Double NBC Pilot Review: "Up All Night" and "Free Agents"
On Wednesday night, NBC premiered two new shows in their renewed attempt to spill their comedy block over to a new night. For the longest time, Thursday night has been the go-to night for sitcoms on NBC, but the network is trying to change that with "Up All Night" and "Free Agents", two new, star-studded shows.
Both shows actually ended up doing very well in the ratings department. Up All Night actually ended up beating it's "America's Got Talent" finale lead in, and while Free Agents lost a lot of what UAN had, its final numbers were pretty good too. Whether you can chalk up Up All Night's ratings to its great cast, it's simple but seemingly relateable premise, or simply the cute baby, however, remains to be seen.
So, while both shows delivered ratings, how did they do content wise? Reviews for Up All Night have been pretty positive -- Free Agents, not to much -- but I can't help but feel the opposite after having seen both.
Up All Night: A Severe Case of First World Problems
"Up All Night" has a pretty simple premise. Reagan (Christina Applegate) and Chris (Will Arnett) have a child, and have to deal with the new reality that they have responsibilities now and can't, quite literally, stay up all night and party. Reagan returns to work, leaving Chris behind as a stay-at-home dad, and has to deal with her friend and boss Ava (Maya Rudolph), who isn't quite ready to settle down.
I can actually understand why the show might relate to a lot of people. If you haven't been on the side of the recent parents and the harsh reality of no longer being young, happy-go-lucky, responsibility-less adults, you've more than likely been on the side of the friend who has yet to settle down, and has to deal with their recently-lame friends who can't be awesome anymore. Stay-at-home fathers are a new reality, but definitely a reality, and Applegate is the glue that holds everything together.
I gotta say that I can see a lot of potential situations and gags coming out of this. In the sequel, we already saw the parents trying to remember not to swear in front of their child, or making the mistake of staying out way too late, or getting lost at a supermarket.
But that's exactly the problem here. You can see everything coming. Up All Night leaves no potential for surprise, and while it might make for some fun gags, it's likely not something you're going to be outwardly laughing at. Will Arnett buying the wrong cheese isn't funny. Maya Rudolph barging in and waking up a baby isn't funny. It's been done before, and it's predictable.
Moreover, it's pretentious. Forget for a second the gratuitous baby seems that are clearly meant for the cheap "awe" factor, the show actually tries to make me believe that 40-year-olds Rudolph, Applegate, and Arnett are somehow supposed to act like 25-year-olds who play Call of Duty and stay out drinking all night. Nothing against 40-year-olds, but, in the words of the man himself, come on. It's pretty obvious that I'm supposed to believe that these people are younger than they actually are, but they make no attempts to hide their wrinkles or take care of their male pattern baldness (and keep in mind, this is coming from a big Will Arnett fan).
Why should I care about these clearly well-off people's first world problems? Maybe upcoming episodes will prove to be a little more sincere, but I can't say I'm convinced.
Not to mention that this is basically the same show as "Raising Hope". Maybe a sign of hope (no pun intended) is that I didn't like that show's pilot either, even though it ended up growing on me. But for now, I'm not impressed.
"Up All Night" gets a 5.5 out of 10 for its Pilot.
Free Agents: Pretty Damn Depressing
I may be in the minority here, but I actually enjoyed "Free Agents" a lot more than I did Up All Night. Call me a sucker for dark comedy, but everything about this show seemed to click.
As a quick synopsis, Free Agents is based on a British series of the same name. While the UK version may be a little darker, both shows are about a guy going through a messy divorce, who keeps getting into sexual situations with a woman with her own demons. Hank Azaria stars as Alex, and the wonderfully underrated Kathryn Hahn is Helen, both of whom work at a public relations firm. Alex is of course divorced and hasn't really gotten back on his feet romantically since his marriage ended. Kathryn, on the other hand, is still dealing with the death of her fiancee a year ago, and the two find common ground in their depression and hook up. Now they must balance their insatiable attraction to each other and their professionalism at work.
Once again, Free Agents isn't exactly an original concept. But the execution really seems to set it apart. First of all, Hank Azaria deserves any success that comes his way, and in this, he seems to play a much more likeable version of every Matthew Perry character ever. Kathryn Hahn is incredibly charming and has had this success coming to her for a long time. Add to that a few great supporting actors in, among others, Joe Lo Truglio (I Love You, Man, Paul) and Al Madrigal (The Daily Show), and you have a great little cast.
The difference between Free Agents and Up All Night is that Free Agents doesn't pretend to be anything that it isn't. Off the bat, you know that the main characters are middle-aged, depressed as shit people in pointless jobs looking to piece their life together. And there's something oddly charming about that.
The other difference between the two shows is that I actually laughed during Free Agents. Azaria had some great lines and great gags all throughout, from crying every time he heard a particular song, to commenting what he looked like in an ugly purple shirt, to explaining the subject matter of Abba's "Fernando", the writing for Free Agents was actually pretty great, and didn't rely on canned gags to charm its audience. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be what audiences want.
The dialogue is quick, the gags are fun, and the actors playing the two main characters are not only great, but actually have this odd chemistry with each other, one that will allow for situations other than simply "guy chases after girl" for four seasons. It doesn't shy away from awkward scenarios that aren't exactly commonplace in modern US comedy, and that's a good thing.
Unfortunately, I'm not too certain that'll translate well with audience, and that's going to be a shame. The show isn't without its flaws, but there could be enough there for it to actually reach out and appeal to audiences sometime down the road. Hopefully, that'll happen before it's too late.
The "Free Agents" pilot gets a 7.5 out of 10.
Tune in next week, as we look to see whether Free Agents and Up All Night can hold on to and/or improve on their scores.