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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: Privileged – “All About a Brand New You!”

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“All About a Brand New You!”

February 24th, 2009

Falling out of love with Privileged was something that I did not do with a light heart. When the season started, the show felt like it had something most pilots didn’t, an X factor of sorts which made it worth spending time with due to its status as a teen show with heart and, more importantly, some intelligence. And the thing is that these two things haven’t fundamentally disappeared, per se, in the time since I last wrote about the show, but something of that initial spark is missing.

“All About a Brand New You!” feels like the show’s attempt at a return to form, and in terms of some of its characters it is a very successful investigation into individualism, placing Rose and Sage as equivalent to Ibsen’s Nora from A Doll’s House. But while the episode uses a large, showy event in order to showcase these changes, and gives both sisters a sense of independence and control over their destinies that serve their characters well, our heroine Megan is more or less hung out to dry with a sadsack relationship that holds no interest and, upon its end in the episode, no real dramatic weight. When the episode ends with a cliffhanger about the state of that relationship, one comes to two conclusions: that the show is awfully presumptive to end with a cliffhanger considering its uncertain future but that, even if it gets that chance to come back (my fingers do remain crossed) I don’t particularly feel like its resolution is going to change my views on the show’s romantic center.

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