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.
Seriously, though, I’m still sort of marking out over the self-shot Andy took of he and April hanging out at the picnic on the front of the catalog. At that point in the episode, I thought they had sort of botched the April/Andy story, as the awkward “April isn’t yet 21, so she can’t get into the bar, which scares Andy off” moment felt really forced. The show is at a point where they’re not quite ready to pull the trigger yet, and while I understand that it felt like a really odd way to create distance between them. But the idea that the summer catalog, which was supposed to have Mark and Ann on the cover, would have April and Andy instead is just so perfect that I don’t entirely know what to do with myself.
Similarly, Leslie’s story went from the sort of awkward situation that Leslie creates to something really quite fantastic in the final few minutes, and Ron and Leslie enjoying some late night breakfast foods places their relationship in context with past directors/deputy directors. At first, it seemed like the story was designed (in Season One fashion) to have one of Leslie’s idealistic plans go terribly awry, but instead it proved an interesting trip through the past as Leslie gets none of the validation she wanted and instead learns that the people who used to run the Parks Department were either highly misogynistic, driven only by bureaucratic greed as opposed to any love for the parks, or driven so much by their love of nature that they got arrested for smoking pot in the office. And rather than create tension between her and Ron, outside of her decision to withhold food from him and not bring enough bacon to tide him over, the show uses it to bring them together: Ron assures Leslie that they will always have their friendship, and Leslie assures Ron that she has no intention of trying to push him out of his job. And while that moment of sentiment would have been enough to make the storyline into a nice discussion of how nice Leslie and Ron’s work relationship really is (just like the Woman of the Year story), the talking heads immediately after (where Ron admits he plans on, in his first act as city manager, cutting the Parks Department, while Leslie lays out plans to jump to city manager herself in order to double the size of the Parks Department) remind us that they remain extremely different people, which is just the perfect distillation of their situation.
As for Mark and Ann’s inevitable breakup, inevitable even before they revealed that Paul Schneider would be leaving the show (for at least next season), I thought using Tom’s photo shoot as a way to prove the point seemed a little bit “on the nose.” To be honest, I’d almost rather that Tom would have pulled Ann aside and showed her the photos in private to sort of warn her that she doesn’t seem happy in the photos (before, of course, hitting on her) – putting it out in the open like that makes it seem like it was more for our benefit than for her benefit, and we’ve already had those moments in previous episodes. That said, Tom in charge of the photo was a fun story for Aziz Ansari to play, and I especially loved the touch of him holding a glass of scotch during his presentation – it was a Mad Men joke even when they never called attention to it, which just make it that much more effective.
It’s clear that the show is marching towards a finale which brings April and Andy and Mark and Ann’s relationships to the forefront, so it makes sense to sort of ruminate on those subjects in these setup episodes. This episode seemed like it was just sort of restating previous points, but it all came together so well at the end that it really helped build those stories even without a substantial amount of new information. By resolving the stories within the episode and ending on self-aware moments of reflection from the characters, and by earning the flowery letter of introduction (which is totally something Leslie would write, not something the writers would write for Leslie to say), the show delivers a really strong half-hour without having to push things too far.
- I knew I recognized the actor playing the most recent former Parks Director, but I kept thinking it couldn’t be someone that important (Michael Gross, late of Family Ties) because he wasn’t a substantial part of the episode, and at that point I was considering him second fiddle to the Rory Gilmore’s Dean (of Chilton, not Jared Padalecki). However, sure enough, it was him, which shows you how subtle guest casting is still not dead on NBC Comedy Thursdays (30 Rock, I am looking in your direction in a non-judgmental fashion because you haven’t made that mistake for a while).
- The cold open with Tom trying to work magic with Ron’s coonskin cap was a fitting nod to the recent death of Fess Parker, who played Davy Crockett, and extremely hilarious – Tom’s pickup lines were awful, Donna’s was awesome, and Ron pulling it off just wearing the hat was a wonderful punchline.
- I wasn’t sure if it would happen after last week’s episode, but it did: I felt a little bad for Jerry when everyone was picking on him for accidentally including a pedophile in the Summer Catalog. However, I didn’t feel too bad since the creepiness of the pedophile pitcher was just gold.
- I’m with Tom: Anndanowitz is the way to go. Let’s enjoy it while we can.
- My notes on the final few scenes include “NAILED IT,” and “OMGZ GUYS.” I think I’m hooked, folks.