, stretch their flexibility and throw their dramatic gravitas around! For the show's producers, what an opportunity to take the shocked, captivated, die-hard audience - already completely in love with these characters! - on a wild ride of shock, grief, anger, mourning, bargaining, recrimination, alienation, tragedy, grief and ultimately ...maybe? - some kind of reconciliation? With each other. With a hard fate, one that comes out of nowhere for far too many new parents. Or maybe, no reconciliation. Sometimes there can be no reconciliation. This is tv that hits us on a level we do not expect, and cannot prepare ourselves for.

Award-winning? Fuck Emmys. Fuck a Golden Globe. This show is potential Nobel Prize for Television material.

You know I'll be watching.

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