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Friday, March 23, 2012

'Daddy Daughter Time' for Up All Night

This week's Up All Night episode title, "Daddy Daughter Time," does not refer to Chris (Will Arnett) spending time with baby Amy, which happens most weeks. In fact, Chris begins working at the show, instead of being home during the day. He is horrible at first, but with a little coaching from Reagan (Christina Applegate), he improves markedly. Unfortunately, his popularity on screen and behind the scenes annoys Reagan, who feels as if her work space has been invaded.

"Daddy Daughter Time" actually refers to Ava's (Maya Rudolph) father, Marty (Henry Winkler, Childrens Hospital, Royal Pains), who comes to visit with his Asian wife and their children. This is much to Ava's dismay, as she is looking for some one-on-one time with Marty.

Who would have guessed that the mixed race daytime TV host would have a hippy Jewish father who writes children's books about African American youths? If that sounds like a weirdly amusing improv sketch, that's OK, because Winkler and Rudolph are veterans of comedy. Their chemistry is easy and realistic, and seconds after Winkler's first appearance on screen, any lingering questions about paternity go right out the window.

The story itself isn't particularly original. After all, how many kids, even after they grow up, feel neglected when one of their parents starts a new family? However, Ava handles the situation with less narcissism than she does many other things, and seeing the two performers together makes up for any staleness.

Chris coming to work with Regan also smacks of it's-been-done-a-million-times-before syndrome. This is a common cliché for sitcoms, though in the past it's mostly involved a stay-at-home wife going to their husband's place of employment. And maybe that's the point. In this gender reversing series, perhaps Up All Night just wanted to show that it can work the other way, too.

The problem is, using these worn out plots doesn't help Up All Night set itself apart as a series that should be watched. Fans can tune in sporadically, whenever they have time, and don't miss much. What's more, each episode does little to carve out its own niche identity, and "Daddy Daughter Time" is no exception to that rule. So what's left is a show that's enjoyable, because of the awesome trio of performers at the center, but has no hook to keep viewers coming back week after week. Somehow, enough still do.

Up All Night is a serviceable, but far from brilliant, sitcom. The actors deserve better. Sadly, a second season looks like a very real possibility, keeping the cast stuck in this world a bit longer. Though if the writing gets a little smarter, the producers ditch Missy (Jennifer Hall), and Jason Lee comes back full-time, there could be something great here. Oh, and more of Sharon Osbourne (The Talk, America's Got Talent) as a rival of Ava's wouldn't hurt, either.

If you are so inclined, catch Up All Night Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

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