Review: 'Parks and Recreation' - 'Article Two/Jerry's Scrapbook': Retire in peace
A review of tonight's "Parks and Recreation" double feature coming up just as soon as I define buffalo meat as acceptable currency...
Yesterday, NBC posted an epic 8-minute deleted scene from "Article Two" featuring the complete version of Garth's "Star Wars"/Marvel Comics-related filibuster, as improvised by Patton Oswalt. (I've embedded it below.) Reaction was unsurprisingly positive, with the only lament being that the producers didn't simply air the rant as is, other stories be damned.
And while that would have been an amazing departure from formula (I'm not sure I can imagine even Dan Harmon-era "Community" doing something like this, though I'm sure "Louie" would), "Article Two" is one of the funniest, richest, sweetest "Parks" of the season even though we only get to hear a few stray jokes and Thanos references from the filibuster. It's an episode so good in so many places that I'm okay with production cutting the speech down to the bone — especially since this marvelous new technological paradise we live in allows us to see both the episode and the filibuster.
The three stories in a given "Parks and Rec" episode tend to be disconnected, but these were at least linked by the theme of competition: Leslie vs. Garth, Ron vs. Chris, and Ben vs. Ann vs. the mail carrier vs. Leslie again. In a way, all three contests were unnecessary and could have easily descended into sitcom hackery, but instead they were very specific to the characters and the world they live in — and, thus, were very very funny.
The eponymous story about the Pawnee town charter had to contort itself at the very beginning to suggest Leslie would be a fervent proponent of the outdated laws therein, but it almost immediately acknowledged all the offensive ones she'd fight to get rid of, then brought Patton Oswalt on stage to do Patton Oswalt things, some of which actually wound up in the final cut. It would have been really easy to reveal that Garth was cheating at their silly contest, but the idea that he was better than Leslie Knope at a Leslie Knope thing worked better, both because it was unexpected and because it opened the story up for a more generous, "Parks"-y ending where Leslie arranges an entire social life among Garth's fellow history nerds.
If it was unusual to see someone best Leslie at her own game, the gift-giving story was a reminder of just how hard it is for anyone to try to come close to Leslie — and in a way that was an amusing reminder of the downside of having such a thoughtful, generous, obsessive-compulsive friend. Not only did the story allow Ben to demonstrate his own nerd credentials (his reaction to Ann's honest mistakes about "Game of Thrones" were terrific), but allowed both Adam Scott and Rashida Jones to play panic, which they're both very good at. And stories like this do a good job of keeping the show from being too saccharine, and from making Leslie seem too perfect, without actually undermining her. Leslie remains awesome — just in a really super-terrifying way.
In every episode, some subplot has to draw the short straw, and here it was the Ron/Chris duel, which hit the usual beats we get whenever these two go up against each other(*) but would have been fairly forgettable if not for the revelation that April had been playing the both of them. (I also thought it was a nice touch that everyone got out of the CTMTS exactly what they expected to, even if the only one totally satisfied was April.) But the episode overall was terrific.
(*) The "challenge accepted" was not only a line that "How I Met Your Mother" has made its own, but also a reminder of how perilously close Ron Swanson is at all times to being a complete cartoon character (much like Barney Stinson has become).
"Jerry's Scrapbook" wasn't quite on that level, if only because the Ann/Chris weirdness continues to be unaddressed, even as they moved into a different phase of this plan by hooking up again. But it was another example of how well the show can cover familiar ground — whether stories "Parks" itself has done or just ones that are familiar from sitcoms in general — while making it feel fresh.
The wide gulf between Jerry the bumbling office clown and Jerry the awesome family man is something "Parks" has covered a lot, and all the talk about the need for a new Jerry is something many sitcoms about group dynamics do at some point or other (off the top of my head, I can recall both "Always Sunny" and "Community" doing versions of it with Charlie and Pierce, respectively). But the Jerry end of things worked well because of how far they pushed the limits of his own incredibly modest dreams. That he couldn't even get into the city council dining room, but was still okay with it, was funny enough. But when he started having a conversation with Mayor Knudson's headstone, I just lost it. And the quicksand nature of Tom becoming the new Jerry — the more he fought, the worse it got — played out excellently, particularly since Tom being the butt of everyone's jokes is a well the show doesn't go to all that often. And like Ann's job at City Hall (which is so irrelevant she can easily transfer to the county health board to get around the fraternization rules), Jerry becoming the parks department intern seems a simple way to keep him around while still allowing him his happiness on the other days. (And as with Ann, he can either be at the office or away, depending on the needs of that week's story.)
Even Ann and Chris was more successful than it's been of late. I think we have to accept that the ship has foolishly sailed on getting Ann to discuss the change in her intentions, but Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe do work nicely together, and both played their nervousness (both before and after they hooked up) well.
All in all, a very fine hour of "Parks and Recreation." Now if you'll excuse me, I have to listen to Patton Oswalt talk about the Infinity Gauntlet some more.
Some other thoughts:
* Not only does Ben get to bust out the "Game of Thrones" knowledge in the first episode, but in the second he excessively praises "Fringe" for its alleged lack of plot holes. The latter is actually very un-nerd-y of him, because a really hardcore nerd can find plot holes in anything.
* I have failed you by not transcribing Andy's list of things he puts butter on. I imagine the internet will compensate for my failure shortly. In the meantime, I'll be buttering these grapes.
* Ben on what to do with Ann's horrifying Leslie doll made of breakfast foods: "Just burn it, bury the ashes and pray they won't haunt you."
* Harris is, of course, the current sperm donation champion.
* Add the late Mayor Knudson to the list of Pawnee's past shames, as he died from being thrown out of a helicopter while in handcuffs, among other fiascos.
* A sign of just how much disdain Leslie has for Jerry: she can't enjoy the Gergich family's "eggs, bacon and toast!" song.
* With L'il Sebastian dead for several seasons now, the writers eventually had to come up with a new ongoing source of confusion for Ben Wyatt, since it's a note Adam Scott plays so hilariously. They've definitely landed on a good target in Ben's obsession with why Gail would be so in love with Jerry.
What did everybody else think?