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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: NBC’s Parks and Recreation

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: NBC’s Parks and Recreation

June 25th, 2010

[This is the first in a series of posts analyzing individual show’s chances at the Emmy Awards ahead of the nominations, which will be announced on July 8th. You can find all of my posts regarding the 2010 Emmy Awards here.]

I think there are many who doubt Parks and Recreation’s chances at this year’s Emmy awards, and I understand where they’re coming from: the show’s weak first season left a poor impression last Spring, and the lack of starpower beyond Amy Poehler makes it tough for the series to really break through.

It’s tough to assess its Emmy chances without comparing it to past NBC comedies, and the comparisons don’t really do the show any favours. While The Office also had a weak, and ignored, first season which failed to register any Emmys attention, Steve Carell became a movie star between seasons and the series had the UK series’ pedigree to build from. And while 30 Rock was also a low-rated NBC comedy series with a female lead from Saturday Night Live, it was also a low-rated NBC comedy series which pandered to industry-types with both its movie star male lead (Alec Baldwin) and its show business-centric premise. Amy Poehler did not become a movie star this past summer, nor did the Academy suddenly become experts on small town government, which means that Parks and Recreation’s surge in quality between seasons has every chance of being ignored by voters.

However, I do think that Parks and Recreation will grab itself an Emmys foothold this year, if perhaps not quite as large a foothold as The Office found when it won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series in its second season. The Office didn’t grab a whole slew of nominations in that year: only Carell grabbed an acting nomination, and the show picked up just two editing nods and a writing nod (for Parks showrunner Michael Schur, in fact) to go along with them. I think there’s an outside chance of Parks and Recreation matching that total number of nominations when you factor in the technical awards (which I can’t really predict, but I have to hope those awesome murals don’t go unnoticed): Amy Poehler has to be considered a contender in Lead Actress in a Comedy Series after back-to-back nominations for Supporting Actress on Saturday Night Live, Megan Mullally has a great shot at grabbing a nod for her guest turn in “Ron & Tammy,” and the Outstanding Comedy Series category is unpredictable this year that there’s no way you can count out a show as good as this one.

And when it comes to Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, I think it’s safe to say that Nick Offerman has already won the award for many of us, as Ron Swanson was the season’s breakout television character by a country mile. Precedence says that Offerman’s a long shot: not only is he not quite a household name, but Rainn Wilson and Tracy Morgan didn’t even get in for The Office’s second seasons, so the supporting players are often the last to be recognized when a show is making a name for itself. However, I have faith that either Emmy voters will have seen enough of his performance to see its genius or that they got wind of the fact that he’s married to seven-time nominee Mullally and luck their way into a brilliant decision.

Parks and Recreation is unquestionably, and unfairly, fighting an uphill battle, and I don’t expect it to break through as The Office and 30 Rock did in their first major Emmy seasons. However, I think it’s important to acknowledge that the show has some things going for it, and that quality is not always absent from Emmy races: Two and a Half Men got bumped from Outstanding Comedy Series by Flight of the Conchords and How I Met Your Mother last year, so it’s not as if there’s no room for a dark horse. It doesn’t have the strongest ratings, or much buzz outside of highly vocal critical circles, but it has a whole lot of heart, and I have to hope that meant something to voters when they cast their ballots.

Contender in:

  • Outstanding Comedy Series
  • Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Amy Poehler)
  • Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (Megan Mullally)
  • Writing for a Comedy Series

Dark Horse in:

  • Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Nick Offerman)
  • Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (Rob Lowe)

Should, but Won’t, Contend in:

  • Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Aubrey Plaza)
  • Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Chris Pratt, Aziz Ansari)
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Season Finale: Parks and Recreation – “Freddy Spaghetti”

“Freddy Spaghetti”

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.

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Parks and Recreation – “Summer Catalog”

“Summer Catalog”

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.

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Parks and Recreation – “The Fourth Floor”

“The Fourth Floor”

December 3rd, 2009

That Parks and Recreation is a consistently funny comedy is no longer a surprise, and we’re also to the point in “The Fourth Floor” where we’re not even learning anything particularly new about these characters and their dynamics. Rather, the show has turned into what every good comedy should be: a showcase for these characters, these actors, and these writers to tell stories that make us laugh and enrich the universe without necessarily having to expand that universe.

The interactions found within “The Fourth Floor” are ones we’ve seen in the past, picking up on elements of “Greg Pikitis” in order to tell the story of Tom Haverford’s (not-so) loveless marriage coming to an end and how Leslie, and the rest of the office, react to the news. What makes it work so well is how carefully the writers control Leslie’s response to the crisis, and how use two and develop two separate locations (Jurassic Fork and the Glitter Factory) to house that drama in a way that allows the characters to learn what we already know in a way that is both funny and more resonant than it could have been.

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Season Premiere: Parks and Recreation – “Pawnee Zoo”

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“Pawnee Zoo”

September 17th, 2009

“Everyone is just who they are”

Leslie Knope was the problem, and Leslie Knope was the solution.

When Parks and Recreation struggled to get off the blocks in the Spring, there were plenty of excuses. The show was rushed to get into production before the season began, and had a strange road from would-be Office spinoff to a show unconnected to that universe but staffed by the same people and even featuring Rashida Jones, who spent time on Greg Daniels and Mike Schur’s other show. So, when the show took some time finding its footing, I was willing to give it plenty of chances because the show was confused about what precisely it was going to be.

It was a show that had some strong supporting performers (Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, Christ Pratt, Jones), and a promising premise, but it was really let down by its inability to pin down Leslie Knope, our central character. It wasn’t that Amy-Poehler wasn’t charming or engaging, or wasn’t up to the task of making us like this character. Instead, the writing just didn’t know what they wanted her to be, and as a result the show seemed to flit around aimlessly as it was content to coast on a pre-set storyline and let the character go with the flow.

But in the season’s final episode, “Rock Show,” and in “Pawnee Zoo,” Leslie Knope is a finely tuned character designed to entertain us as a viewer and, more importantly, to drive stories. The storyline from the premiere is driven by Leslie’s well-meaning mistake, but what comes afterwards is made funnier and more complicated by her desire for people to like her and also her unwillingness to back down. The character felt, as it did by the end of the first season, consistent in both the writing and in Poehler’s performance, a perfect harmony of script and performer which allows the show to move forward with its great supporting cast to provide a great half hour of comedy.

I won’t say that it’s reached its full potential yet, but this is a show where an initial identity crisis is ancient history, and where things are finally looking up in Pawnee.

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Season Finale: Parks and Recreation – “Rock Show”

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“Rock Show”

May 14th, 2009

When The Office ended its six-episode first season, it really didn’t have anything to wrap up or even celebrate: “Hot Girl,” the season finale, was noteworthy for its first real sense of Pam’s jealousy of Jim dating anyone, but it was just another episode of the series in a lot of ways. Since Parks and Recreation is not only from the same creative minds but is also getting exactly the same six-episode first season leading into a normal second one, it’s hard not to compare “Rock Show” to the finale that came before it.

I’d say that Greg Daniels and Michael Schur have learned some lessons since then, as this is without question a more suitable finale, but intelligently not one that pretends this was a normal season or that we really know these characters. While the party at the center of the episode was successful in its efforts to display some humorous sides to the show’s funniest characters, and the various musical interludes let us enjoy the hilarity of Chris Pratt’s Andy, for the most part the episode shed some light on the three people who are probably the closest to being real characters, giving them each an added touch of humanity that will serve the series really well as it moves forward.

It may have taken six episodes to get there, but I think we’re to the point where Parks and Recreation has put its cards on the table, and earned its spot in NBC’s fall schedule on its own merit as opposed to that of its big brother.

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Parks and Recreation – “Boys’ Club”

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“Boys’ Club”

April 30th, 2009

We’re now four episodes into the shortened six-episode season for Parks and Recreation, and this week’s episode was another one that isn’t going to change anyone’s mind: if you thought the show was a charming if slight investigation into an interesting work environment, “Boys’ Club” did nothing to change this opinion. However, similarly, if you were amongst those who felt that Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope hasn’t been given enough of a character to resonate within this environment, there isn’t much in her obliviousness and aloofness in this week’s central storyline that shows that they’re viewing these six episodes as some sort of character arc.

As someone who tends to fall into the former category, I thought the episode was quite solid, providing a tiny bit more nuance to Leslie’s character (even if the comparisons to The Office became even more pronounced with one particular scene) and utilizing the comic talents of Chris Pratt to deliver a really charming B-Story. As someone who understands the second perspective, though, I think I see what part of the problem is.

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