It's a bad sign when the joke featured in the promo for the show is the funniest part about it, but, sadly, that was the case in this week's pretty "eh" episode of Up All Night. Megan Mullaly' guest spots are usually bright spots in the shows she graces. Her turns as Tammy Two in Parks and Rec are unfailingly delightful, and her recent spots as Penny's Mom on Happy Endings were irrepressibly fun. But it seemed like the writers at Up All Night weren't entirely sure what to do with her. "Rivals" reminded me of the last episode that dipped this far into shoulder shrug territory, "Hiring and Firing," which featured Molly Shannon in a similar position as Mullaly. Both seemed to throw their backs out trying to make up for lackluster scripts. Is it just me, or does Up All Night have a guest star problem?
Not that anyone in the cast had a lot to work with this week. It's always a frustrating sight to see a group of greatly talented comedic performers like the principles of Up All Night scrounge to find something in the writing, as you could tell Arnett and Rudolph were in "Rivals." None of the plots seemed particularly compelling, even to the characters.
The main arc of the episode was on Ava's daytime television rival, the down-home lifestyle guru Shayna, played by a gleeful Mullaly (why don't they get her to be Southern more of the time?). Shayna was apparently on Ava's show for an extended period of time, first as a guest whose life they made over ("We pried her from thatt trailer like a canned ham!" Reagan sneers), and then as some sort of recurring sub-Ava personality on the show. Now Shayna's got her own muddled inspirational show, and she's been stealing Ava's ideas.
One of the things I liked about this plotline was the side of Reagan it brought out. Usually Reagan acts as a combination babysitter and nursemaid, corralling Ava's more insane whims and placating others. But here, Ava clearly has a soft spot for Shayna that won't allow her to make the business-savvy decision of cutting her off. Reagan's showdown with Shayna—the joke of promo fame, in which Shayna calls Reagan "Boring boring boring blah blah blah jealous" and Reagan labels Shyna a "thief backstabber lipo lipo lipo lipo bumpkin"—is her being protective of Ava, which is a turn in their relationship dynamic, but one that felt honest. But Ava's fondness of Shayna also meant that the whole thing didn't feel very much like a rivalry at all. Apparently a dressing down and a reminder that Ava has a heart is enough to convince Shayna to come back on Ava's show, make nice, and split some cooking wine. If only all life was that simple.
The troubles at home this week were equally uninspiring, but they did spring up around a subject I'm ever so familiar with: couple TV-watching. Chris and Reagan are watching the finale of Friday Night Lights together, but Reagan keeps drifting off. (HOW? You might ask, weeping uncontrollably. But anyway.) The next day, Chris and his playdate Mom friend Laura TV cheat on Reagan by watching the finale without her. It's a relatable plotline, but not a particularly funny one. As anyone who's been in that situation can attest, watching a show together is a tricky thing. It's not like sitting down to watch a movie—the commitment level is both long and sustained, and when you have different schedules and say, one of you can't wait to find out what happened on Mad Men, people slip up. It's at most a cause for irritation, but here it's the foundation of a whole awkward over-the-dinner-table-argument.
Sure, Reagan is jealous of Chris' inside jokes with his new friend, and she feels left out while she's at work and he's at hope making fun of moms on mopeds, but come on. The whole plotline seemed hald-hearted. It would be a serious breach in the logic of the show if Chris actually cheated on Reagan, so without the actual tension there, it's another couple squabble that seemed more awkward than funny. Reagan and Chris actually function remarkably well for a telvision couple, but there has to be a way of upping the stakes without having these semi-humorous semi-exasperating fights every weekk.For the reconciliation like the cutesy football-passing between them to be effective, there has to be more going in the argument than Reagan's control issues and Chris' quasi-adorable stuttering.
I agree with Erik Adams that Up All Night is running low on the chips in its "still figuring things out" reserve, and this episode didn't help much with the sub-par streak its been on since "Week Off." Let's hope the writers step it up next week, or at least Megan Mullaly pops back into Parks and Rec. I can always use a little more Tammy in my life, and I could do without so much Shayna.