NBC’s “Up All Night” is the latest comedy to tackle how one’s life is upended after you become a parent. And while it treads on the same ground addressed by other shows, including one of my favorites from the Stone Ages, “thirtysomething,” it does so in a thoroughly fresh way, circa 2011.
The most recent episode of Christina Applegate and Will Arnett’s “Up All Night” focused on the couple trying to regain their sexual mojo, with Arnett’s Chris leading the charge, trying to persuade his wife to ditch her sweats and her stained, ripped clothing the moment she gets home from work and instead don a silky cami and thong, even though she knows that she’s got a sleepless night ahead of her courtesy of their infant.
Applegate’s Reagan – who, in a 21st century twist, is the one who’s working while her attorney husband is an at-home dad who’s busying himself by taking advice from Gwyneth Paltrow’s web site and making homemade gnocchi – is barely squeezing back into her pre-baby clothes and is self-conscious about how she looks. “I just had a baby!” Reagan said to her colleague noting that she was wearing two pairs of Spanx just to fit into her outfit.
In a show 24 years removed from “Up All Night,” two different, well educated professionals were struggling with their own loss of post-baby intimacy, only it was the dad who was working and the mom who’d temporarily put her career on hold. The dad, Michael Steadman, was, like Chris on “Up All Night,” pushing to amp up their sex life only his wife Hope, who was still breastfeeding, wasn’t into it because she was exhausted all the time. Waxing nostalgic for their pre-kid days, Michael said to his wife, “I liked the fact that you were beautiful . . . that you had a dirty mind.”
On that score, not much has changed in the past few decades, at least what happens to a couple’s sex life after having a baby. What has changed? How the parents want to be seen by the world, at least when it comes to all things cool.
In the pilot episode of “thirtysomething,” which originally aired in the fall of 1987, Michael and Hope Steadman were kept up late by their neighbors who were having a really loud party in their normally quiet, residential neighborhood. They were exhausted, certain that their baby would be up any moment, and annoyed that the partiers didn’t realize on their own that they should pipe down. Also adding to Michael’s rage was the fact that he was ticked that his wife wouldn’t leave the baby with a babysitter and go away with him for the weekend because she didn’t feel ready to be apart from her child overnight. So what did Michael do? He ran down the stairs, while wearing just boxer shorts, and started screaming at the neighbors to turn down the music. They, in turn, yelled at him to “chill” and kept the volume loud while Hope got teary-eyed, wondering what had happened to her husband.
Flash-forward to 2011 where parents are not only snarkier, but have the ability to easily communicate with others via their smartphones, the Internet and Facebook. Plus, pop culture tells us, many parents in their demographic group are very much concerned with not seeming passe and old the moment they become parents. There’s pressure to be a hip hipster who’s got the latest alt rock on one’s iPod and an “ironic” bunch of T-shirts. Or some killer Prada pumps to wear with designer duds. Or all of the above, along with an amusing Twitter and Facebook stream.
The 2011 parents, Reagan and Chris, also found themselves irritated by the fact that their way cool neighbors were having a loud party late on a weekday evening – they could hear the music while they were sitting in their own living room across the street – and, because of the noise, couldn’t get their baby daughter, named Amy (name sounds similar to the Steadmans’ Janey) to sleep, Chris didn’t shout at them from the front stoop. Instead, he called the police and offered up his name, then instantly regretted his decision. Reagan was concerned that now their new neighbors would regard them as those badly out of touch, lame people with a baby who weren’t up for partying at midnight on a weekday. So they called a sitter (I wish I had sitters who were available at midnight on a weeknight), ditched their comfy duds in favor of trendy ones, or at least ones that are more acceptable to the nightclub set, and ran across the street, pretending as though they’d been at the party all along.
The funniest scene occurred when, despite their efforts, they were outed as the people who called the police. Chris – who’d gained weight along with Reagan when she was pregnant – attempted to fit into his “pre-baby” jeans. Because those jeans were so tight on his body, he was unable to swiftly extract his cell phone from his pocket when the police attempted to call the people who’d made the noise complaint and a “Hey Soul Sister” ringtone could be heard coming from his pants, drawing everyone’s attention.
“I’m sorry,” Reagan confessed after Chris attempted to lie about the call. “We had to call the cops. We have a baby . . . and we would do absolutely anything to make sure that she goes to sleep.” To which the hipsters, who’d so intimidated Reagan and Chris with their uber chic, said they would probably do the same thing once their baby was born.
Michael and Hope may not have cared about being perceived as young and cool (though they did want to be considered attractive by the opposite sex) but they shared with fellow TV new parents, Reagan and Chris, the same basic new parent woes: Lack of sleep, a disinterest in sex (or sexiness), work-life tension and worries about money. Parents are still parents, even though Michael and Hope didn’t have pop music ringtones, the internet and weren’t under the influence of hipsters.