May 20th, 2010
When I write about the Thursday comedies, I have to write about them after I finish watching them all, as there’s too many other Thursday programs recording on the common DVR which requires I watch them on a recording device-free television set. This is normally fine, but it seemed especially tough tonight, as every other show has to live up to the level of quality that Parks and Recreation has right now.
The best comedy finales are those which find elements of conflict within elements of stability, emphasizing the reasons that we love watching the show week-after-week and the reasons why it remains lively and eventful enough to keep from becoming too familiar. “Freddy Spaghetti” is the epitome of this type of finale, delivering plenty of evidence which captures the heart and soul of this show while introducing other elements that threaten that stability without necessarily overwhelming the positivity inherent to these characters.
It ends up leaving everything in a state of flux, with very little optimism about the future, and yet the show’s characters still seem so positive about their present situation that you feel like they can rise above any potential challenges. It doesn’t actually bring any of the season’s storylines to a wholly positive conclusion, but it complicates things in such an infectious fashion that it loses none of its momentum, and heads into a (sadly too, too long) hiatus with the best season of comic television we saw this year in its back pocket.
And no seven month break is going to change that fact.
May 19th, 2010
Jules Cobb loves plans. She makes the argument in “Finding Out” that plans make everything better, an argument which is proven correct as an elaborate plan at the end of Cougar Town’s first season finale ends up working just as she and Grayson had predicted.
Of course, the irony is that Cougar Town is a show which threw out its plan early on in its first season – I’ve written enough about the show’s transformation to not necessarily feel like going over it again (Todd VanDerWerff’s review of the finale nicely captures it, also), but suffice to say that the show is completely different now than it was when it started. However, rather than one plan being replaced by another, the show has largely gone without a plan: sure, Jules and Grayson eventually got together as the show seemed to be gesturing towards, but each episode doesn’t feel like it’s playing into a particular formula, or that it’s forcing characters into particular moulds. Rather, each episode seems like it stems from characters hanging out, or characters dealing with facts of life, or characters just acting like human beings and following their whims.
“Finding Out” has all of the show’s characters struggling to figure out how to manage what is unquestionable a “plot development” which threatens to undermine the show’s sense of laidback stability, and Grayson does come up with a plan that allows them to micro-manage the situation to their benefit. However, the way that plan plays out within the show itself is so wonderfully handled (and the rest of the episode around it so gosh darn fun) that the balance never wavers, and the show handles its transition into a new era and into a second season with the same confidence that it has showed in recent episodes.
In other words, there’s no better time than the present to get caught up for September.
“The Master Plan”
May 13th, 2010
I hate to keep driving my “Parks: It’s the New Office!” comparisons into the ground, but I want you to think back to the start of The Office’s third season (which, not entirely coincidentally, picks up right after “Casino Night,” which I compared with last week’s “Telethon”). The show took a pretty considerable risk in introducing an entirely new workplace with Jim’s move to the Stamford branch, and the idea of introducing entirely new characters and “disrupting” the show seemed like a huge risk.
However, while these new characters (Andy and Karen, in particular) were brought into the picture to help emphasize the division within the show, the Stamford branch was comically consistent with the show as a whole. While it was a different environment, and their arrival in Scranton later in the season created plenty of conflicts, we accepted the characters because they fit in with what the show was trying to accomplish on the whole.
What Parks and Recreation did tonight, however, was perhaps even more impressive: they managed to not only humanize a character who is introduced as a point of conflict, but they managed to completely integrate a fairly big star into an existing comedy ensemble with remarkable proficiency. The credit at the start of “The Master Plan” may have jokingly read as “Introducing Rob Lowe,” but both the show and Lowe do such an amazing job of introducing these new characters into this existing group that any sense of conflict within the series’ actual narrative is non-existent, and we’re left to enjoy a pretty fantastic ramping up of both new and existing storylines without seeming distracted or chaotic.
Basically, I’m deep in the pot at this point, so if you’re at all not feeling the love I suggest you leave now before I lose all objectivity.
May 6th, 2010
The last time a Greg Daniels-produced series was ending its second season, the series’ star took a crack at writing an episode; the result was Steve Carell’s “Casino Night,” an episode largely comprised of a group of small moments for each character mixed in with some major developments with the two love triangles (Michael/Jan/Carol, and Jim/Pam/Roy) which were ongoing at the time.
“Telethon,” written by Amy Poehler and one of the final episodes of another Greg Daniels-produced show’s second season, is more or less the Parks and Recreation equivalent. You have a lot of small moments for all of the show’s supporting characters, you have movement on the two main relationships currently working their way through the series, and the end result (like “Casino Night”) is a really strong half-hour of television which embodies the series’ strength this year: it’s wonderfully odd, surprisingly sweet, and nicely balancing the line between awkward and hilarious.
April 29th, 2010
At the heart of Parks and Recreation are relationships which tend to swing between mutual tolerance and undying admiration. There is no relationship in the show that is entirely without complication, but there are also few relationships on the show which are outright hostile. The show has given just about every character on the show a chance to interact with another character in a sobering fashion, showing them something that goes beyond their comic persona to their true humanity. And yet, at the same time, their personalities continue to clash, which allows the show’s comedy to keep going even with a certain level of respect between the various people involved.
“94 Meetings” is an episode filled with tension, including continued tension in the show’s two romantic couplings, and when it overflows into something more than just your usual workplace personality clashes the show acknowledges it. There’s a point where characters go too far, and so long as the episode is willing to back them away from that cliff, and as long as we understand why they were there in the first place, then the show can continue balancing heartwarming friendships with undeniable conflicts for the foreseeable future.
“Letting You Go”
April 28th, 2010
I am officially nearing the point with Cougar Town where I may make it my personal crusade to travel across the country in order to force every person who gave up on the show in its (admittedly pretty bad) early episodes to sit down and watch an episode like “Letting You Go.” As a show which seemed to begin with tired archetypes, I can see why people were perhaps impatient with the series, but these characters are real people now: while Modern Family has a set of dynamic character types that offer plenty of storytelling opportunities, characters on Cougar Town evolve and change in life the same way that J.D., Elliot and Turk changed through medicine.
“Letting You Go” is a careful negotiation of the show’s central relationships told through a combination of some bare bones emotional realities and some ridiculous, over-the-top sequences that would seem like dream sequences on any other show. That the show is capable of achieving this makes it all the more impressive, and makes me all the more sad that people who would truly love this show let it go before it really had a chance to shine.
March 25th, 2010
One of the advantages of the workplace comedy is that there are enough logical reasons for co-workers to get together after hours that episodes like “Happy Hour” don’t feel inherently forced. Sure, it’s still a bit television-like that an entire office would go out for Happy Hour together, but the show doesn’t really need to justify itself too much if it wants to tell some “Things that happen in bars” stories about the cast of characters.
I think where “Happy Hour” goes off the rails is where things become schticky; while the show sort of steps back from the worst of the exaggerations by episode’s end, these sorts of episodes are better when it doesn’t feel like the characters are invading the outside world. While it is inherently in character for Michael Scott to become someone different in a social scenario, the introduction of “Date Mike” was a fun sight gag that ended up pretty lame in execution.
Luckily, the storyline brought together something that could be more interesting moving forward, but it made what could have been a nice sort of “hang” with the cast into an uneven experience.
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.
March 18th, 2010
Sometimes, a show creates a storyline that has a lot of potential, but then that show tends to choose the least interesting component to follow through with. There’s been a lot of talk about the wasted potential of the Sabre arc on The Office, and I think “New Leads” was far more interesting conceptually than anything relating to Kathy Bates’ guest arc. The idea that the Sabre arrival created new versions of the same old conflicts between Michael and management that we’ve seen in the past was pretty lifeless, while there’s plenty of potential in the new Sabre hierarchy turns the sales team into stuckup jerks and completely destabilizes the office.
While I’m not amongst those writing off this show for its recent missteps, I think it’s sad that they thought the management story was worth a number of episodes while the office hierarchy episode was treated as a wacky stand-alone story. “New Leads” doesn’t quite live up to the potential of this story, failing to earn the character moments it tries to create within the carnage, but it’s at least a sign that they did know the right stories which could emerge within the Sabre arc, even if they didn’t quite know what to do with them.