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TELEVISION

Bad parenting leads to good comedy in Up All Night
Bringing up baby

Oh-so-modern narcissists.
Oh-so-modern narcissists.
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Up All Night (Wednesday, 7 p.m., NBC) offers an age-old sitcom premise -- a clueless couple who aren't ready for parenthood -- and makes it feel fresh and contemporary. Chris (Will Arnett) is an overgrown kid who stays home to raise the baby, Reagan (Christina Applegate) a former party girl who goes back to her old job. If Arnett and Applegate aren't enough comic masters for you, add in Maya Rudolph as Reagan's self-involved boss. With exquisite subtlety, these three nail the ridiculousness of their oh-so-modern narcissists.

Their victim, hilariously, is the baby. Chris and Reagan try to make themselves understood while it struggles against a diaper change, enunciating every word as if speaking to an unruly foreigner who doesn't quite understand English: "WE. ARE. TRYING. TO. HELP. YOU! WE. ARE. ON. YOUR. SIDE!"

NBC, I'm going to be very upset if you cancel Up All Night without giving it a fair chance, as Fox did with Arnett's similarly sophisticated Running Wilde last season. Please treat this baby better than Chris and Reagan treat theirs.

The Playboy Club
Monday, 9 pm (NBC)

This new series turns back the clock to the early 1960s, when it was considered classy for men to smoke up a storm while scantily clad women stroked their egos in Chicago's Playboy Club. Don't expect a nuanced critique of the era, as in Mad Men. The Playboy Club is not here to make sense of Hugh Hefner's tawdry empire, but to wallow in it. The busty women are shown topless in their dressing room while the men chortle, "You can bounce a dime off that ass!" The plot -- nonsense about a new bunny (Amber Heard) who gets in trouble with the Mob -- frequently grinds to a halt for go-go dance scenes.

The series has no problem with treating these women as sex objects. It even goes so far as to peddle Hefner's questionable philosophy about the empowering aspects of dressing in bunny ears and tails for the delectation of leering male customers: "The bunnies were some of the only women in the world who could be what they wanted to be," Hefner argues in voiceover.

Even smoking is better for your health than The Playboy Club.

New Girl
Tuesday, 8 pm (Fox)

New Girl offers the role of a lifetime to Zooey Deschanel, who lets her inner nerd run free. The "new girl" is Jess, an incurable lame-o who moves into an apartment with three male strangers (Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, Damon Wayans Jr.). They're as dorky as she is, but all four of them try to pass for cool in the singles world -- an effort that fails delightfully, again and again. New Girl is a paean to awkwardness, but it doesn't sneer at its characters. They remain likable even at their dumbest moments.

After blowing yet another date, Jess laments, "Well, I guess I can't hide my crazy." She'll keep trying, though, and that will make New Girl irresistible.

Unforgettable
Tuesday, 9 pm (CBS)

Poppy Montgomery plays Carrie, a former detective with the blessing/curse of total recall. Carrie left police work because of a troubling incident from her past -- her sister's unsolved murder --but gets drawn back in by an old flame (Dylan Walsh) she encounters on the NYC squad.

Unforgettable would have been an absorbing enough police procedural, but with Montgomery in the lead role, you can't take your eyes off the screen. "Mid-30s, red hair, pretty," a cop says by way of describing Carrie. "Pretty" is an understatement. Montgomery is ravishing, with her sensuous lips and soulful eyes. For all that, you still believe she's a cop rather than a magazine model.

Total recall, unsolved murders -- whatever. I'm down with any excuse to put Poppy Montgomery on the small screen.

The Secret Circle
Thursday, 8 pm (CW)

The CW has determined that its marketing niche is in shows about beautiful young people embroiled in love, lust and betrayal (Gossip Girl, 90210, etc). The Secret Circle joins the supernatural subset, as in Vampire Diaries. The latest beautiful young protagonist is Cassie (Britt Robertson), who discovers a witches' underground in her new town. Robertson was obviously cast for her skill at looking confused -- an expression that comes in handy as Cassie takes in new information about her own powers. In the meantime, she deals with a hot warlock and a sexy mean-girl witch who will prove to be her nemesis. "This is beyond crazy!" Cassie exclaims.

No, silly, it's all part of the CW's strategic marketing plan.

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