James Murphy pulled a singularly canny trick with his first single as LCD Soundsystem, “Losing My Edge”: He helped define the music of an entire decade by facing up to his growing un-hipness and the creeping specter of irrelevancy. As Chris and Reagan Brinkley approached their own un-hipness on tonight’s episode of Up All Night, I couldn’t help but think of Murphy’s nasal deadpan and his laundry list of aging scenester’s concerns. And it wasn’t just because of all the bands namechecked in the script.
Two episodes into its run, Up All Night is swiftly establishing itself as a comedy of lost edges. Once upon a time, the title of the second episode, “Cool Neighbors,” would’ve applied to the Brinkleys. They were a hotshot lawyer and high-powered television producer who got regularly blasted on Jager bombs, dropped tight freestyle raps, and danced their asses off to Jamiroquai and Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Then, they had a baby, and the wheels started coming off of their cool bus. As they eased into marriage and prepared to bring their daughter Amy into the world, trends in fashion and music passed them by. Chris quit his job at the law firm, and Reagan was forced to give up on that most essential of cool-kid habits: smoking. They remained in love with one another and grew happier and happier with their decision to have a baby—until, as we see at the beginning of tonight’s episode, they find themselves standing at their kitchen window, stuck in a scene straight out of “Losing My Edge.” The kids, it would seem, are coming up from behind, all leather jackets, asexual haircuts, and unidentifiable (but totally cool) accents. They’re losing their edge to better-looking people, with better ideas and more talent—and they’re actually really, really, really nice. There goes the neighborhood.
But because Up All Night has a sense of humor that’s as good as (if not better than) “Losing My Edge,” Chris and Reagan go about overcompensating for their losses in spectacularly ridiculous fashion. Peeved that the “uncool” couple on the block greets the newcomers with a lame casserole, the Brinkleys choose to leave behind a gift of tequila—but Chris blows the delivery and ends up handing it directly to the new neighbor wife, calling it “teh-qwee-la.” After the ambiguously Anglo neighbor husband invites Chris and Reagan to a house-warming party and promises some Facebook friend requests, the next scene finds the Brinkleys sprawled on the couch, performing some frantic upkeep on their profiles. (Chris has the unfortunate habit of giving a “Like” to mundane things like soup and dry cleaners; Reagan’s last status update was “Heading to the hospital.” “People probably think you died,” her husband replies.) In the move that finally cements their full-blown, out-of-it adulthood, Chris calls the police when the housewarming party keeps Amy up beyond the ungodly hour of 11 p.m. When Reagan realizes this will forever squash any chance they have at getting in with the new neighbors, she concocts a cockamamie scheme: They’ll go to the party, pretend they’ve been there the whole time, and shirk the blame when the cops arrive to break up the party. The apparently always-available Calvin (the downright tolerable Nick Cannon) agrees to watch Amy while they’re out—though it’s odd that he couldn’t help Chris and Reagan out the night before, when they had skip out on a Radiohead concert due to lack of sitter.
That third-act twist sheds some light on a fundamental problem hanging over from Up All Night’s pilot: The series still doesn’t know how to balance its broadly comic elements with the more grounded scenes in the Brinkley home. It’s as if Emily Spivey and her writing staff are so desperate to avoid the lazy traps of standard “first-time parent” comedy that they’re inviting contrivances elsewhere. It’s nothing short of a distracting tonal clash where an episode that spends its first two acts realistically dealing with the sacrifices of parenthood suddenly forces those Chris and Reagan into ridiculous circumstances meant to deny those sacrifices.
Nonetheless, the scene at the party also provided “Cool Neighbors” with one of its biggest laughs: Chris, decked out in a Huey Lewis And The News T-shirt (“It’s ironic!”), attempting to save face in light of the dual indignities of giving the cops his phone number and having Train’s treacly cool-killer “Hey Soul Sister” as his ringtone. We’ve seen Will Arnett squirm his way through this kind of public embarrassment in other roles, but this time, we got the pleasure of seeing him attempt to squeeze his iPhone from the pocket of some very tight pants. In terms of getting the goods from Arnett, Up All Night is on solid ground.
Spivey and company need to figure out how to balance the series’ dynamic soon—they also need to figure out what the hell they’re doing with Maya Rudolph’s Ava, whose desire to be loved by everyone gets a sizable B-story in “Cool Neighbors.” It’s a fun riff on her Oprah-esque characteristics, it puts Amy (the one person who apparently doesn’t love Ava, no matter how many “baby wallets” she gets from her) to good use, and it’s a thematic fit with the rest of the episode—but why should we care about Ava when she’s not with the Brinkleys? The series hasn’t given us a reason yet. Up All Night isn’t an ensemble comedy—it’s a show about Chris, Reagan, and Amy, and lavishing this much attention on Ava this early on is going to erode that. The writers need to start justifying how much time we’re spending with Ava by showing us she’s more than an occasional nuisance in the Brinkleys’ lives.
Of course, the screwy details of the Ava B-story feed my theory that as Up All Night builds its world, the Brinkley homestead will be increasingly portrayed as a fortress of sanity (or as other critics have identified it, “somberness”). Within their own four walls, Chris and Reagan are free to listen (and—gasp—sing-along) to Train and not engage with social networks, online or otherwise. There, they’re feel to free, as James Murphy does at the end of LCD Soundsystem’s final record, at home.
- Hey, 2 Broke Girls: This is how you reference a bunch of bands on a TV show without totally falling on your face. Even if the buzz surrounding Warpaint has quieted since last summer, it’s still funny that Reagan has no idea who the band is.
- I didn’t get mention it in the body of the review, but I loved Chris and Reagan’s impression of the uncool neighbors. It’s one of those tiny details that really sells their relationship.
- If the new neighbors are into Bret Easton Ellis, I’m betting they’d give Chris a pass on that Huey Lewis shirt.
- “My God, even their dog is cool.”
- “We’re very into conceptual art.”
- “Can I like Juice Newton?” “Yes, but you have to like Morrissey, too.”
- “Where did you get your psychology degree, Missy?” “Cal State Dominguez Hills”