“The Bubble”/”Lil’ Sebastian”
May 19th, 2011
It’s unfortunate that I haven’t been able to review Parks and Recreation more regularly this season: while I had screeners for the first six episodes, anything after that proved difficult since so much of my Thursday evenings was spent watching and writing about The Office for The A.V. Club. Obviously, given my affection for the show, I always watched it as soon as possible, and have felt that the third season has been a strong continuation of the momentum gained during a stellar second season.
However, I find myself in the position of being more critical of the show than I’ve been all year in regards to “The Bubble” and “Lil’ Sebastian,” two very funny episodes that felt rushed from a plot perspective. Even as someone who has been on board with Ben and Leslie’s relationship this season, something about its presence in these episodes gave me pause. Everything just felt like it was moving too quickly, and in a way which was considerably more transparent than the rote, yet still fairly passive, romantic chemistry that has been building throughout the season.
Which is not to say that my opinion of the show has diminished (it has not), or that these were bad episodes (they were very good); It’s simply that this particular season finale got a bit lost in the plot, never quite able to focus on telling the kinds of stories I feel the show is most effective at telling.
In short, since this is the morning after and I don’t want to write a treatise, I kind of think Pawnee got lost in these episodes. While the funeral was suggested as something for the community, we never got to see the community’s reaction beyond a newspaper headline. Everything else was about how our characters responded, which is very functional but not quite as enlightening as it relates to the town as a whole. They mention the presence of Perd Hapley, but they don’t deliver Perd Hapley, which is just a cruel game to play with your audience.
I fully understand why this is: the show has a lot of plot to deal with in regards to creating the emotional stakes that end the season, so Tom needs to get involved with Entertainment 7twenty, and Leslie and Ben need to get into some wacky hijinks, and the event needs to get Leslie more notoriety heading into a potential run for political office. All of these are developments that I fully support, and they didn’t take away from the humor of Andy’s song, or Ron’s post-fireball makeover, or Donna attempting to read Italian. But they also took the place of more beats like that, beats that would have made this episode more of a celebration of the show-at-large than a setup for next season’s developments.
The fact is that the show only got a 16-episode order this season, something that they didn’t know when they shot the first six episodes (which were supposed to be the start of 22, as far as they knew, since they filmed them back in the Spring when they expected to start in the fall). While they had plenty of time to adjust to the shorter order, I imagine they had a longer season planned, and the loss of that six episodes meant that storylines which might have been spread out over a longer period of time became condensed. Now, on some level I think this helped the show: rushing into April and Andy’s relationship, for example, ended up being a boon for the show and “Fancy Party” really embraced their impulsiveness and transformed it into something emotional and meaningful.
But when it comes to Leslie and Ben, something was just off in these two episodes. The storyline in “The Bubble” with Leslie’s mother did nothing for me, perhaps because it seemed like we were rushing from their first kiss to what was a pretty broad storyline to be telling in regards to their relationship. I can’t help but feel that the story would have worked better if they had been secretly dating for a while before the show started toying around with their secret becoming a reality – then, rather then them proving immediately incompetent at keeping it a secret without having the secret leak out, they could have slipped over time. I thought the relationship was pretty solidly paced to this point, even if it was comfortably in the “will they, won’t they” wheelhouse, but the 0-60 over the past two weeks did the show no favors. In fact, I think if the episodes had aired over the course of four weeks, I might have been more comfortable with it, but I still felt there were a few episodes missing between “Road Trip” and “The Bubble” that would have made Leslie and Ben more tenable.
Most everything else was beautifully tuned: Ron’s circular desk was a stroke of genius in “The Bubble,” and the continued adoration of Lil’ Sebastian was well utilized in the finale. Nothing about these episodes made me question my previous evaluation of the show, or gave me any concern over the series’ future: Leslie having to choose between politics and Ben raises some intriguing tension (especially given his previous experience running for municipal office), the identity of Tammy 1 (and Tammy 2’s utter terror) promises to be a great deal of fun, and Tom’s departure and inevitable gives the show a chance to flesh out his character and his entrepreneurial spirit.
I just didn’t think that these two episodes were in a position to be truly great, or at least as great as the show has been in earlier episodes this season. As strong as this season has been, the second season managed to include a lot of foreshadowing (with Ben and Chris’ arrival) for the next season while still telling a story which focused on the Parks Department banding together and showing Leslie’s skill in her job. Here, Leslie’s success comes in spite of her incompetence at managing her relationship with Ben, an idea that I think is very interesting but felt too rushed to connect as I would have liked. This was a strong season, featuring many classic episodes, but in the end it was too busy complicating itself to really focus on what made the season so strong.
- When they started talking about Jean Ralphio’s money, I thought they were going back to his trust fund, but I guess that’s still being withheld.
- One storyline that would have played out better over four weeks was Tom’s – the whole “Needs to sell his shares in the Snakehole” storyline would have had time to sink in, and his “demotion” to the filing project would have more naturally led into his departure.
- When I tweeted that I thought these episodes were more in the B range than the A range last night, I was sent this GIF. Despite its genius, I remain convinced that these are B/B+ episodes, although probably the latter.