Category Archives: Parks and Recreation

Season Finale: Parks and Recreation – “The Bubble”/”Lil’ Sebastian”

“The Bubble”/”Lil’ Sebastian”

May 19th, 2011

It’s unfortunate that I haven’t been able to review Parks and Recreation more regularly this season: while I had screeners for the first six episodes, anything after that proved difficult since so much of my Thursday evenings was spent watching and writing about The Office for The A.V. Club. Obviously, given my affection for the show, I always watched it as soon as possible, and have felt that the third season has been a strong continuation of the momentum gained during a stellar second season.

However, I find myself in the position of being more critical of the show than I’ve been all year in regards to “The Bubble” and “Lil’ Sebastian,” two very funny episodes that felt rushed from a plot perspective. Even as someone who has been on board with Ben and Leslie’s relationship this season, something about its presence in these episodes gave me pause. Everything just felt like it was moving too quickly, and in a way which was considerably more transparent than the rote, yet still fairly passive, romantic chemistry that has been building throughout the season.

Which is not to say that my opinion of the show has diminished (it has not), or that these were bad episodes (they were very good); It’s simply that this particular season finale got a bit lost in the plot, never quite able to focus on telling the kinds of stories I feel the show is most effective at telling.

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Parks and Recreation – “Camping”

“Camping”

March 24th, 2011

Let’s get this out of the way, folks – this was an average episode of Parks and Recreation.

This does not mean it was terrible, nor does it mean it did not have its moments. And heck, I would even argue that it was purposefully average, allowing the in-story awkward post-Harvest Festival lull to be reflected by the episode itself in order to transition into the back end of the season.

I like parts of what that transition says, and I very much enjoyed parts of this episode, but I feel we need to be willing to say that this was below the standard that was set this season (even if that doesn’t mean that it was close to being anything beyond a slight disappointment).

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Parks and Recreation – “Harvest Festival”

“Harvest Festival”

March 17th, 2011

Parks and Recreation is like Li’l Sebastian. For those who don’t know better, it’s just another Office-like NBC comedy, just as Li’l Sebastian appears to be just a pony. For those of us who have become devotees, however, Parks and Recreation is more than a pony – it is a mini horse, a mini horse which inspires the kind of overwhelming emotions which drive even characters like Ron Swanson and Joan Calamezzo to…well, to lose their shit.

After a few weeks off, Parks and Recreation is back with the conclusion of the Harvest Festival arc. This is actually the first episode that I’ve watched live, and thus the first episode that I’m reviewing without having watched numerous times. As a result, this review is less likely to run those the episode’s finest jokes, but I don’t think “Harvest Festival” depends on particularly strong one-liners. Instead, it relies on moments: moments like Joan losing control over herself at the presence of Li’l Sebastian, or moments like Tom and Ben rekindling their Star Wars battle as if they’ve been having it on a weekly basis since we last spent time in Pawnee.

It’s all remarkably consistent, and all predictably charming given the series’ strong third season. The production hiatus between “Indianapolis” and “Harvest Festival” did nothing to kill the show’s rhythm, once again proving itself one of the most delightful mini-horses on television.

Even if it just looks like a pony to most of America.

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Parks and Recreation – “Media Blitz”

“Media Blitz”

February 17th, 2011

When he first arrived, Adam Scott appeared to have been hired to play the new straight man. Ben Wyatt seemed a replacement for Mark Brendanowitz, someone who could react to the madness around him. Just take the moment in “Time Capsule” when Ben reacts to the idea of someone handcuffing himself to a pipe in order to get Twilight into a time capsule: it’s funny, but it’s funny because it’s a sane response to an insane situation.

“Media Blitz” is the moment when Ben Wyatt becomes subsumed into Pawnee culture. It is the moment where Ben Wyatt is let loose, where he leaves the confines of City Hall and steps into the spotlight. The result is a really tremendous showcase for Adam Scott, allowed to dig deeper into the character’s past while simultaneously tying him into what appears to be the character’s future.

It’s also the most concerted effort yet to set the table for Ben’s relationship with Leslie.

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Parks and Recreation – “Ron & Tammy: Part Two”

“Ron & Tammy: Part Two”

February 10th, 2011

The most basic approach to a sequel is to make everything bigger: by taking everything one step further, you therefore make everything one step better.

However, I don’t know if this principle works for Tammy Swanson. I love Megan Mullally in this role, and I even enjoy this character and its impact on Ron Swanson, but the execution in “Ron & Tammy: Part Two” just didn’t connect like I think the show thought it did. It’s funny enough, I guess, but it feels like a trope: like one of those sequels where they just repeat what worked before and add a few bells and whistles (or, in this case, some cornrows and a genital piercing).

I actually thought the rest of the episode worked pretty well, and the show is still in good shape, but it felt a bit regressive if I’m truly being honest. The show is better when it’s subtle, at least for me, and the balance of this episode seems to have been a bit out of whack.

But just a bit.

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Parks and Recreation – “Time Capsule”

“Time Capsule”

February 3rd, 2011

When pre-air reviews of Parks and Recreation’s third season emerged, Matt Zoller Seitz’s column at Salon stood out for me. This is due not only to its quality, which is top notch as per usual, but also because it focused very specifically on tonight’s episode, “Time Capsule.” At first, I was sort of thrown: having seen them all myself, the first episodes to come to mind were those featuring more character-driven humor and which dealt with ongoing plot developments, and to some degree “Time Machine” felt comparatively…small.

However, Matt’s comments were in my mind when I went back to rewatch the episode, and I think that he’s right on the money. While “The Flu” was perhaps the funniest of the first six episodes of the season, and the premiere had the most going on in terms of ongoing storylines, “Time Capsule” is very much the encapsulation of the series’ general charm. Its conclusion is just incredibly satisfying, a simple statement of what it means to be from Pawnee which resonates more strongly than any single joke. This is still a funny episode, in what continues to be a very funny season, but that it ends on something meaningful instead shows the side of the show that Matt responded to, and which certainly deserves recognition.

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Parks and Recreation – “Flu Season”

“Flu Season”

January 27th, 2011

“That was Leslie Knope.”

I don’t want to suck the fun out of what was the most particularly hysterical episode of those I’ve seen from Parks and Recreation’s third season, but there is a structural logic to “Flu Season” which wasn’t immediately clear on first or second viewing. When I watched the episode initially, it was a comic tour de force for both Amy Poehler and Rob Lowe, and some strong pairings (April/Ann, Andy/Ron) which tested out some dynamics which the show has not really dealt with in the past. Watching it earlier today, however, I realized that the episode is just really well organized from top to bottom, focusing around a central question from a wide variety of angles.

What happens, precisely, when we get sick? “Flu Season” not only mines the comic depths of flu-ridden characters struggling to control their mental and bodily functions, but it also uses illnesses to draw characters closer together, to further integrate both Ben and Chris into the realities of Pawnee and the Parks department in particular, and just to make us laugh for twenty minutes. It looks at how people respond to illness both in terms of broad comic efforts of isolating the infected party and in terms of basic sympathy, the latter growing into a mutual respect which continues to serve the show and its characters extremely well.

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Season Premiere: Parks and Recreation – “Go Big or Go Home”

“Go Big or Go Home”

January 20th, 2011

“We’re back.”

According to Leslie Knope, the job of the Parks department of Pawnee is to “make this town fun for the people who live here.” Of course, considering that the Pawnee government was shut down at the conclusion of the series’ second season, this is a more difficult job than it used to be – there’s only one program, and the rest of the department is in “maintenance mode.”

Leslie Knope does not do maintenance. She needs a project, somewhere to channel her earnest energy towards the betterment of her town. Leslie needs a pit to fill, a gazebo to save, or a Freddy Spaghetti concert to rescue from a government collapse. She didn’t marry two gay penguins because she wanted to make a statement, she did it because it would be cute, and because it could be something fun. What the second season of Parks and Recreation established so wonderfully was why Leslie Knope does the things she does, and that it all boils down to making Pawnee a great place to live is what makes her so likeable.

Alan Sepinwall has already written about how the storyline introduced in “Go Big or Go Home” served as a metaphor for the season as a whole, with the Parks department on hiatus much like the show itself, so I want to focus more on how this episode is structured to make this show fun for the people who watch it. Even while being “burdened” with the set up for the Harvest Festival arc, and reestablishing the series’ balance following the arrival of Adam Scott and Rob Lowe, “Go Big or Go Home” is unabashedly fun in a way that signals a truly great series that continues to swing the hardest.

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A Plea for Pawnee: The Return of NBC’s Parks and Recreation

A Plea for Pawnee: The Return of Parks and Recreation

January 20th, 2011

Parks and Recreation was my favorite show on television last year.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably already know this. Despite the series’ absence from NBC’s fall schedule, the series has loomed large in both year-end lists and in week-to-week discussion of every other comedy on television. History will remember Outsourced as the show which bumped Parks and Recreation from the 2010 Fall schedule, if it remembers it at all. Even as Community has put together a string of winning episode  and Cougar Town has gained a certain cult following, Parks and Recreation was hanging around like the ghost of DJ Roomba, replacing the endless loop of the Black Eyed Peas with instantaneous access to the sterling second season on Netflix.

However, let’s get real for a moment. You might not be a regular reader of this blog, and you might not have any idea what a “DJ Roomba” even is. You might be one of those people who watched some of the series’ inconsistent episodes early in its short first season and decided that it wasn’t worth your time. It’s also possible that you just never found the show, limiting your NBC Thursday viewing to The Office and whatever happens to air after The Office. And, who knows, you might have no idea what any of this means, and just got here by randomly searching “Black Eyes Peas instantaneous access.”

Whatever category you fall into, however, you really need to watch Parks and Recreation. It is returning to television as part of an extended NBC comedy block, allowing for a certain degree of promotional attention, and it is finally nestled comfortably behind The Office where it should have been all along. And, as if that weren’t enough, the first six episodes of the third season are enormously confident, delivering big laughs while seamlessly transitioning into a new ongoing story arc. There has never been a better time to watch this show, and that’s saying something considering that there is never a bad time to watch this show.

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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: NBC’s Parks and Recreation

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: NBC’s Parks and Recreation

June 25th, 2010

[This is the first in a series of posts analyzing individual show's chances at the Emmy Awards ahead of the nominations, which will be announced on July 8th. You can find all of my posts regarding the 2010 Emmy Awards here.]

I think there are many who doubt Parks and Recreation’s chances at this year’s Emmy awards, and I understand where they’re coming from: the show’s weak first season left a poor impression last Spring, and the lack of starpower beyond Amy Poehler makes it tough for the series to really break through.

It’s tough to assess its Emmy chances without comparing it to past NBC comedies, and the comparisons don’t really do the show any favours. While The Office also had a weak, and ignored, first season which failed to register any Emmys attention, Steve Carell became a movie star between seasons and the series had the UK series’ pedigree to build from. And while 30 Rock was also a low-rated NBC comedy series with a female lead from Saturday Night Live, it was also a low-rated NBC comedy series which pandered to industry-types with both its movie star male lead (Alec Baldwin) and its show business-centric premise. Amy Poehler did not become a movie star this past summer, nor did the Academy suddenly become experts on small town government, which means that Parks and Recreation’s surge in quality between seasons has every chance of being ignored by voters.

However, I do think that Parks and Recreation will grab itself an Emmys foothold this year, if perhaps not quite as large a foothold as The Office found when it won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series in its second season. The Office didn’t grab a whole slew of nominations in that year: only Carell grabbed an acting nomination, and the show picked up just two editing nods and a writing nod (for Parks showrunner Michael Schur, in fact) to go along with them. I think there’s an outside chance of Parks and Recreation matching that total number of nominations when you factor in the technical awards (which I can’t really predict, but I have to hope those awesome murals don’t go unnoticed): Amy Poehler has to be considered a contender in Lead Actress in a Comedy Series after back-to-back nominations for Supporting Actress on Saturday Night Live, Megan Mullally has a great shot at grabbing a nod for her guest turn in “Ron & Tammy,” and the Outstanding Comedy Series category is unpredictable this year that there’s no way you can count out a show as good as this one.

And when it comes to Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, I think it’s safe to say that Nick Offerman has already won the award for many of us, as Ron Swanson was the season’s breakout television character by a country mile. Precedence says that Offerman’s a long shot: not only is he not quite a household name, but Rainn Wilson and Tracy Morgan didn’t even get in for The Office’s second seasons, so the supporting players are often the last to be recognized when a show is making a name for itself. However, I have faith that either Emmy voters will have seen enough of his performance to see its genius or that they got wind of the fact that he’s married to seven-time nominee Mullally and luck their way into a brilliant decision.

Parks and Recreation is unquestionably, and unfairly, fighting an uphill battle, and I don’t expect it to break through as The Office and 30 Rock did in their first major Emmy seasons. However, I think it’s important to acknowledge that the show has some things going for it, and that quality is not always absent from Emmy races: Two and a Half Men got bumped from Outstanding Comedy Series by Flight of the Conchords and How I Met Your Mother last year, so it’s not as if there’s no room for a dark horse. It doesn’t have the strongest ratings, or much buzz outside of highly vocal critical circles, but it has a whole lot of heart, and I have to hope that meant something to voters when they cast their ballots.

Contender in:

  • Outstanding Comedy Series
  • Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Amy Poehler)
  • Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (Megan Mullally)
  • Writing for a Comedy Series

Dark Horse in:

  • Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Nick Offerman)
  • Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (Rob Lowe)

Should, but Won’t, Contend in:

  • Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Aubrey Plaza)
  • Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Chris Pratt, Aziz Ansari)

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