It has been said that art imitates life. The truth, however, is often that art imitates what we THINK life is like. TV sitcoms are typically the type of “art” that is the most unlike real life. Maybe that is why they are funny, because they take things to the absurd.
“Up All Night,” a sitcom on NBC created by Emily Spivey and starring Christina Applegate, Will Arnett and Maya Rudolph, is certainly absurd at times (who finds a sitter at 9pm?). But one character avoids most of the absurdity and is surprisingly real: Will Arnett’s character, Chris Brinkley, a stay-at-home dad.
That’s right. You read that correctly. The situations most like reality on this sitcom involve an at-home dad.
There have been good dads on sitcoms but none that got their hands dirty with basic childcare that wasn’t also accompanied by a laugh track. The perception in our society and, thus our sitcoms, has been that childcare is something only moms can do. If a dad was ever left with a baby on a sitcom, the mom would eventually have to swoop in and save the day.
Will Arnett’s character in “Up All Night” needs no saving from his breadwinning wife played by Christina Applegate. In each episode he realistically cares for his daughter, sometimes being awesome and sometimes not. His mistakes are not the jokes of the show but part of the reality of his world. And, when his wife does try to “swoop in and save the day” he stands his ground and, except for one occasion in which he is covered in sweet potatoes, explains to his wife that he is handling his role his way which is okay.
I have watched each episode with increasing interest. In fact, I have begun to wonder if the show’s creator, Emily Spivey, has some secret cameras recording my life! Chris is going along much the same path I did when I first started staying home. I enjoyed the time with my daughter, but wondered about my own identity as a man. I desperately wanted to call my wife every minute for help, but knew I had to find my own way at parenting. I struggled with the way others viewed me.
Chris is not embarrassed by his role, but in fact, embraces it the way most at-home dads do these days. He wasn’t laid off or fired from his job but chose to quit in order to raise his daughter like most at-home dads today. His identity as man has transformed from a financial provider to a home maker which is the way most at-home dads feel.
And, like in this episode, he is able to succinctly explain this in a way that his wife understands and then appreciates (seriously, make your wife watch it).
I strongly urge you to watch Up All Night on NBC. More than anything else in the fatherhood movement, this show has the potential to change how men are viewed in our society. I have no doubt that having a cool, baritone, hockey-loving, masculine dad naturally and unabashedly caring for his daughter will have a lasting impact on the role men play in families.