Maybe you haven’t heard, but something strange is happening in TV Land. (I mean television in general, not the Nick at Nite spinoff channel, though I’m sure crazy shit happens on the “Hot in Cleveland” set.) “Up All Night,” NBC’s single-camera (ie: “The Office,” “30 Rock”) sitcom is going through a horrifying bout of “retooling,” an industry term meaning, “keep fucking with a concept until it’s barely recognizable anymore, often done well past a show’s prime.” The patron saint of this is “The Brady Bunch’s” Cousin Oliver, and oftentimes, retooling is just a matter of adding or subtracting a character in a similar way. But what’s going on with UAN sounds absolutely terrible.
When it began, UAN was a show about a couple (Will Arnett, Christina Applegate) dealing with the birth of their first child. Solid premise; general enough for a sitcom to build from. Well, ratings have been low, so some things have been shuffled about, but rather than just slay the beast, the suits have decided to prop this corpse up and make it dance, despite things like, I dunno, Applegate leaving the show. What would the show do in her absence? Who knows? Who cares?
Well, the big idea was to make the show into a multi-camera (ie: any sitcom with a live audience) for five episodes. Too many, you say? Then they decided to cut that down to one. So: take a failing show, turn it around 180 degrees, and do one more episode. Perfectly reasonable.
Except, now I’m reading that there’s a plan to toss that altogether and just remake it as a show about Maya Rudolph’s character (a supporting character that’s basically Oprah, whom Applegate worked for) dealing with HER OWN pregnancy. Because, fuck it, who the hell cares anymore? Lets make it a show about a dentist who hunts yetis in her spare time. She could still stay … UP ALL NIGHT?
More often, though, retooling usually happens when a show has run out of steam, in an attempt to capture its glory days. Usually, this idea fails miserably. My most recent run-in with this was in watching a final-season episode of “Scrubs” in syndication. Now, I’m not saying “Scrubs” was a legendary television show by any means, but it had its strong points. Your mileage may vary with Zach Braff, but he could balance the comedy and pathos of the show. And John McGinley was easily the MVP of the series, providing some of the best dialogue.
But then I watch this last-season episode, and Braff is gone, replaced with some goofy blonde female narrator (who I’m not bothering to look up, nor anyone else new on the show) who really wasn’t all that funny. And the show was renamed to “Scrubs: Med School,” which, no, that’s not gonna work. And the theme song was redone! Why even? No no no, nothing about this adds up at all.
The worst crime for me, though, was that (at least for the episode I watched), the main plot hinged on another of the med students, not the blonde lady. This really bothered me because, throughout “OG Scrubs,” Braff narrated but was also the main character. Not every plot rest on his shoulders, but all the big ones did. But in this episode, we had a weird disconnect where we have the new girl (not that one) narrating a story she kind of has nothing to do with. I don’t care about her in the episode, because what’s she doing anyhow? And then I don’t care about the protagonist of that plot, because I’m not really following him. And then I don’t care about the show, because everything sucks now, and they even made Dr Cox lame, and they committed the cardinal sin of making me miss Zach Braff, and they redid the goddamn theme song!
What is this shit?
Whether it’s to try breathing new life into an ailing show, or to fix a struggling new show, retooling usually has the same effect: COMEDY DEATH. Retooling often smacks of too many cooks in the kitchen, and none of those cooks knows how to actually cook, or how to tell jokes for that matter. The Poochie episode of “The Simpsons” is a Master’s thesis on this very subject, and if you have yet to watch it somehow, please do so, if for no other reason than it is great.
The only show I can think of that survived massive retooling was “The Hogan Family,” which weathered the storm of losing its star for four additional seasons. And really, is “The Hogan Family” something to look up to? In basically all other situations, attempts to retool shows don’t succeed, and end up costing money, time, and respect for the show. I think the folks at “Up All Night” should just cash it in, and find some new work. Besides, I don’t want to find out the fate of Maya Rudolph’s character…