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Fall TV review: Stay up for ‘Up All Night,’ but not for ‘Free Agents’

ChristinApplegate Will Arnett star 'Up All Night.'

Christina Applegate and Will Arnett star in "Up All Night."

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9 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday on WMAQ-Channel 5. Future episodes: 7 p.m. Wednesdays


9:30 to 10 p.m. Wednesday on WMAQ-Channel 5. Future episodes: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays.

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Updated: November 9, 2011 5:32PM

The first clue that something’s wrong with NBC’s new hour of Wednesday night comedy is that the baby on “Up All Night” spends less time crying than Hank Azaria’s sad-sack character on “Free Agents.”

The second clue is that comedy is supposed to be funny, and “Free Agents” is not.

“Up All Night,” for the most part, is. So feel free to empty your laugh tank during the first 30 minutes, because you won’t need so much as a half-hearted chuckle during the second half hour.

Christina Applegate and Will Arnett have nice chemistry as rookie parents struggling to scale back on their hardworking, hard-partying ways in “Up All Night,” a largely fresh, irreverent look at child rearing.

Arnett (whose credits include “Arrested Development,” “30 Rock” and being Amy Poehler’s husband) and Applegate play slightly reluctant latecomers to the parenting game. Now that baby makes three, Applegate squeezes herself into a pre-pregnancy skirt and heads back to her job as a TV producer, while Arnett quits his law office to be a stay-at-home dad (and watch hockey, play video games and work on that body sponsored by NordicTrack).

The frequently bleeped couple can’t stop marveling at how “f---ing beautiful” their newborn is. They also can’t let go of those carefree, childless nights when Applegate would smoke cigarettes — her gateway drug — and go “dancing on the pool table, doing Jaeger shots, dazzling the folks with my old-school raps.”

“God, your beats are so tight after three Jaeger bombs,” Arnett says wistfully to his wife while feeding baby Amy in her highchair.

The show has “Saturday Night Live’s” fingerprints all over it: It’s created by veteran “SNL” writer Emily Spivey, executive produced by Lorne Michaels and features alum Maya Rudolph as a talk-show host in a role that’s reminiscent of the Oprah impression she perfected on late-night TV.

Rudolph initially had a smaller spot in the series, but someone got the memo that this woman is funny with a capital F and astutely upped her presence.

She plays Applegate’s diva boss and childless friend, whose idea of a baby gift basket includes goodies like venison stock, hot pepper cheese and chilled bottles of Veuve Cliquot.

The comedic triumvirate of Rudolph-Applegate-Arnett is a formidable one, but it’s not enough to make “Up All Night” the funniest family sitcom on Wednesday nights. That award remains firmly clutched in the hands of the ensemble cast of ABC’s “Modern Family.”

“Up All Night” should have better luck going against “The Middle,” the other ABC family-centric comedy sharing its time slot — especially if it bails on some of its lamer gags, like “Today” anchor Matt Lauer talking to Applegate’s character through the TV, questioning whether she can “rock that skirt anymore.”

Nothing, however, is likely to help NBC’s new comedy “Free Agents” from following in the ill-fated footsteps of “Outsourced.”

Based on a British series by the same name, “Free Agents” stars Hank Azaria as newly divorced Alex and Kathryn Hahn (of the movie “Our Idiot Brother”) as his cold colleague Helen.

Alex and Helen work at a hotshot public relations agency. Besides sharing office space with a bunch of obnoxious colleagues, they have this in common: Their personal lives are a mess. Awkward, lonely Alex is reeling from his divorce, and aloof Helen is pining for her dead fiance, whose life-size photo still hangs in her apartment.

The pair have zero chemistry, but that doesn’t stop them from winding up in bed, where Hank has one of his crying spells because he misses his kids. Hilarious, huh?

They decide to just be friends, but that complete lack of chemistry must be a powerful thing, because they end up in bed again. This on-again, off-again dance will probably continue until midseason, when we can only hope that someone at NBC will pull the plug on the jukebox and make it all stop.

Thank you, Britain, for giving us “The Office,” but you can keep “Free Agents” on your side of the pond.

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