A review of tonight's "Parks and Recreation" coming up just as soon as I'm nationally ranked in Settlers of Catan...
The first episode of "Parks and Recreation" that genuine feels like the show we know and love is "Rock Show," the finale to the brief first season, and an outing that has virtually nothing to do with the workings of the parks department of Pawnee. It's just Leslie on a terrible fix-up, and the rest of the gang attending the triumphant return to the stage of Andy Dwyer and Scarecrow Boat (which reverted to the name Mouse Rat in mid-concert), hanging out and having fun. It's notable not only as the first episode where Leslie seemed human from beginning to end, but as an example of what a likable group of characters — played by actors with abundant chemistry — had been assembled.
In the years since, some of the most memorable, funny and/or sweet episodes of the series have followed that template: little to no work, and some kind of unusual party setting to add a little color. There was the impressive (and ethically-questionable) party Leslie threw to impress Justin in "Leslie's House," or the beautiful, absurd impromptu wedding in "April and Andy's Fancy Party," or the various celebrations in "End of the World," to name just a few.
So it's not a surprise that "Two Parties" — which actually winds up encompassing something like six or seven different parties — would be such a treat. There's an actual work plot to Leslie's bachelorette party, as she tries to combat Jamm's latest scheme with the help of some handy Wamapoke artifacts — and instantly regrets making such a horrible, offensive decision — and it's funny because manic Leslie is rarely not funny, and because both Jamm and Ken Hotate (and the way he confidently manipulates and exploits white guilt) are such well-drawn parts of the larger Pawnee universe.
But in terms of who threw the more memorable party — or parties — Chris Traeger mopped the floor with Ann Perkins. Leslie and April and Ann digging for artifacts with penis helmets was amusing, but the Choose Your Own Adventure approach to giving all the men in the car the bachelor party he never had back in the day was a great idea, not just as an excuse for cameos,(*) but as an example of the warmth and creativity of "Parks and Recreation" and its people.
(*) I knew that Newt Gingrich's cameo was something of an accident, since he just happened to be dining at the Indianapolis steakhouse where they were filming Ron's party, but I asked Mike Schur for his account of exactly what happened and how quickly it came together — and, while we were on the subject, how many takes Chris Pratt needed to clear the uprights at
Reliant Lucas Oil Stadium for the episode's final shot. This is what he wrote:
We were just shooting and someone came up to me and said "Newt Gingrich is here." He was meeting with the governor later and wanted to have lunch at St. Elmo. I approached him and apologized for ruining his lunch plans. He was very cordial and nice. Morgan Sackett asked me if we should try to have him do a cameo, and I figured there was no way -- he'd have to vet the show and stuff... But then I said, you know what? Have Rob Lowe talk to him. 30 seconds later I got a text that he wanted to do it.
I went into a trailer where I found Newt Gingrich, Roy Hibbert, Aziz Ansari, Adam Scott, Rob Lowe, Jim O'Heir and Chris Pratt casually chatting. It was bizarre. (I think the fact that Biden, McCain, Boxer, and Snowe have all been on this year helped.) We quickly pitched on what he could do, and Aziz (I believe) was the one who made the Gingrich-Gergich connection. We "wrote" (by speaking out loud) a mini-scene that could be tossed in without ruining what came after. Shot it in three takes about 30 minutes later.
It was really fun, and we figured, hell, the whole point of the story is that they have a crazy night...(my favorite part is when Hibbert comes in at the end, there's a shot of Pratt throwing up his arms, like, "You've gotta be kidding me.")
Pratt hit from 25 in practice and wanted to go for 30. We did four takes where he missed, and told him to move in because we were running out of time. He said, "No. I'm going to hit this one. Make sure you follow the ball because I'm hitting this one." And he drilled it. It was very inspiring.
So parts of the adventure were very funny (the quick cut from Ron explaining that there's no wrong way to consume alcohol to Ron surveying this mess and saying, "This is the wrong way to consume alcohol"), some were fun callbacks (Roy Hibbert being mad at Tom, Andy bringing up the Reggie Wayne jersey he wore to his wedding), some were sweet (the guys getting eternal bachelor Chris a trophy to thank him for the great night), and some were a combination of all of them (the manager at Jerry's favorite ice cream parlor always having a second cone on hand for him). Individually, each party was a great idea (though Ben was really the only one who enjoyed his version), but together?
A classic night for the guys, and a blast to watch.
Some other thoughts:
* And even Chris gets a potential reward in the end, as it's his turn to flirt with Shauna Malwae Tweep, who's either dated or at least attempted to with Brendanwicz, Andy and Ben in the past.
* Newt turned up by accident, and Hibbert had been on the show before. Jim Irsay, meanwhile, is friends with Rob Lowe — which no doubt led to Lowe's brief career as a sports reporter.
* I'm told, by the way, that it's a complete coincidence that Rashida Jones has been on two different Schur/Daniels series where her character attended a bachelorette party with a very special guest from American political history. Remember that on "The Office," Jim canceled the stripper for Phyllis' bachelor party and sent a Ben Franklin impersonator instead.
What did everybody else think?