What if, on a short-running sitcom in the early 2010s, Christina Applegate was playing our very own Jacinda Ardern? It’s unlikely, but possible! Hear us out.
From 2011 to 2012, sitcom princess (I would posit she’s third or fourth in line for the throne, somewhere behind Julia Louis-Dreyfus) Christina Applegate starred in the messy, hilarious, short-lived series Up All Night (which is handily available on Lightbox right here). The show, an easy two-season binge, was one of the smarter sitcoms to come out of the early 2010s. It was a refreshingly non painful, actually funny assessment of modern parenting, and it’s a shame it didn’t last. Especially considering what I discovered upon a recent re-watch.
The seemingly innocuous half-hour jaunt was, in actuality, prophecy. Let’s dive in.
Will Arnett, as great here as he ever is, plays stay-at-home dad Chris. Now, this show is a treat on several fronts, but one of the sweetest is its portrayal of stay-at-home fatherhood. Though there’s a standard period of adjustment – about the same period a woman would need – Chris quickly embraces the role. The genuine sweetness of the portrayal of a hands-on, stay-at-home dad as a reminder that representation matters. We can shout ‘men can be the primary caregivers’ until we’re two-ticks-blue in the face, but nothing beats actually seeing it.
And see it we will. Come the arrival of the first child, and after six weeks of parental leave, stay-at-home fatherhood will have the country’s most visible platform. Despite the rumours about him… doing fishing wrong (I’m assuming that’s what the rumours are about), Clarke Gayford has embraced the coming role with aplomb. Just like Chris on Up All Night, he’s a supportive spouse, successful in his own right yet unthreatened by his wife’s more important career. And just like Arnett, he’s an athletic, attractive, nice-seeming bloke.
Conclusion: Chris is Clarke.
Then there’s the Princess herself. Christina Applegate is fantastic as Reagan, a new mum, former party-animal, and very obvious Jacinda Ardern proxy.
So-called Reagan is a highly competent youngish woman, fully owning a job typically held by males of pale complexion (TV producer here, because Prime Minister of New Zealand would have been too on the nose). To reclaim a well-used term, she’s the straight man of the show. Her return to work after having a baby is fraught with all the typicals: she misses witnessing her child’s milestones, she feels guilty, at times the balancing act is overwhelming etc. But the overriding ethos is that she’s incredibly good at her job. It’s as if she walks into the office every morning with ‘let’s do this’ ringing in her ears.
Too often these sorts of ‘mum at work’ arcs involve little more than a woman on the verge of a breakdown as she tries to juggle both roles. But Reagan is far from breaking down. She’s not the can’t-let-anything-go Type A mum often seen in sitcoms – a type of mum I rarely, if ever, meet. She’s the kind of mum I imagine our PM being. A type of mum who actually exists – essentially, a woman making it work.
Takeaway: if nothing else the pencil skirts and soft curls give up the jig.
And then there’s Maya Rudolph. She’s either the best part of Up All Night or the worst, pretty much depending on the mood you’re in when you watch it.
Rudolph’s Ava is commonly, mistakenly, referred to as ‘an Oprah impression’, which Rudolph has squarely denied. And too right. The biggest gripe critics had was that, within the context of the show, Ava didn’t make sense.
The character goes big – she’s outlandish where the rest of the characters are subtle. She’s demanding and fickle, where the others are, for lack of a better word, cool. Critics claimed it was like two shows in one – a realistic family comedy and an SNL workplace skit.
And that’s fair – for those who watched the show when it aired. In pre-Trump 2011 there was probably an expectation that things should make sense (I say probably because I’ve long forgotten). In 2018, a leader openly gaslighting everyone around them is crazy easy to believe.
Hear me out here: Ava was so at odds with the vibe of the show because she represents middle New Zealand. I’m not talking folks with legit grievances here. I’m talking ‘pretty communist’ guy. I’m talking media-types with their condescending takes on how much parental-leave the prime minister should take. I’m talking Stuff commenters, and the dude who told me ‘we can’t have a pregnant PM’.
And the kicker? Reagan is hopelessly devoted to serving the country – sorry, I mean Ava. Despite the mammoth amount of shit Ava puts her through, despite never appreciating her, despite the condescending takes she has on her new parenthood,
Jacinda Reagan is committed.
Conclusion: A conflicting theory (postulated by my girlfriend when I discovered all this) is that Ava is actually Winston Peters. No comment.
Up All Night is fantastic TV, a regular never-heard-of-it show that I can’t stop recommending. It’s funny, it’s progressive, and its obviously illuminati. But despite a strong start the show fizzled out and was unceremoniously cancelled after two seasons. Let’s not think about what that means for the future of this country.
Start watching Up All Night on Lightbox here now:
This content, like all television coverage we do at The Spinoff, is brought to you thanks to the excellent folk at Lightbox. Do us and yourself a favour by clicking here to start a FREE 30 day trial of this truly wonderful service.