In last night’s Up All Night, stay-at-home dad Chris (Will Arnett) and wife Reagan (Christina Applegate) are looking for a part-time babysitter so Chris can get some time to himself. One of his first requirements: “I don’t want a dude babysitter. I know that I’m supposed to be OK with it. But come on! You’re a dude, dude!”
It’s a weird statement for him to be making considering his own life choices. But it also shows the complexity of his position: He made the decision to stay at home while his wife worked willingly and without drama, and he knows that there can still be stigma and awkwardness around stay-at-home dads—yet he can’t help carrying some of that same baggage. It’s an intriguing moment, and one that makes me feel that, in a season distinguished by women stars and creators, Chris, a dude, is one of the most feminist new characters on TV.
Up All Night is one of those shows created by a female writer, Emily Spivey. And its impressive achievement in its handling of the labor division between Reagan and Chris is how matter-of-fact it is. Up All Night is a show with a stay-a-home dad and a work-in-the-office mom; it’s not a show about a stay-a-home dad and a work-in-the-office mom. That is, it’s a show about the challenges of new parenting, not the Mr. Mom weirdness of gender role reversal. (Compare the upcoming ABC sitcom Work It, in which the male stars literally dress in drag to get jobs in female-dominated pharmaceutical sales. Because they’re doing lady work!)
The easiest ways for TV to deal with gender differences (like race or anything else) is to ignore them or obsess over them. What’s tougher, and what Up All Night has been pulling off well (even if it’s still finding its way as a comedy) is treating them as simply one factor among many, sometimes more important than others.