A review of last night's "Parks and Recreation" coming up just as soon as I remake the movie "Kazaam" with Shaquille O'Neal and get it right...
When I visited the "Parks and Rec" writers room back in June, the staff spent a long time trying to break the stories for this episode (it took so long, apparently, that it got moved from the season's second episode to its seventh), and in terms of what makes this such a great comedy - and this a great episode of a great comedy - it's instructive to look at how "End of the World" evolved from those concepts being tossed around in June to what aired on TV(*) last night.
(*) Because my cable and internet are still knocked out by the Snowtober storm, I've been slowly catching up at the office via Hulu, and I briefly debated watching the producers' cut of this episode, especially since folks on Twitter said the deleted scenes were great. But I decided to stick with what actually aired - which is what the majority of you saw - and I'll get to the longer version at a later date when I need to treat myself.
Back in June, the writers basically knew that they wanted to use the Zorpies to spoof the false Rapture story, and not much else. There was debate over how the town would respond to it, which of their regular characters would buy into doomsday, what Leslie's stakes were, and a lot of other things. And ultimately, the only parts of that conversation that survived to the final script (credited to Mike Schur himself) were that the Zorpies tried to pay for things by check, assuming no one would be around to cash it (and even that became a throwaway gag rather than the major plot point it could have been), and that Chris takes interest in the Zorpies' discussion of reincarnation. No one in the regular cast believes the doomsday story - though several characters use the idea to re-examine what they're doing, and/or to chart a bold new course - the town treats it as a non-event, and Leslie's stakes wind up being about her realization that Ben can and should date other people now that they're broken up.
And that approach felt very right and very true to the show. While "Parks and Rec" will occasionally have the town go crazy over some absurdity (the "curse" over the Harvest Festival, or Leslie somehow being sucked into one of Councilman Dexhart's sex scandals), for the most part this is a show about nice, normal people, and how their niceness and normality can seem funny and sweet and somehow extraordinary. None of them are crazy enough to believe that Zorp is going to come and melt their faces off, but if it gives them an excuse to be introspective, crazy, or both, why not?
All the stories in "End of the World" were good (Chris's was a bit slight, but so be it), but Andy and April trying to cross items off his bucket list was my favorite. As we saw with their story in "Jerry's Painting," the idea of these two being madly in love, passionate and completely lacking in common sense - they should have "No thinking, just stupid" t-shirts printed up - will never not be funny, and yet it always seems wildly romantic at the same time. Of course they have to do all these silly things together, because they are a perfect match (despite wildly different temperaments) and this is how they best express their love. If they have to crash through a sliding glass door, or steal April's father's car and drive 30 hours from Pawnee to the Grand Canyon(**), then they're going, dammit. (And that Andy conflated the Grand Canyon and Mt. Rushmore in no way took away from the beauty of that final scene.)
(**) The song accompanying their trip: "All Will Be Well," by The Gabe Dixon Band. NBC has also put up an "April & Andy's Road Trip" web series. Between that and the farewell message on the Entertainment 720 website, the digital people are doing their best to spread the love across the world wide webs.
The Leslie/Ben story didn't need the Zorpie situation to drive it, but it did add some extra weight to a situation we've been building towards for the early part of this season. As we've discussed, this is the first real interaction these two have had since he gave her the greatest break-up ever, and even though they both understand why it ended, it's still not fun for him to be around her, and Leslie still can't handle the idea of him being with someone else - especially not Shauna Malwae-Tweep. (Remember, she had sex with Brendanawicz back during the period where Leslie still carried a torch for the guy.) Outside of Leslie's usual struggles with impulse control, this was less overtly comic than the other stories, but it was one that was necessary for where these characters have been, where they're going and just who they are. Leslie wanted to think that Ben would just sit out there waiting for her until she won or lost the election - and I imagine he'll ultimately wind up available around then, even if he isn't for the next few episodes - but life is messier than that. As Ron tells Leslie, big events don't happen very often, the world doesn't end in a hail of volcanic breath from a reasonable god named Zorp, and you go about your life and see what happens.
Tom, meanwhile, gets to demonstrate that while he's a terrible businessman, he's one kick-ass party planner. The farewell to Entertainment 720 bash did a good job of seeming extravagant (multiple VIP rooms, some of which even Tom and Jean-Ralphio couldn't enter) without seeming as stupid as some of their ideas. This was just a good, rocking, expensive party, and one that kicked up several notches when Lucy rolled in from Bloomington. (And I thought it was a great touch that Jean-Ralphio completely forgot Tom and Lucy were once an item, as Tom and J-R's hug seemed maybe too much sweetness, even for this show.)
As I mentioned before, Chris and the others actually hanging out with the Zorpies got the shortest shrift, but it still had nice jokes (Ron profiting off the Zorpies with his wooden musical instruments), finally seemed to solve Rob Lowe's Drew Peterson hair problem, and also brought Chris back into the land of the sane after a few episodes where he'd become too cartoonish. Of course, a lot of his problematic behavior involved Jerry's daughter, and we'll see what happens when she's back on the scene, but in both appearance and behavior, this seemed much more the Chris Traeger we first met.
What did everybody else think?