In the first season, Reagan Brinkley (Applegate) has just gone back to work after giving birth to her daughter Amy (played by twins Carly and Delaney Prince). Reagan struggles to balance her work and home life, with the help of her supportive, stay-at-home husband Chris (Arnett). At work, she is the Only Sane Employee at Ava, an Oprah-like Talk Show. She is also the best friend and Living Emotional Crutch of Ava herself (Rudolph), a somewhat neurotic and self-centered TV star. The first season cast is rounded out with quirky co-worker Missy (Jennifer Hall).
Retool #1 happened before the show even aired. The pilot was originally filmed with Rudolph in a supporting role, playing Reagan's boss at a PR firm. After the success of Bridesmaids, it was decided that Rudolph needed a bigger and funnier part. Hence, the pilot was refilmed with the PR firm changed to the Ava talk show. This resulted in Up All Night being two shows at once, one a realistic Dramedy Dom Com about new parents and the other a wacky 30 Rock-esque Work Com about show business. Critics and the show's creators felt the tonal dissonance was too much.
Cue Retool #2. The second season opens with the news that Ava has been cancelled. With this development, Hall is dropped from the cast, although Rudolph remains, as Ava is still Reagan's best friend. Joining the cast in the second season is Luka Jones as Reagan's lovable loser brother Scott. With his wife now unemployed, Chris goes back to work and, finding his old job soulless, begins a company with Scott as his partner. Essentially, the Work Com aspects of the show were eliminated and it became a straight Dom Com.
Then came Retool #3, which unraveled the show into oblivion before it could even take effect. NBC decided that Up All Night, which to that point had been done in a single-camera format without a Laugh Track, would switch to a multi-camera format with a Studio Audience because why the hell not. They'd already tried everything else. Some truly nutty ideas were thrown around, such as baby Amy being able to see a portal connecting the single-cam world to the multi-cam world. In the end, they settled for the completely sane concept of having the entire show turn out to be a Show Within a Show, and from that point on follow the lives of the fictional actors playing Reagan, Chris, and Ava.note Somehow, Applegate was unimpressed and jumped ship, followed by Arnett and Rudolph. The show was dead, but it still took several months before NBC acknowledged defeat and canceled the show officially.
Tropes featured include:
- The Ace: Stevie Nicks is portrayed as an almost Buddha-like figure. She can shush babies and dogs.
- Adorkable: Chris and especially Reagan come across this way when they try to prove to people (or even to themselves) that they can be "cool" parents.
- As Herself: Stevie Nicks is a guest on Ava's show at one point. This leads to an Imagine Spot in which Reagan fantasizes about the two of them singing a duet.
- Babies Ever After: A notable inversion in that Amy's birth is the beginning of the story.
- Beta Couple: Ava and Kevin.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Do not make the mistake of letting Missy think she's been fired. One can only imagine how she reacted when Ava's show was canceled.
- Bumbling Dad: Inverted. Will Arnett, in an out of character role, plays plays a guy who is quite arguably the second best father ever in a comedy series. Reagan is portrayed as a somewhat clueless mother.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Calvin (played by Nick Cannon) was originally billed as a supporting character; he's only in a few episodes early in season 1 and then he disappears without explanation.
- Missy in the second season. Kind of justified since she was mostly a work colleague and, without Ava's show, there's not really a reason for her to interact with the rest of the cast. Still, we never find out what happened to her after Ava was cancelled.
- The Ditz: Missy.
- Drop-In Character: Ava seems to be blissfully unaware of the boundary between Reagan's work and personal lives. Somewhat justified in that they were best friends long before Ava became Reagan's boss. Now that her show's gone, she's this trope entirely.
- Due to the Dead: Ava and Reagan completely fail at this when a crew member dies and they hardly even remember the guy's name, nor can they scare up anywhere near enough photos to make a decent slideshow.
- Education Mama: Reagan shows early signs of this when she goes to great lengths to get Amy into a prestigious preschool.
- Evil Matriarch: Played with in episode named "Parents". Reagen dreads a visit from her mother, and is annoyed by her. Also, Reagen's mother is proud of how she brought up Reagen and even writes a book about it, which annoys Reagen even more. Averted by the end of the episode, because Reagen's mother realizes what she was doing wrong after she has a Heart to heart talk with Reagen and becomes more supportive.
- Fake Static: Reagan attempts the video chat equivalent of this to get out of a tiresome conversation with her parents. She has to freeze in place for several seconds at a time to maintain the illusion that the video feed is buffering.
- Getting the Baby to Sleep: Played with the parents can't get their daughter to sleep at all because of a loud party. Their solution is to call the police to get the party shut down, then quickly infiltrate the party so it looks like they weren't the ones who called the police. The irony is that baby Amy falls asleep immediately in the arms of the coworker they call in to babysit. Guess all they needed was to have Calvin hold her...
- Happily Married: Chris and Reagan Brinkley.
- House Husband: Chris in Season 1.
- Instant Humiliation Just Add Youtube: A "romantic" duet with Ava and B-Ro from the 1990s, although Ava seems incapable of shame. An even more embarrassing public fight between Ava and B-Ro, with Reagan trying to intervene. Again, no shame on Ava's part.
- Large Ham: Maya Rudolph as Ava.
- Laugh Track: One of a number of current NBC series that doesn't have one. This was planned to end after the mid-Season 2 hiatus (It would have had a studio audience, not a laugh track. The effect on the home viewers is generally the same, though.), but a series of shake-ups resulted in the show being canceled before any multi-cam episodes could be produced.
- Ma'am Shock: The episode in question is titled "Ma'am'd".
- Mind Screw: The third and last planned Retool would've involved, among other things, an inexplicable shift from single-cam to multi-cam format, baby Amy somehow being able to connect the multi-cam world with the single-cam one in her mind, and the characters in the multi-camera universe (Never thought you'd hear that before.) being revealed to be actors on a show with the focus of the real show following their lives. It's almost as if Charlie Kaufman tried to take over.
- Mistaken for Cheating: Played for laughs in an episode where Chris befriends one of the neighborhood moms and they bond over a TV show that he was supposed to wait for Reagan to watch with him.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Ava = Oprah (denied by Maya Rudolph, however)
- Obnoxious In-Laws: Sort of a subversion; Reagan seems to dread dealing with her parents more than Chris does. They're still obnoxious, though.
- Quitting to Get Married: Gender Inverted. The husband quits his job to care for their baby and the wife continues to work.
- Remember the New Guy?: Done rather blatantly with Reagan's brother Scott at the beginning of Season 2. Despite Reagan's parents being introduced in Season 1, the brother has never been so much as mentioned up to this point.
- Retool: Seems to get one about every half season.
- Midway through Season 1, Ava gets a new boss as a way of shaking up the work dynamic.
- At the beginning of Season 2, Ava's show is cancelled, Missy is dropped from the show, and Scott is added as a main character.
- Somewhat bafflingly, NBC had plans to convert the show to multi-cam format and film it in front of a live audience starting with the last few episodes of Season 2. Ultimately, the show was canceled before any mutli-cam episodes could be filmed.
- Screaming Birth: Reagen is adamant about following a birth plan, and after trying to push unsuccessfully for a while, she tries to intimidate the doctor after he wants to do a C-section
- Shout-Out: the airline in episode 15 is Oceanic
- Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Amy and Roger to Reagan and Chris.
- That Came Out Wrong: In the rush to get Amy through the airport so that she can deal with a dirty diaper, Reagan tries to explain to a TSA officer why she's in such a hurry: "I'VE GOT A TICKING TIME BOMB HERE!"
- Tyrant Takes the Helm: Happens when Ava's idol, Yvonne, acquires the show and Luke becomes Regan's new boss.
- Whole Episode Flashback: "Birth", which is the sixth episode in the series, shows the sequence of events leading up to Amy's birth. Many people assumed that this was supposed to be the original pilot and that the episodes were aired Out of Order, but this actually was the sixth episode filmed.
- Also done in Season 2 with the flashback to Chris and Reagan's wedding.