“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.
“Woman of the Year”
March 4th, 2010
In “Woman of the Year,” we learn that Leslie Knope was a member of the Indiana Order of Women at the age of nine.
This is, just to be clear, not a surprising fact: we’ve always known that Leslie was a strong believer in organizations like the IOW, so the idea that she had been this way since an early age (especially considering her mother’s commitment to civil service). What this establishes, however, is that this is something which means something to Leslie, something which she values at a level which someone like Ron Swanson is not completely able to understand.
However, what has Parks and Recreation in such a good place right now is that it is unwilling to sacrifice things important to these characters just for the sake of comedy: stories like those in “Woman of the Year” are driven by people who care rather than people who don’t understand, and while there is quite a lot of humour in the episode it all comes from a place of good-natured ribbing more than spite or something similarly unpleasant.
“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.
“Ron and Tammy”
November 5th, 2009
“Now listen to one of mine.”
There’s nothing special about “Ron and Tammy,” except that it’s probably the funniest Parks and Recreation to date.
There’s a guest star, yes, but not one who feels overly forced into the story or on who the show relies too heavily. There’s no special event taking place in the context of the episode to make things more exciting than usual, and there’s even a B-Plot that has nothing to do with the A-Plot. And if you were to write down the plot of the episode without any context (which would read “Leslie and Ron feud with Library Services over an Empty Lot”), you would probably think this episode would be downright dreadful.
But what makes this episode so special is that this episode is less an aberration and more a sign that the momentum just isn’t going to go away, and that this sitcom has finally found its groove. The episode’s situation is one of the show’s funniest, and it features some of the best lines in the show’s short lifespan, but it feels like the show could have just as funny a scenario in the future without any trouble. It is an episode that not only convinces you that it is great, but also that the show behind the episode is just as strong if not stronger for having spawned it.
If you are for some reason still one of those people who never gave this show a chance, you need to watch this episode not because it is singularly great but because it is symptomatic of a broader greatness. You’ve been listening to the other guys, with their offices and sketch comedy shows, for long enough: tonight, listen to the genius of Ron F**kin’ Swanson.
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.