May 20th, 2010
When I write about the Thursday comedies, I have to write about them after I finish watching them all, as there’s too many other Thursday programs recording on the common DVR which requires I watch them on a recording device-free television set. This is normally fine, but it seemed especially tough tonight, as every other show has to live up to the level of quality that Parks and Recreation has right now.
The best comedy finales are those which find elements of conflict within elements of stability, emphasizing the reasons that we love watching the show week-after-week and the reasons why it remains lively and eventful enough to keep from becoming too familiar. “Freddy Spaghetti” is the epitome of this type of finale, delivering plenty of evidence which captures the heart and soul of this show while introducing other elements that threaten that stability without necessarily overwhelming the positivity inherent to these characters.
It ends up leaving everything in a state of flux, with very little optimism about the future, and yet the show’s characters still seem so positive about their present situation that you feel like they can rise above any potential challenges. It doesn’t actually bring any of the season’s storylines to a wholly positive conclusion, but it complicates things in such an infectious fashion that it loses none of its momentum, and heads into a (sadly too, too long) hiatus with the best season of comic television we saw this year in its back pocket.
And no seven month break is going to change that fact.
May 6th, 2010
The last time a Greg Daniels-produced series was ending its second season, the series’ star took a crack at writing an episode; the result was Steve Carell’s “Casino Night,” an episode largely comprised of a group of small moments for each character mixed in with some major developments with the two love triangles (Michael/Jan/Carol, and Jim/Pam/Roy) which were ongoing at the time.
“Telethon,” written by Amy Poehler and one of the final episodes of another Greg Daniels-produced show’s second season, is more or less the Parks and Recreation equivalent. You have a lot of small moments for all of the show’s supporting characters, you have movement on the two main relationships currently working their way through the series, and the end result (like “Casino Night”) is a really strong half-hour of television which embodies the series’ strength this year: it’s wonderfully odd, surprisingly sweet, and nicely balancing the line between awkward and hilarious.
April 29th, 2010
At the heart of Parks and Recreation are relationships which tend to swing between mutual tolerance and undying admiration. There is no relationship in the show that is entirely without complication, but there are also few relationships on the show which are outright hostile. The show has given just about every character on the show a chance to interact with another character in a sobering fashion, showing them something that goes beyond their comic persona to their true humanity. And yet, at the same time, their personalities continue to clash, which allows the show’s comedy to keep going even with a certain level of respect between the various people involved.
“94 Meetings” is an episode filled with tension, including continued tension in the show’s two romantic couplings, and when it overflows into something more than just your usual workplace personality clashes the show acknowledges it. There’s a point where characters go too far, and so long as the episode is willing to back them away from that cliff, and as long as we understand why they were there in the first place, then the show can continue balancing heartwarming friendships with undeniable conflicts for the foreseeable future.
March 25th, 2010
For a while, I wasn’t entirely feeling “Summer Catalog.” To some degree, the show has reached a point in its season where we have a very clear understanding of where its various stories are going, and the episode very clearly laid out how things were going to go wrong and reached its predictable conclusions…with about five minutes left.
At that point, “Summer Catalog” hit a big ol’ home run, finishing off its established stories and then more or less “debriefing” for the rest of the episode. What we ended with was an emotional denouement that placed the episode so perfectly within the context of ongoing storylines that any predictability was entirely irrelevant. As I put it on my Twitter feed, if you’ll excuse the figure skating analogy, the show went for a triple axel rather than the quadruple toe loop, going with something a bit more safe and typical, but they stuck the landing so well that it was all worth it in the end.
March 18th, 2010
While Parks and Recreation rarely shows its roots as a spin-off of The Office, emerging instead as a cousin of sorts, I think “Park Safety” was as close as the show has come to feeling like its predecessor. This is, in some ways, a compliment, in that The Office is a show I enjoy, and this was certainly a funny episode of the show.
However, the show went out of its way to create some very specific situations that brought the show more towards broad situational comedy, something that the show has managed to do a bit more subtly in the past. It didn’t end up damaging the episode too much, as those sequences remained funny, but for a show that has been going out of its way to form its own identity there were parts of this week’s episode that made it seem like the production team from The Office had gone into the wrong office for a day. Of course, there were also parts of the episode that dealt with Parks-specific story types, so the Pawnee charm was certainly not lost.
It was just, perhaps, viewed through a slightly different lens, which seemed purposeful in terms of viewing a running joke in a new light.
February 11th, 2010
I wrote about Valentine’s Day episodes on Wednesday night, and in the process I argued that I prefer shows which use the holiday to service their existing universe rather than forcing their universe to conform to the holiday. Accordingly, I was legitimately excited about how Parks was going to handle the holiday, because the show has a lot of characters in love, falling in love, or in a position where love is possible but perhaps not materializing as they might have wanted.
“Galentine’s Day” manages to handle those relationships with a subtlety beyond most shows in their second season, building the episode around a romantic story which loses its romance once it enters reality, in the process shedding light on the state of the show’s various relationships. And since, as noted, I’m more invested in these relationships than I had realized, it made for a great episode for a lot of different characters.
January 21st, 2010
One of the things that I find so interesting about Parks and Recreation’s second season comeback is that the show hasn’t fundamentally changed its stories. I can very much see how the show, in its infancy, might have brainstormed an idea about Leslie’s house looking like a crazy person’s garage, and the idea of Leslie trying to host a dinner party and using her connections with a city program in order to pull it off feels like something that could have gone horribly wrong in the first season.
I didn’t think “Leslie’s House” was amongst the best episodes of the season, as it felt as if there were just a few too many things going on at once, but the fact that the core of the episode didn’t implode with all of those elements present is a testament to the control the writers have over the universe right now. Despite technically presenting only a single story, the episode started to weave in a lot of recurring stories to complicate things, and it resulted in quite a few fun gags and just enough resonance to keep things from seeming overwhelming.
It’s a funny episode, and an impressive one considering the degree of difficulty, but I almost feel like there’s an extra ten minutes here that could have given some of the storylines a bit more time to breathe that would have really made the episode click.
“The Set Up”
January 14th, 2010
After just writing about Community’s handling of Jack Black’s guest spot by calling attention to how distracting it could be to have a recognizable guest star show up on your show, it’s interesting to turn our gaze to Parks and Recreation, where two “big name” guest stars (at least in my circles) debuted. While Community drew our attention to Black’s disruption in order to make a large meta-joke, Parks and Recreation does something similar but different in creating an extra layer of comedy for those who know that Will Arnett and Amy Poehler are married in real life.
It was a good example of how casting someone recognizable can help a storyline rather than hurt it, as Arnett was simply a fun casting choice: he’s funny, and the marriage added an extra layer to the scene, but it wasn’t dependent on a guest star, just as the show didn’t need to have Justin Theroux playing the aptly named Justin, a friend of Ann’s who Leslie takes a liking to. Both characters, despite being cast with recognizable faces (for me, at least), played roles which weren’t played as the “point” of the episode, but their performances gave them an added weight, which is especially helpful when Theroux might be sticking around for a while.
And so now we can look at the episode less in terms of who was in it, and more in terms of the episode built around them…okay, I’m going to talk some more about Arnett. Sue me.
“Ron and Tammy”
November 5th, 2009
“Now listen to one of mine.”
There’s nothing special about “Ron and Tammy,” except that it’s probably the funniest Parks and Recreation to date.
There’s a guest star, yes, but not one who feels overly forced into the story or on who the show relies too heavily. There’s no special event taking place in the context of the episode to make things more exciting than usual, and there’s even a B-Plot that has nothing to do with the A-Plot. And if you were to write down the plot of the episode without any context (which would read “Leslie and Ron feud with Library Services over an Empty Lot”), you would probably think this episode would be downright dreadful.
But what makes this episode so special is that this episode is less an aberration and more a sign that the momentum just isn’t going to go away, and that this sitcom has finally found its groove. The episode’s situation is one of the show’s funniest, and it features some of the best lines in the show’s short lifespan, but it feels like the show could have just as funny a scenario in the future without any trouble. It is an episode that not only convinces you that it is great, but also that the show behind the episode is just as strong if not stronger for having spawned it.
If you are for some reason still one of those people who never gave this show a chance, you need to watch this episode not because it is singularly great but because it is symptomatic of a broader greatness. You’ve been listening to the other guys, with their offices and sketch comedy shows, for long enough: tonight, listen to the genius of Ron F**kin’ Swanson.