NBC premiered two much-anticipated sitcoms last night, Up All Night and Free Agents. While the shows will eventually move to Wednesday nights at 8 and 8:30, respectively, you’ll have a second chance to check out both series tonight between reruns of Community and The Office. But are either of them worth making space in your nightly TV schedule? We had high hopes for both, but found that one was wonderful and the other was awful.
We’ll start with the good news. Free Agents is hilarious. Hank Azaria is Alex, a pathetic but lovable guy in the midst of a divorce whose job is vague, irrelevant, and provides the setting for the show’s wittily bantering characters. The pilot finds Alex coming on strong to coworker Helen (Kathryn Hahn), who’s a bit of a mess herself one year after her husband’s death. And then there is the array of officemates gradually woven into the story in sidesplitting situational humor — the bro-y colleague who wants to make a wingman out of Azaria; his short, married devotee who wants to be that wingman; the sassy executive assistant (who has one of the best lines in the pilot when she refers to Helen’s late husband as having “stopped living”); and the building security guard who lets Azaria crash on his couch. The show’s first scene is an uncomfortable post-coitus one — very Bridesmaids, and maybe not the greatest hook — but from there on out, it’s uphill fast. As soon as Azaria makes it to the workplace, the out-loud laughter kicks in, which seems to set the stage for the rest of the season, as the real attraction of Free Agents is the coming together of funny, well-developed characters, not the budding romance at the core of its plot.
And now the bad. Up All Night is not hilarious. In fact, it’s not even funny. Christina Applegate (what, were go-to funny girls Leslie Mann and Kristen Wiig unavailable?) and Will Arnett are newly with baby, and Arnett’s Chris decides to quit his law job to do the stay-at-home dad thing. Applegate’s Reagan continues to produce boss-with-no-sense-of-boundaries Maya Rudolph’s talk show, and splitting her time is tough. Up All Night is about the headaches that result from juggling it all, but between Reagan and Chris’s unintentionally phony-feeling romance, a screaming baby at home, and the exasperating boss who shows up at the couple’s home at all hours of the night, it’s hard for viewers to avoid developing headaches of our own. The show tries a little too hard to cultivate in-jokes with us immediately; the theme of cursing in front of the baby, and endless variations thereof, isn’t terribly clever. The one bit we did enjoy was Chris’s friendship-via-video-games with an unseen, fellow stay-at-home dad. That’s one character we’re looking forward to getting to know — if, for some reason, we decide to give Up All Night a second chance.