“One Last Ride”
February 24, 2015
“Leslie always has her heart in the right place, but just needs some help along the way.”
I wrote this six years ago. At that point, Parks and Recreation was a show still in search of its identity, existing in The Office’s shadow and week-by-week discovering more about its characters as we were. It says a lot about the show that now, six years and seven seasons later, “One Last Ride” puts a button on this initial judgment made three episodes into the series’ run. Leslie’s heart was always in the right place, but she truly found herself when she found her team to help along the way.
There’s always a lot of discussion about the change that Parks went through after the short first season, but returning to that review—and my collection of reviews from the first three seasons—in light of tonight’s finale made me realize that it didn’t really change at all. From the very beginning, this was a show that asked the audience to follow an optimistic, hard-working civil servant as she struggled to navigate a world that did not want her to succeed, slowly breaking down the barriers that were placed in front of her. We wanted her to succeed not just because we liked her, but also because she was operating with a moral imperative, one so powerful that it could overcome even Ron Swanson’s fundamental disbelief in the value of government. She was a hero, in truth, in ways that would make sustaining her drive the show’s biggest challenge.
Of NBC’s comedy pilots, A to Z feels the most complete. This isn’t to say that none of their other comedy pilots were good—I liked Marry Me, for example—but rather that A to Z has a clear premise and announces its intentions in very plain terms. It is the story of a relationship between two characters, told from A to Z, that will span a set amount of time and reach a meaningful point of conclusion by the end of its first season.
For some pilots, press tour is about critics looking for answers because the show is purposefully vague, or because—as discussed in a separate piece—there are changes going on behind-the-scenes. In the case of A to Z, though, the critics in the room have questions about details that are offered by the pilot, which is structured to the point where critics have enough information to have specific lines of inquiry that the pilot itself forces into the conversation.
While both Cristin Milioti and Ben Feldman got questions about their chemistry as the romantic couple at the heart of the series, as well as questions about their notable fates in their previous projects (How I Met Your Mother and Mad Men, respectively), a lot of questions were directed to creator Ben Queen and producers Rashida Jones and Will McCormack. How will the show balance its “relationship comedy”—they avoided “romantic comedy” as a term—with its workplace structure? How will the season be structured relative to their relationship? And how do you intend to have a series run for multiple seasons if you’re setting such a clear timeframe for the story of this relationship to unfold in? (I should admit at this point that two of these questions were mine, so it’s possible I’m more invested in the structure of the series than your average person.)
When NBC launches its fall lineups, its shows have the potential to be very different from the shows that were originally sold to advertisers and sent to critics when they were picked up in May.
This is not uncommon. It also doesn’t mean that the shows in question were outright terrible to begin with. But the reality of creating a pilot and the reality of mapping out a season of television are often at odds with one another, and in other cases new producers are brought in to take over a series and have different perspectives on where the series should be heading. At the same time, though, the public nature of this retooling inevitably places those pilots in a different category than those pilots that go through no such “public” changes. When Alexi Hawley departs State of Affairs as a showrunner, or Liz Brixius steps in to take over Bad Judge, or Constantine trades out its female lead for another female character entirely, it creates a different conversation than for shows with more subtle post-pilot changes that would logically occur when a writer’s room is in place and the experience on the pilot has revealed spaces for subtle inflection.
In January, Warner Bros. Television gathered journalists in Pasadena for an event built around their comedy slate. Although there were screenings for both long-standing hit The Big Bang Theory and freshman success story Mom, the centerpiece of the evening was NBC’s Undateable, which debuts tonight at 9/8c with its first two episodes.
When the event took place, Undateable didn’t even have a release date. In talking to executive producer Bill Lawrence, though, this wasn’t necessarily a sign the show had no support. Even moving beyond the fact that Warner Bros. was using the evening as a platform for the series, NBC was also in then process of greenlighting what would become the Undateable Comedy Tour, a preview of which was offered to journalists to close out an evening that began with the screening of an episode of the series. It’s more support than you’re expect for a show airing at the end of May, a sign of the new state of summer programming and also the basic logic that pervades Undateable as a series and as an experience.
As news broke of Dan Harmon’s potential return to Community, it felt like an Internet rumor that Deadline would start in order to drum up potential hits. That’s because that’s what it was, of course, another one of the myriad of “scoops” that Nellie Andreeva gets from her sources at Sony TV who use her as a pipeline to the Internet rumor mill. This doesn’t mean the story is untrue, of course, but rather that there’s a good chance it’s an idea being floated as opposed to an actual, factual thing that’s happening. And so I admittedly didn’t give it a second thought, at least until it became clear that it was—at the very least—something that Sony and Harmon were negotiating about following the confirmed departure of season four showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port.
My immediate reaction to this was confusion. Why would Sony want Harmon to return to a show that he publicly admitted to mismanaging? And why would Harmon want to return to the show after making a show of moving on with his career? After asking variations on these questions on Twitter, I got some interesting responses, and I think I’ve got a clearer sense on the circumstances that would lead to both parties reconciling their differences to work together again on a fifth season; I also think we need to disassociate this development from any sort of idealistic notion that either party is in this for the fans’ best interest.
While I’ve spent some recent late nights leaving lengthy comments over at The A.V. Club’s nightly Olympics coverage, where my colleagues have been breaking down each night of NBC’s Primetime coverage, I’ve largely avoided more formal writing in the interest of academic pursuits (in this case studying for preliminary exams).
However, today was the first time I watched an event—the 10m Men’s Platform Diving Finals—in its entirety live during the day and then watched the same event during the evening session, and so I wanted to expand on a few tweets I sent out that rest on a few educated assumptions and general frustrations with the temporal wonkery of NBC’s Tape Delay strategy.