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.
February 24th, 2011
Of the first six episodes initially sent to critics, “Indianapolis” is the most subtle. It’s a straightforward pairs of comic setpieces: a dinner party and a night out at the Snake Hole have the characters moving away from the Harvest Festival in order to get some time to focus on the characters themselves. While the commendation for the Harvest Festival technically draws Leslie and Ron to Indianapolis, the episode investigates what happens after the ongoing storylines which have dominated the show since Ben and Chris’ arrival start to come to a close.
This is actually the last episode that I screened in advance, and it’s also the last episode to air until March 17th, but I think it’s a very strong note to go out on. Without a major guest star, and without a standout “scene” of the likes of “Stop. Pooping” or Ben’s breakdown on Ya Heard with Perd, “Indianapolis” is just a very funny episode of what is clearly a very funny show.
And yes, that’s apparently the extent of critical analysis that a show in this much of a groove inspires.
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.
“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.
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.
“Go Big or Go Home”
January 20th, 2011
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.
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.
“The Master Plan”
May 13th, 2010
I hate to keep driving my “Parks: It’s the New Office!” comparisons into the ground, but I want you to think back to the start of The Office’s third season (which, not entirely coincidentally, picks up right after “Casino Night,” which I compared with last week’s “Telethon”). The show took a pretty considerable risk in introducing an entirely new workplace with Jim’s move to the Stamford branch, and the idea of introducing entirely new characters and “disrupting” the show seemed like a huge risk.
However, while these new characters (Andy and Karen, in particular) were brought into the picture to help emphasize the division within the show, the Stamford branch was comically consistent with the show as a whole. While it was a different environment, and their arrival in Scranton later in the season created plenty of conflicts, we accepted the characters because they fit in with what the show was trying to accomplish on the whole.
What Parks and Recreation did tonight, however, was perhaps even more impressive: they managed to not only humanize a character who is introduced as a point of conflict, but they managed to completely integrate a fairly big star into an existing comedy ensemble with remarkable proficiency. The credit at the start of “The Master Plan” may have jokingly read as “Introducing Rob Lowe,” but both the show and Lowe do such an amazing job of introducing these new characters into this existing group that any sense of conflict within the series’ actual narrative is non-existent, and we’re left to enjoy a pretty fantastic ramping up of both new and existing storylines without seeming distracted or chaotic.
Basically, I’m deep in the pot at this point, so if you’re at all not feeling the love I suggest you leave now before I lose all objectivity.
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.