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Parks and Recreation – “Camping”

“Camping”

March 24th, 2011

Let’s get this out of the way, folks – this was an average episode of Parks and Recreation.

This does not mean it was terrible, nor does it mean it did not have its moments. And heck, I would even argue that it was purposefully average, allowing the in-story awkward post-Harvest Festival lull to be reflected by the episode itself in order to transition into the back end of the season.

I like parts of what that transition says, and I very much enjoyed parts of this episode, but I feel we need to be willing to say that this was below the standard that was set this season (even if that doesn’t mean that it was close to being anything beyond a slight disappointment).

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Parks and Recreation – “Flu Season”

“Flu Season”

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.

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Season Premiere: Parks and Recreation – “Go Big or Go Home”

“Go Big or Go Home”

January 20th, 2011

“We’re back.”

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.

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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 – “The Reporter” and Other Thoughts

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“The Reporter”

April 26th, 2009

One of the downfalls of my trip to California was that I was away during the period where a number of solid debuts took place: Southland seems like a potential keeper for NBC, The Unusuals is still technically in the mix for ABC, and the long-anticipated Parks and Recreation debuted. So while I took time out of my schedule to take a gander at the first two episodes detailing the adventures of Leslie Knope, I didn’t quite have the time to sit down and wrap my head around what I really thought about it.

“The Reporter,” in many ways, actually makes this out to be a good thing: it isn’t that this week’s episode (the show’s third) was substantially different than the two which preceded it, but it demonstrates that the qualities I saw as potential for the future remain firmly intact, and the ability for the rest of the show to fall in around them remains present. The show’s main problem, that it and its protagonist lean too closely to The Office, isn’t even necessarily a problem as long as the elements it is cribbing from its stepbrother are the ones that you like about the show; for me, thus far at least, this seems to be the case.

In many ways, the show is kind of like the park being proposed within the current main storyline of the series: it has plenty of early media attention, and lots of things going for it, but it needs to keep itself afloat during this key development period in order to survive. And while the verdict may still be “We’ll see,” I think that’s exactly where the show needs to be right now.

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The Office – “Lecture Circuit Part 1”

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“Lecture Circuit”

February 5th, 2009

Only four days after I was admittedly frustrated by an hour long episode, we have a unique test of my concerns in “Lecture Circuit,” the first of two parts of the same basic episode. What we have, essentially, is an hour long episode split into two parts: we leave most of our storylines at a cliffhanger, and it’s clear that we’re picking this up next week.

As the first half of an hour long episode, this was actually a very well containted episode that despite never really grasping at resolutions nonetheless offers a logical buildup to next week’s conclusion. The episode paces itself very logically: it’s a slow build, and one that isn’t really concerned about breaking new ground, but I enjoyed it for precisely that reason. While the hour-long Super Bowl episode was far funnier, and ultimately the better example of the show’s comic potential, it’s nice to be able to sit back and spend some time with the characters.

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