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TV Tonight: "Up All Night," "Free Agents"

By admin Published: September 14, 2011

I am posting these later than I had planned because I was wearing my teacher hat for most of the day. But I did want to jot a few notes for your amusement before or after you see these shows, which NBC hopes will keep some of the "AGT" audience tonight, and then lure that audience back a week from now. I may post later re "H8R" and "Survivor," since I have not yet seen either.

Anyway, after the jump, some thoughts about these two comedies.

While I know this is hump day, the people in two new NBC comedies seem worn out, exhausted -- as if it's hump day after three straight weeks without a day off. "Up All Night" stars Christina Applegate and Will Arnett as a couple who recently had their first child and are coping with the change that has made in their life; Maya Rudolph has a sizable role as an Oprah/Tyra-ish daytime talk host who is also Applegate's boss; this is a change from the pilot, where Rudolph ran a publicity company and had a noticeably smaller role.

"Free Agents," based on a British series, stars Hank Azaria as a glum, divorced guy who one night ends up in bed with a co-worker (former Clevelander Kathryn Hahn). This possibility of new romance might make some people happy; Azaria allows that possibility but Hahn, still carrying the emotional baggage of her loss, is having none of it. So what do they do?

More important, what do audiences do? My dilemma is that I liked parts of both shows, but I did not laugh much at either.

With "Up All Night," the show does have a firm grip on its premise. Applegate and Arnett do very good work; Arnett has not thrilled me in some of his other roles, where he seems too extremely unlikable, but here he shows an unexpected affability -- he's not perfect, but he's not a complete screwup. And I just plain admire Rudolph, not only for her comic work but her serious side. She was deliberately low-key and even calming in the middle of the farce of "Bridesmaids," so much so that you implicitly understood why everyone else wanted her admiration. And check out "Away We Go," a little film she made with John Krasinski. But in the revamped pilot of "Up All Night," she does get a little extreme.

And, again, where are the laughs? In retrospect, the cheese bit makes me grin, but there were too many times when I nodded, smiled a bit and waited for something else to happen. I also showed this to some college students, and even though some of them said they liked it, there was not a lot of laughter as they watched. I don't ask every comedy to have big laughs, but the best -- even something like "The Office," with plenty of emotion underlying -- still don't forget them.

"Free Agents," for that matter, has a nice, perplexed, pained performance from Azaria, especially in those moments when pain overwhelms his character. And Hahn, whom I don't remember from anything else, is a good match for him. She manages to come across as a very sensible person, but one who has been more than a little unhinged by the unexpected change her life took. And there's Anthony Head, as their rich boss -- a cliched character in some ways, but played with real zest by the actor.

And yet, again, this felt more like a little drama with a few jokes scattered than a real comedy. Not that I will reject it out of hand. I want to see where it goes in its disarming, sweet way. Same thing with "Up All Night." Neither feels like must-see TV yet. More like, "what else have you got?" TV. But I want to see the answer to that question.

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