Review: Grad night goes ‘All Night’ in a new Hulu comedy with YouTube stars and a classic teen story line
Graduation day draws near, and as if on cue Hulu offers “All Night,” a 10-episode series set in a “lock-in” high school grad party. (More about those in a minute.) Apart from the chronological aptness of its arrival, the series, which begins streaming Friday, has as its main built-in advantage the presence of YouTube sensations Jenn McAllister (jennxpenn), Teala Dunn (Tealaxx2) and Eva Gutowski (MyLifeAsEva), with their hopefully pre-sold millions of followers.
The end of high school is a theme that has produced some rich works. Richard Linklater’s 1993 “Dazed and Confused” gave the world its standard Matthew McConaughey imitation (“All right, all right, all right”) and, for that matter, McConaughey. “American Graffiti” (1973), George Lucas’ best film, is not a grad-night picture strictly speaking, but its story takes place over a single day, includes a sock hop and is all about bidding yesterday goodbye, or not. Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont’s likable “Can’t Hardly Wait,” from 1998, while not quite a masterpiece, locked Seth Green and Lauren Ambrose memorably in a bathroom and in several respects — including that one — is the model for “All Night.”
The series is set in a chaperoned grad-night party, where students are locked in together from dusk until dawn in an environment presumably free from drink and drugs. Such events are a feature of the real world, I have recently learned, as is “Jell-O wrestling,” which happens in Episode 5. How long have I been asleep?
Too long by half, awkward and obvious but not unlikable, the series is a cocktail mixed from stock characters and situations and whatever could be found in the folks’ liquor cabinet the weekend they were away. You are free to interpret its allusiveness as intentional homage or as copying off one’s neighbor’s work. And of course, there is a portion of the hoped-for audience that will not be familiar with the many things that this is like, and a portion that will greet its familiar elements like old beloved friends.
Some of the characters have long histories; some have long histories that took place mostly in one party’s mind. McAllister plays Deanna, a cool girl who hopes to and despairs of turning her childhood best friend Fig (Jake Short) into her boyfriend; but Fig is more interested in his own forever secret crush, Roni (Brec Bassinger), a queen bee whose longtime beau, Oz (Austin North), has been mysteriously loathe to consummate their relationship. Deanna is meanwhile concerned that she is losing best friend Cassie (Tetona Jackson) to new friend (Alexi Dunn).
There is a nerd quartet (Caleb Ray Gallegos, Chester Rushing, Christopher Avila, Ty Doran) with splintering agendas. Loner valedictorian Melinda (Allie Grant) takes advantage of the principal’s trust in her to sell hollowed-out yearbooks containing baggies of alcohol, catching the eye of Cassie’s twin brother Christian (Tequan Richmond). Grown-up show business ringer Kate Flannery, as far from her character in “The Office” as might be imagined, plays the principal.
From Jason Ubaldi, who also created the high school-centered streaming series “Youth & Consequences” for YouTube Red, “All Night” has an oddly old-fashioned tone. Cellphones are confiscated, alcohol is the only drug in play and the bands that entertain the kids are almost all rock bands. The language is dialed way down below the ripe way kids actually talk, and though there are plenty of uses of the word “penis” (and one of “vulva”), sex barely happens. As if to balance its occasional corny displays of cleavage or thigh, the girls (as in life) are shown on balance smarter than the boys, most of whom do not seem at all ready for the world beyond hall passes and homerooms.
The series’ best feature is an impulse to be generous to nearly all of its characters, most of whom have been designed as variations on the themes of I Am Not Who You Think I Am and I Am Not Who I Was Before This Party Started. People you have been invited to dismiss are allowed to unexpectedly flower. Gutowski, as Roni’s comic stooge Lyssee, benefits in this way, as do Chanel Celaya as friendless beauty Stefania and Tom Maden as Nino, an expelled ex-troublemaker who shows up with a GED and a bucket list (which includes “walking down the hallway in slow motion”).
The acting is a hodgepodge of better and worse (which is not to say really bad). Some players already have careers; some were clearly big deals in high school drama; others have profitably self-trained in the School of the Internet. There are no breakout performances here, in part because the dialogue tends to lack subtlety, but sometimes an actor and a line match up in a way that’s highly satisfying.
And some odd lines do pop out: “Your fan fiction doesn’t count as the expanded universe,” “It feels like so many things are happening and I don’t see any of them,” and “Just so you know this isn’t my first time — I did model U.N.” are among those I jotted down approvingly. I especially liked this bit of righteous throwaway dialogue:
A: “Loser’s got to donate 50 bucks to the Sierra Club.”
B: “Winner should too.”
When: Any time, starting Friday
Rated: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd
Inside the business of entertainment
The Wide Shot brings you news, analysis and insights on everything from streaming wars to production — and what it all means for the future.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.