“One Last Ride”
February 24, 2015
“Leslie always has her heart in the right place, but just needs some help along the way.”
I wrote this six years ago. At that point, Parks and Recreation was a show still in search of its identity, existing in The Office’s shadow and week-by-week discovering more about its characters as we were. It says a lot about the show that now, six years and seven seasons later, “One Last Ride” puts a button on this initial judgment made three episodes into the series’ run. Leslie’s heart was always in the right place, but she truly found herself when she found her team to help along the way.
There’s always a lot of discussion about the change that Parks went through after the short first season, but returning to that review—and my collection of reviews from the first three seasons—in light of tonight’s finale made me realize that it didn’t really change at all. From the very beginning, this was a show that asked the audience to follow an optimistic, hard-working civil servant as she struggled to navigate a world that did not want her to succeed, slowly breaking down the barriers that were placed in front of her. We wanted her to succeed not just because we liked her, but also because she was operating with a moral imperative, one so powerful that it could overcome even Ron Swanson’s fundamental disbelief in the value of government. She was a hero, in truth, in ways that would make sustaining her drive the show’s biggest challenge.
When I dropped in on an episode of The Leftovers at The A.V. Club earlier this season, it was cathartic: after weeks of watching but not writing about the show, it was nice to have a space to confront the series’ opaqueness.
But as I return to confront the finale, I’m wondering if I had it all wrong. On the surface, The Leftovers struck me as a series that begs us to analyze it, full to the brim with characters with uncertain motives building toward something and yet nothing at the same time. What’s the deal with Wayne? What drives the Guilty Remnant? Those questions at first seemed to bear fruit as it related to the themes of the series: even if we ignore the existential question looming over the entire series, these other questions funnel back into the meaning of the departure and accumulated considerable meaning as the season wore on.
That meaning was a smokescreen. It was a powerful one, granted, but as The Leftovers concludes I’m struck by how little separates a show that begs us to analyze it from a show that resists all analysis. Say what one will about Lost, but it wanted us to be invested in its mysteries, and even in the end sought to give purpose to our investment even if that failed to appeal to all viewers. By comparison, however, The Leftovers built a house of cards that it knew was going to burn away by the end of the season, leaving behind characters we relate to because they too were caught up in the construction. They lived through what we lived through, and must equally confront the landscape that revealed itself when the house burned to the ground. It was in those final moments that the show finally revealed its hand, and for the first time as an entire series became legible, and real, and open to the kind of analysis it had nonetheless inspired while resisting such visibility.
And the result was compelling, if also guilty of building a neater circle than it necessarily needed to.
March 17th, 2011
Parks and Recreation is like Li’l Sebastian. For those who don’t know better, it’s just another Office-like NBC comedy, just as Li’l Sebastian appears to be just a pony. For those of us who have become devotees, however, Parks and Recreation is more than a pony – it is a mini horse, a mini horse which inspires the kind of overwhelming emotions which drive even characters like Ron Swanson and Joan Calamezzo to…well, to lose their shit.
After a few weeks off, Parks and Recreation is back with the conclusion of the Harvest Festival arc. This is actually the first episode that I’ve watched live, and thus the first episode that I’m reviewing without having watched numerous times. As a result, this review is less likely to run those the episode’s finest jokes, but I don’t think “Harvest Festival” depends on particularly strong one-liners. Instead, it relies on moments: moments like Joan losing control over herself at the presence of Li’l Sebastian, or moments like Tom and Ben rekindling their Star Wars battle as if they’ve been having it on a weekly basis since we last spent time in Pawnee.
It’s all remarkably consistent, and all predictably charming given the series’ strong third season. The production hiatus between “Indianapolis” and “Harvest Festival” did nothing to kill the show’s rhythm, once again proving itself one of the most delightful mini-horses on television.
Even if it just looks like a pony to most of America.
February 24th, 2011
Of the first six episodes initially sent to critics, “Indianapolis” is the most subtle. It’s a straightforward pairs of comic setpieces: a dinner party and a night out at the Snake Hole have the characters moving away from the Harvest Festival in order to get some time to focus on the characters themselves. While the commendation for the Harvest Festival technically draws Leslie and Ron to Indianapolis, the episode investigates what happens after the ongoing storylines which have dominated the show since Ben and Chris’ arrival start to come to a close.
This is actually the last episode that I screened in advance, and it’s also the last episode to air until March 17th, but I think it’s a very strong note to go out on. Without a major guest star, and without a standout “scene” of the likes of “Stop. Pooping” or Ben’s breakdown on Ya Heard with Perd, “Indianapolis” is just a very funny episode of what is clearly a very funny show.
And yes, that’s apparently the extent of critical analysis that a show in this much of a groove inspires.
“Go Big or Go Home”
January 20th, 2011
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.
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.
March 18th, 2010
While Parks and Recreation rarely shows its roots as a spin-off of The Office, emerging instead as a cousin of sorts, I think “Park Safety” was as close as the show has come to feeling like its predecessor. This is, in some ways, a compliment, in that The Office is a show I enjoy, and this was certainly a funny episode of the show.
However, the show went out of its way to create some very specific situations that brought the show more towards broad situational comedy, something that the show has managed to do a bit more subtly in the past. It didn’t end up damaging the episode too much, as those sequences remained funny, but for a show that has been going out of its way to form its own identity there were parts of this week’s episode that made it seem like the production team from The Office had gone into the wrong office for a day. Of course, there were also parts of the episode that dealt with Parks-specific story types, so the Pawnee charm was certainly not lost.
It was just, perhaps, viewed through a slightly different lens, which seemed purposeful in terms of viewing a running joke in a new light.
“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.
“That Girl is Like a Virus”
February 25th, 2010
Well, that’s more pleasant, at least.
Yes, tonight’s episode of Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains featured another brutal physical challenge, and there were certainly some ugly moments on both sides of the competition. However, while last week’s episode was dominated by James’ bullying on Stephenie, this week returned the season to where it was in the beginning: even if the game itself isn’t that interested, our pre-existing relationships with the people playing it make challenges more interesting, make humorous facial expressions more recognizable, and turn a potential mediocre game into something that feels more special than it actually is.
Strategically, the game is as predictable as it was for the past few weeks, but there was enough spontaneity on the fringe to keep things fun, which is frankly what All-Star seasons need to do in the earlygoing.