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.
“Constance Carmell Wedding”
June 25th, 2010
In some ways, there could never be a perfect finale for Starz’ Party Down. The show is about people confronting the fact that they might be living their finale, that working for a catering company may be the highest rung they will climb in southern California, and so “endings” are inherently unnatural. Instead, the characters are in a constant state of waiting to become, working hard or hardly working towards the end goal of achieving great success in their chosen field. And so while this may well end up the series finale (due to Starz reinventing itself as a genre network under new management and the middling ratings for the series) of Party Down, it is an episode about failed beginnings more than endings.
While very funny and quite poignant in a number of areas, “Constance Carmell Wedding” suffers a bit under the weight of those final moments, unsure of who would be returning for the following season or if there would even be a following season. Constance’s return is most welcome, and the focus on career goals is well met, but there’s a point where a half-hour comedy just can’t carry the weight of beginnings, endings, reunions, unions and everything else in between.
However, let’s not pretend this means I won’t miss the show should it truly be done, or that I didn’t find the second season to be particularly strong: while it may not have all come together perfectly, it was a confident second season which built on the first season’s success without abandoning its winning formula, and I sincerely hope that the show gets a reprieve if only to see what a third season would look like for these character I’ve come to admire.
Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Comedy Acting
June 2nd, 2010
In comedy this year, a lot depends on what shows make it big: we know that Glee and Modern Family are going to make a statement (as noted in my piece handicapping the Comedy Series race), but is it going to be a statement of “this is a great show” or a statement of “this is the greatest show since sliced bread?” The difference will largely be felt in the acting categories: both Modern Family and Glee have multiple Emmy contenders, but it’s unclear whether some of the less heralded performers will be able to rise along with the big “stars,” or whether the halo of series success won’t help them compete against some established names already entrenched in these categories.
Ultimately, I’m willing to say that there’s going to be some pretty big turnaround this year in some of these categories, but others feature quite a large number of former nominees who likely aren’t going anywhere, so it should be interesting to see how things shake out on July 8th. In the meantime, let’s take a look at the four major Comedy Acting Emmys and see where the chips lie.
“Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday”
May 21st, 2010
I told myself I was going to be content with just a Twitter conversation about this week’s superlative episode of Party Down featuring Steve Guttenberg as himself, but then I actually started to have that Twitter conversation and realized that I was going to need to write something down.
Specifically, I want to discuss what it is that makes “Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday” so fantastic, because it isn’t just Steve Guttenberg. The episode is entirely atypical, eschewing the traditional catering setup for a more casual atmosphere, and the trade of the show’s usual employment drama for more complex interpersonal drama is really well handled. It raises an interesting question for a series which relies so heavily on formula: is it possible for the show to veer away from its structure more often, or would episodes like this one become overbearing if they become too common?
It’s complicated enough that I want to spend a few paragraphs talking about it, plus I’ve got some thoughts on whether the show could live on without half its cast.