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.
I’m rushed for time tonight, but I have two things I want to say in particular about “Time Capsule.”
First, this is the first time where it has really felt that the amorphous Pawnee has become a character in and of itself. I named “Sweetums” one of my favorite episodes of 2010, and this Public Forum is very much built around that one, right down to “Ham and Mayonnaise” guy becoming “Except for Turnip” guy. These public forums were technically there from the very beginning, but they were more about the people at the front of the room (or, when in isolation like in “94 Meetings,” the person sitting across from the crazy person). With “Sweetums” we saw more of a shift, and this time around the control is very much in the hands of the angry mob. While the meeting was intended to validate the choice of Twilight in order to allow Will Forte to impress his daughter, it very quickly became about something else entirely, and there was no effort made to change this. The constant escalation from one time capsule to nine, and from no animal ashes to an entire capsule of animal ashes, was funny but also very much descriptive. We learned a lot about Pawnee, both for the purposes of justifying Leslie’s game-saving decision of putting the DVD into the time capsule and for the purposes of giving us some local color that can recur over time. We could even add the reporter into the same category: the more these players recur, the more Pawnee becomes “real.”
The other point I want to make is that Rob Lowe is a genius. He doesn’t do much with Andy, and a lot of it is the same focus on “literally” and hyper-enthusiasm that we’ve seen over the course of his run on the show. However, his reading of “Band!” as he’s writing Andy’s best qualities on the white board nearly bowled me over rewatching it, and if he isn’t heading towards an Emmy nomination at this rate I just don’t know what world we’re living in. The Andy/Chris pairing wasn’t quite as fleshed out as Andy/Ron, but I think that it’s all showing a really interesting side of Andy: it’s a very simple strategy, but being “nice” really is when the character is at his finest, and so to have that transition so nicely into the end of the Eduardo era was well-handled.
I could say more, but Matt really captured the most definitive qualities of the episode, so I’ll move onto some bullets and then leave you folks to fill in the rest.
- The opening collection of town slogans really is a great piece of work, isn’t it?
- Note that this episode was filmed last, but aired third, thanks to the ability to stick Poehler behind time capsules, podiums, and tables in order to hide her pregnancy. There’s one scene where it’s noticeable, as she walks in to reveal to Forte that she knows why he is there and there’s a side angle, but otherwise it’s pretty well hidden.
- I’m not sure how I feel about the dig at Gerry in the conclusion – does it undercut the message, and if so is it a necessary undercutting of the message considering that it could feel more saccharine. Charlotte Howell has a piece about the degree to which the show’s poor treatment of Gerry is problematic which I’ve probably linked to before, but it’s relevant here as well.
- I’ll miss you, Natalie Morales.