I like mini golf as much as the next person with a soul and warm blood, but "Swing Vote" didn't work for me. The characters didn't do anything particularly interesting, the storylines were contrived, the conceit of the episode was in most cases, literally, "Well, I guess none of this really mattered," and it generally just felt like the writers went on vacation and left outlines to a bunch of substitutes about what each Pawnee friend is like and how plots usually go for a group. I wouldn't say that Parks and Recreation has run its course, nor do I think next week's Season 5 finale should also be the series finale, but episodes like this do make me wonder how much farther the show can take these characters without feeling like it's spinning its wheels each week. In any event, I hope that this is the last we see of Jenny Slate's Mona-Lisa, who is unfortunately the poster child of why "Swing Vote" wasn't very good.
Parks and Recreation dipped into its usual hat of tricks, callbacks and beloved townspeople for "Animal Control" to produce a slightly formulaic episode... not that I'm complaining. Last night's episode cracked me up and made me happy while propelling some hard-earned character development, which is more than I can say about any other TV comedy currently airing right this moment, except for maybe New Girl. I'm not sure if you read my Modern Family reviews, but for a while (maybe an entire season or two, gulp) they became about me pointing out every single awful thing about that show followed by our commenters asking me to please stop being an awful grouch about a sitcom, to which I say: "If you just watched Parks & Rec and read my reviews of that, there'd be no issues here! You'd know I do have a sense of humor, Internet strangers!" But I digress. I'm just trying to say that "Animal Control" was good, dammit, and I'll start writing fangirl-y things about other shows once they put at least ten percent of the effort that this show puts in. Okay let's grade everyone yay!
"Partridge" was great. I mean, of course we were going to love doped-up Ben -- given how good flu-stricken Leslie and human disaster Ben have been in the past, it only makes sense. The pacing in this episodes was fantastic, all of the storylines were fun and my only real complaint is that Parks and Recreation is never frickin' on, and I desperately want to watch a new episode every week instead of a seemingly random installment every first Thursday of the month, or whatever this schedule is. More, I say, more! On the bright side, there are still four episodes left this season, all of which are consecutive -- there's even two in one night on April 18! -- so I can stop my complaining and get to talking about how much I laughed last night. Until then, I'm not above suing the parents of whoever made up this stupid schedule for spawning a human turdburger.
I'll admit right now that I was already pretty biased going into "Bailout" -- Jason Schwartzman was my longtime high school crush (I wish I could tell you it was because of Rushmore or even Freaks and Geeks, but it actually spawned after Slackers) and I've been a fan of Jenny Slate's since before she was on Saturday Night Live. Also, hello: "Time After Time." I could totally understand an argument on why this installment could have felt repetitive or even like a filler episode (outside of Chris's dad-cision), but come on... we got two Sappersteins in one sitting. Let's get to grading.
So, that was obviously great. All of my fears from "Emergency Response" started to melt away when Ron punched Councilman Jamm in the face, and completely disappeared (and turned to tears) when they had a quick pow-wow outside of the Parks Department room. As a person currently planning her wedding and doing some damage control after some malware issues possibly related to hacking, "Leslie and Ben" and "Correspondents' Lunch" came at a very good time for me, to say the least -- especially when it comes to forgetting your troubles, suspending disbelief and sinking into great TV comedy.
I was not a fan of "Emergency Response." Aside from the Upright Citizens Brigade mini-reunion (where's Crazy Ira when you need him?!), Leslie's pre-taped emergency alerts, "You're On with Ron" and the Mouse Rat performance, nothing really made me laugh or even very excited. I know I talked about (and disagreed with) the show being too upbeat last week, but I think this episode was way too predictable and over-the-top in its positivity and triumph of spirit. I miss Human Disaster Ben (who can now throw together a gala in hours?), directionless Tom, sad Ann and pre-therapy Chris -- if one of them had been having a bad time in "Emergency Response," there would have been at least some balance to the episode. Instead, everything worked out in the end, even with Leslie simulating the destruction of Pawnee and Andy failing his police exam test, considering the light bulb we saw turn on in Chris's head while getting the "bad" news. Ugh, and now Ben and Leslie are rushing their wedding (not unlike... every other sitcom ever, most recently 30 Rock)? You had one job, Show! (And don't get me started on the in-your-face Macy's and Vita Coco Coconut Water advertising.)
There's a debate at the TWoP offices about whether Parks and Recreation is too nice, too pleasant and just plain obnoxious in that "Kumbaya" naively optimistic kind of way. If you've read anything I've ever written about this show and my unceasing love for it, you'll know which side I stand on, but I think it's an interesting point, especially without absurdist 30 Rock and often-dark Community (if last night's premiere is any indication) airing alongside the series. Our Pawnee friends go through waves of highs and lows -- my fellow LesliBen shippers will agree -- and right now, things are just very good for the group of characters we've come to know, love and root for. Parks & Rec has no intention of being like Breaking Bad in trying to get us to root against the protagonist, but instead tells a story of an odd collection of people navigating themselves through an even stranger small city. The surprises aren't in everything working out okay in the end, but rather, in how the gang is going to solve their problems and who they're going to pass along the way. It's almost like a legal procedural (hence all of the West Wing comparisons last season), but with way more calzones.
About five minutes in to "Women in Garbage," my fiancé and I were laughing so hard that we had to pause, rewind and turn up the volume -- and this continued throughout. Maybe this episode didn't move the season's plot along very far, but it was consistently funny and made me extremely happy in the way that Parks and Recreation often does. I wouldn't describe it as "epic" the way I would "Two Parties" (and I don't use that term lightly), but I do think it's the kind of episode you can show a non-believer in order to finally convince them to binge-watch Parks & Rec with you from the beginning (actually, I'd recommended starting at the first episode of Season 2, but I digress). Until then, let's do this:
Half of Two Parties was so good -- like, series-highlight, disappointed-in-the-middle-of-the-episode-that-there-were-only-so-many-minutes-left, waiting-for-this-premise-to-turn-into-a-feature-length-movie good. The other half felt oversaturated, rushed and disorganized, and a waste of Donna with a male stripper and Leslie, Ann and April surrounded by penises and alcohol.
After sitting through a disappointing 30 Rock and the worst Office Christmas episode ever, it was really a relief to watch "Ron and Diane." I think I'm ready to admit that I'm in denial about this season of Parks and Recreation. The episodes make me laugh and I'd certainly still call Parks & Rec one of my favorite shows on TV, but my high expectations for it have officially been curbed. Our Pawnee friends feel like they're suffering from a lack of momentum, and even the episodes where nothing really happens in terms of development are just not as funny as they have been. I think Season 3's harvest festival arc spoiled me rotten in how swiftly Parks & Rec can potentially build a season-long storyline, and even though Season 4 dragged on just a little bit, Leslie winning the election was enough payoff for me. What's the big conceit this time around? Lesliben's wedding? I mean, if that's what it's going to be, of course I'll fangirl out about it and everything (obviously), but there's got to be more meat added to those bones. And given the series' gradually sinking numbers (last week's episode did especially bad), I'm not the only one not feeling the love.
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