This week was a great example of how Parks and Rec is able to simply look around at the gigantic world they have built and put the characters together in new situations and combinations and just let it be funny. For example, Ron being on Pawnee Today “with” Joan Callamezzo. Or, you can simply put Leslie and Jamm in the same room and add Matt Walsh as a Matt Walsh style, impotent emergency planner named Leonard and enjoy. We’ve talked before about how expansive Pawnee is and how wonderful that is. I think this episode shows that the show could almost self sustain with it’s great characters for another few seasons. While that seems completely unlikely given the show’s subpar ratings and what seems to be the end of an era at NBC with 30 Rock now over and The Office coming to a close this season, it does make me wonder if this show would be able to last for several more seasons at a high level.
Onto this episode specifically, I would love to watch/listen to a Ron Swanson TV/radio show. You get to learn things about how to repair a table with a walnut, and you get great opinions about dogs under 50 pounds being cats (and cats are pointless). I know that this episode was meant to be mostly a setup for the wedding episode, but I thoroughly enjoyed all the pieces moving. And, it does seem like a great move to have Leslie’s wedding be set up by people who aren’t her. The emergency preparedness event caused Ben to rally everyone together to make up for Leslie’s absence. That seems like the only way that Leslie wouldn’t be completely overworked and stressed out planning her own wedding. I’m not confident that the show had that in mind at all, but I like the idea.
The only main characters who aren’t around for the planning madness are April and Andy (and Jerry who no one tells that the emergency is just a drill because they don’t have his cell phone number). Andy takes the entrance exam to become a cop. He aces the test except for the personality portion where he struggles with all of the questions (partially because his real name is Andrew…he thinks). We get a nice moment where the police chief calls Andy a “genius” and Chris looks into the camera with disbelief. It was nice to check back in with this storyline, and I’m interested to see where it goes from here. Any ideas of what is going to happen? Will he figure out how to pass the personality portion? Or will there be another opportunity for him where he can use his “genius”? Will his lucky footless rabbit help him find the perfect job?
Sorry my thoughts are kind of all over the place here. I’m looking forward to hearing what you thought and your thoughts about the pending wedding.
Let the record show, there was a standing ovation.
I feel like the jury’s still out on Parks and Recreation’s renewal chances. On the one hand, NBC seems to have ordered about a thousand new comedy pilots*; from another perspective**, the show’s ratings have been fairly decent (for an era of diminished expectations), and the network has shown a borderline self-destructive reticence to get rid of name talent like Maya Rudolph or Will Arnett (in the case of the Up All Night debacle) or, in this case, Amy Poehler. There’s little doubt in my mind that Parks has enough creative and comedic juices left for at least another season or two, but if this does end up being its final season, we’ve already seen some satisfying developments in these potentially final character arcs — Chris confronting his fear of mortality, Ben and Leslie getting engaged, Ron committing to a stable, mature relationship, Tom following through with a non-terrible business idea, Ann looking to become a mother***, etc.
*Also, I hear that MILF Island is really starting to take off in the ratings.
***Ok, that one was kind of out of nowhere.
In the meantime, I’m hoping we get more episodes like “Emergency Response”, which had a nice balance of the familiar and the unexpected. One of the things Parks does best is throw its characters into a crisis and force them to problem-solve. A lot of jokes — like Leslie’s avian flu video, in which she plays every role, or Donna’s low-key chair retrieval — arise simply from observing well-drawn characters react to the crisis in their own way. At the same time, the low-stakes nature of the crisis itself is key to its humor. It would obviously be much more serious to watch the effects of an actual avian flu outbreak in Pawnee, so it’s a clever twist to watch a simulation of the same. As with many Parks storylines, this exaggeration allows the show to be both fairly accurate about governmental structure and challenges, while remaining novel and over-the-top enough to laugh at. Leslie’s glee at getting assigned avian flu and Chris’s excitement at being emotionally stable enough to handle his fake death by diarrhea are great examples of the kind of strange situational and emotional specificity this show excels at.
Once things gathered steam in the second act, “Emergency Response” favorably recalled past Parks highlights like the flu episode, the Harvest Festival, and various moments of Leslie’s City Council campaign. Not coincidentally, it was also probably the best use of Jamm as an antagonist, at least from a plot perspective. The amount of chaos of generated by Jamm’s two-pronged assault on Lot 48 — blitzing the decision committee with Greasy Lard Bombs while requesting an 8-hour disaster preparedness test to keep Leslie & co. from getting their fundraising gala together in time — added an extra urgency to the proceedings. Parks has always benefitted from a sense of (relatively) high stakes, and this episode was no exception. I liked Leslie’s desperate decision to scuttle the disaster preparedness test (“Our top priority is now to save all the birds!”), conceding the battle for a shot at winning the war.
It’s a testament to how much time we’ve logged with these characters (as well as how far some of them have come) that we buy, with minimal explanation, their ability to pull through and come up with enough resourceful ideas to stage an effective gala. Ben invites the firemen and the triage “patients”; Tom, who’s made huge strides in business savvy, gets Paunch Burger’s competitors to cater (despite the awkwardness of “chiki tenders” at a black-tie event); Donna presumably finds more chairs. We believe in this resolution after five seasons, so we’re able to savor the moment: there’s a fancy party, the whole town is invited, and the best band in Pawnee is playing. What better time for Leslie and Ben to get married?
Until next week, I have a hangover that I’m pretending is allergies.
- Leslie Knope has more production credits than Louis C.K.
- Pending impulsive wedding question: what about Ben’s parents, and other guests who probably got save-the dates?
- Great use of a passed-out Joan Callamezzo as a visual gag during You’re On with Ron
- Andy’s personality test reminded me of a similar scene in the underrated (if you’re into pitch-black comedy) Seth Rogen vehicle Observe and Report. I’m curious to see where Andy’s genius abilities will take him next. It seems likely that you wouldn’t get to redo a test in which you bragged about potentially giving a gun to a minor. Still, he’s already shown that, with the right motivation and the worst mnemonic devices ever, he can master a lot of material.
- “It is with a heavy heart that I say: we have been Jammed.”