NBC Premieres Up All Night and Free Agents Early To Avoid Going Up Against ABC’s Hit Comedies Out of the Gate!

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NBC gets the new season underway with the Wednesday premieres of Up All Night [10/9C, then moving to its regular timeslot of 8/7C next week] and Free Agents [premiering at 10:30/9:30C and moving to its regular timeslot of 8:30/&:30C next week]. As things stand, the retooled Up All Night has a lot of potential, but Free Agents is funnier out of the gate.

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After six years of marriage, party people Reagan Brinkley [Christina Applegate] and husband Chris [Will Arnett] are blessed with a baby. She returns to her job as producer of Ava’s [Maya Rudolph] Oprah-style talk show, which has hit new lows while she was away. Chris gives up his job at a law firm to be a househusband.

Frankly, I couldn’t even remember what the workplace side of this show was when I plopped the screener into my player – which tells you why it was that part of the show that needed to be retooled. Rudolph is terrific as Oprah-wannabe Ava, who retreats into a world of chocolate when things go bad.

Applegate and Arnett have terrific chemistry as Reagan and Chris, and they are completely believable as party people-turned-baffled parents. On their seventh anniversary, for example, they go out and party like they used to and then pay the consequences when their new arrival, Amy, lets them know she’s awake. Let’s just say that hangovers and squalling babies are a comedic match made in heaven [or a particularly unsubtle suburb of hell].

While Reagan struggles to balance work and family, Chris has problems of his own. It seems that raising a baby requires more than playing videogames and watching hockey – and some of those problems are oddly compelling [‘When did grocery stores get so big?’ he wails at one point]. Both acknowledge that they need to start cleaning up their language [the first few bleeps are funny, but this gag could get run into the ground pretty quickly].

The premiere – written by Emily Spivey and directed by James Griffiths – is fast-paced and shiny, though the shine is more perspiration than gloss. This is a show about a couple who have no clue having to deal with parenthood, trying to remain the same people they’ve always been, and returning to a high pressure workplace with a demanding, if adoring boss. All of the main characters feel like they’re tap-dancing like mad.

The cast and the premise are solid; the performances by the three leads are convincing, and the actual production is good. Up All Night could become a hit, but it needs a bit tweaking. Personally, I like more than Community, but not as much as Parks and Recreation at its best.

What with it going up against CBS’s Survivor, Fox’s The X-Factor and ABC’s The Middle, next week, it’s going to need to find its feet fast, or it’ll be left in the lurch.

Free Agents

The Free Agents premiere opens with a couple in bed – but their afterglow is dimmed by his realization that he’s going to miss his son. Meet Alex [Hank Azaria] and Helen [Kathryn Hahn].

In the series, based on a cult U.K. hit, Hank’s divorce has just been finalized, while it’s been a year since Helen’s finance, Pete died. They work together at a corporate public relations firm and have fallen into bed together in a moment of weakness. Now they have to go back to work and pretend it never happened – while remaining friends.

Hank and Helen are surrounded by a group of co-workers typical to a workplace/relationship series: Dan [Mo Mandel], the bachelor in need of a wingman; Greg [Al Madrigal], the lone married man of the group [who hasn’t gone anywhere without his family since 2009]; Emma [Natasha Leggero], the firecracker ‘Executive Assistant’ who is quick to not help; Walter [Joe Lo Truglio], the building security guard who is a font of personal advice, and Stephen [Anthony Head, Buffy the Vampire Slayer], the boss who urges everyone to work hard so that he won’t have to – and has an intriguing knowledge of sexual positions…

In the premiere, after their agreement to just be friends and co-workers, Helen tries to help Alex with a makeover so he can go on a blind date with Dan and a girl he knows. A shirt she selects gets a good response, but then she calls Alex because she’s unable to throw out the twenty-one [!] portraits of Pete she has up on her apartment walls…

Party Down’s John Enbom created the American take on Free Agents and the premiere – directed by Todd Holland – has a bit of that feel. It’s quick, smart, a bit edgy and, with, at times, some of the same oddly effective silliness.

Azaria and Hahn have exactly the right kind of peculiar chemistry to make the emotionally needy Alex and Helen work. They’re both very attractive in a not quite typical kind of way, and they both have the dramatic chops to underscore the wit and humor with a hint of the melancholy.

Free Agents is easily NBC’s best new sitcom. Next week, it will also in tough against the second half of CBS’s Survivor, the second half of Fox’s The X Factor and ABC’s very good new series, Suburgatory.

Grade: Up All Night – C+

Grade: Free Agents – B+

Final Grade: NBC’s Wednesday Night Comedy Hour – B

Photos by Trae Patton and Mike Ansell/courtesy NBC