Tag Archives: Parks and Recreation

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2014 Edition: 15-12

18 Mar

Two comedies, one drama, and one Netflix show that straddles both worlds. Here comes 15 through 12.

Intro here and 43-40 here and 39-36 here and 35-32 here and 31-28 here and 27-24 here and 23-20 here and 19-16 here and one-offs/shows ineligible for the list here.

15. Bob’s Burgers – 2013: 14

Bob's Burgers

Parks and Recreation, which we’ll get to shortly, has often been hailed for being a comedy of nice; people generally like each other and want to help, rather than hurt one another, despite their differences, and it shows. Bob’s Burgers, an animated family show, rather than a workplace live-action comedy, embodies that same concept; the love between the family members runs deep, and no matter the fights and scuffles that occur over the course of an episode, at the end the Belcher family stands by one another. There’s an underlying warmth beneath Bob’s Burgers that never feels forced. Even Louise (the April of the show, though I like Louise much better than April, which is a completely separate issue that I’m not sure I know how to explain offhand) comes around to sticking with her family in the end. Bob’s Burgers is funny, which is important, because it’s a comedy, but even more than funny, Bob’s Burger’s is fun. No current show is more guaranteed to put me in a good mood, or turn my frown upside down, than Bob’s Burgers. I like to watch episodes right before I go to sleep in the hopes that they will transfer to good dreams.

14. Orange is the New Black – 2013: 19

Orange is the New Black

What was once a dirty little secret is now party line; as far as breakout Netflix shows go, Orange is the New Black is better than House of Cards. The second season served up more of what made the first so loveable, women of all stripes and colors and classes, struggling to make it in a prison system that continually beats them down (figuratively always and occasionally literally). The women manage to find ways to work together more than seems possible considering how often the system tries to pit them against one another. This season featured a big bad who was pretty much unredeemable – Vee, who started running heroin into Litchfield. Just about every character outside of Vee, however, is shown from all sides, complex and nuanced, and unlike the first season, even the prison employees get to be shown as not all bad. It’s impressive how many characters Orange is the New Black juggles, making minor characters feel worthy in small but important ways. Pathos is a specialty of Orange is the New Black, and no show vacillates between comedy and drama better, with hilarious moments followed by heart wrenching emotion.

13. Parks and Recreation – 2013: 11

Parks and Recreation

The sixth season was not the best season of Parks and Recreation. It was probably the weakest outside of the first when the show didn’t really know what it was and who its characters were (and maybe parts of the second, where it was still figuring itself out). That said, the fact that even a weaker season of Parks and Recreation can finish this high speaks to the sheer base levels the writers and actors have reached on this show on a season-to-season, episode-to-episode basis. Parks and Recreation is a first-ballot TV Hall-of-Famer. There were certainly signs this season of a show ready for the end, with some plots that felt like retreads of earlier plots (Tom’s Bistro was a poor man’s Rent-a-Swag) and I was ridiculously frustrated with the way the season ended, with Leslie bailed out from making a difficult decision that had been the focus of much of the season. Still, the show is always funny and the characters are so deeply developed by now that the gears move pretty well even when they’re not at their best. The creators and writers know their characters and actors so well that even when I think the plots are a little off, the emotions and the humor aren’t. This isn’t Parks and Recreation’s finest hour, but there’s a reason why Parks & Rec will go down as one of the best sitcoms of all time.

12. Rectify – 2013: 3

Rectify

Rectify’s main contribution to television may be its ability to take slow, deliberate pacing, which is oft cited as a negative for many a show by myself and others, and ingeniously turn it into an asset. Rectify takes its own time and uses it to flesh out how protagonist Daniel Holden, recently released from death row after 20 years in a cell with little human contact, sees his family and the world anew. Daniel struggles to readjust, even as he still faces potential murder charges – the technicality on which he was set free only means the state will have to retry him from scratch. His family struggles equally, welcoming him home, as they want to be there for him, but aren’t sure how, and his return upends their lives. His sister played the most energetic role in freeing him, but is frustrated by her difficulties in getting him out of his shell. His youngest brother barely knew him at all. His stepbrother remains bitter towards him, resentful of how everyone treats a convicted murder as a returning prodigal son, but Rectify even makes sure to show him with humanity. Rectify tells a tale about a subject, and with a view, like no other show on TV, and while that in and of itself doesn’t make a show good, it remains a rare quality and impressive with a show that happens to be as good as Rectify.

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The Ups and Downs of the Parks and Recreation Finale

27 Feb

Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation is a first-ballot hall of fame TV show, and while its final season wasn’t its peak, it was overall a very solid season, better than the one that preceded it, and did everything that the final season needed to do for the show to feel complete. Yet the series finale, while very true to the show itself, rubbed me somewhat the wrong way.

Composed of a series of flash-forwards where we see every major character’s future, it was just too much; everyone getting exactly what they’ve always dreamed, unadulterated happiness, emotional crack. At first, I was concerned if this was a problem with me and not with the show. I wondered if I was just too cynical or too pessimistic too handle this unrelenting optimism, and that I needed to just sit back and enjoy. And while those may still be personal problems, and I probably should simply enjoy more, after some thought I was able to reckon with my issues with the finale in more impersonal terms.

The emotional highs in the series finale were manipulative in a way that the many emotional highs throughout the series were not because they were unearned. Parks and Recreation was a very, very, funny series, but some of its best remembered and most canonical moments are notable because of the way they made you feel rather than laugh. Parks and Recreation handled emotional arcs better than any other contemporary sitcom. The show built investment over a long period of time in likeable and well-constructed characters, so when payoffs happened over the course of the series, they felt like the deserved fruits of years of labor and hard work.

There are many such moments, both personal and professional over the series’ run, but the pinnacle may be Leslie’s election to the Pawnee City Council. The goal was long-held and the process was excruciating and obstacle filled. We saw her work towards this goal over episodes and seasons, through ups and downs, though the agony of defeat before the ecstasy of victory. We were there with her every step of the way, and when she won, there was a wonderful euphoria.

This is the case for big personal moments as well. Ben’s proposal to Leslie was both tontally perfect and felt earned, as did Andy and April’s marriage, which was an inevitable triumph after they had struggled to get together for a long time.

This was the exactly opposite of Tom and Lucy’s proposal, which felt completely and totally out of nowhere. Didn’t Lucy just break up with her boyfriend and episode or two before Tom and her got engaged? It felt like there were episodes missing, as if Parks and Recreation forced the events just to make sure Tom was married by the end of the series.

In the finale, each character got to virtually live out their ideal fantasies with no sense of the road that took them there. Sure, Leslie gets to be governor, just like that, in five minutes. Tom is rich, and then broke, and then rich again.

The most clear example of the problems of these flash forwards may reside in April and Andy’s segments Andy and April are discussing having a child. Andy is super excited to have kids, but April is wary. Leslie wisely advises April that having kids is a tough decision, and one they need to make together and after much though. Then, 30 seconds later, without any of the discussion that was supposed to accompany this we see April, nine months later, giving birth. This is a major decision! This should be thought over and talked about, and then if and when they both agreed and eventually had the child, all the warm fuzzies would be well deserved. Here that’s fast-forwarded, an unfair cheat.

Parks and Recreation is a great series and the finale was certainly true to the show itself; relentlessly optimistic, both for its characters, and for the general idea of people of all stripes working together rather than against one another, maintaining friendships in the face of ideological differences. Still, the decision to branch forward into future outcomes without supporting the personal wins with carefully laid groundwork prevented the finale from being an all-time classic.

Parks and Recreation’s Unfortunate Season Finale Cop Out

25 Apr

San Fran

I love Parks and Recreation, when it ends it’ll be a shoo in for the sitcom hall of fame (one day I will make this Hall of Fame a reality), and on the short list for  best comedies of the century. I enjoyed much of the sixth season finale as well, but unfortunately it ended with a huge cop out that greatly disappointed me.

Going into the episode, Leslie had a very difficult decision to make about her future. She’d been an offered a job as head of the midwest regional national parks office in Chicago (I might be screwing up the exact title, but it’s not that important). It was a huge step up career-wise. She’d be heading a much bigger office and staff and working preserving national parks in the Midwest, a much, much bigger region than small town Pawnee with, as Ben points out in the finale Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills among many other notable parks. Unquestionably, she’s interested in the job and would take it instantly if not for two factors, that are pulling her back towards Pawnee. First, the Eagleton-Pawnee merger that she engineered is still troubled; without her tireless leadership to make sure the merger is a success, the towns could come apart (why the head of the Parks Department would be working to save the merger doesn’t really make a ton of sense, but we’ll grant that Leslie is apparently allowed to control everything in Pawnee because why not). Secondly, she’d be leaving all her friends and her beloved hometown behind. She wanted to raise her kids in Pawnee, the town she loved.

This is tough. I was very much hoping that Leslie would take the job and move to Chicago, both for Leslie’s sake, and for the show’s, but either decision would be understandable. The job was an amazing opportunity, but her reasons to stay in Pawnee were compelling as well. Staying to finish a job you started is admirable, and living somewhere you like with people you love is a major factor in overall happiness as well.

That was the choice. It was a hard choice, but a necessary one. Leslie realizes this, which is why she keeps putting it off as long as possible, but eventually she’s given a deadline and she decides to make the move and take the job. She has regrets, especially when she hears the horror stories of other town mergers (the threat of becoming unincorporated!) but she realizes it’s the best thing for her at this point in her life. Ron and Leslie have a key heart to heart, where they reminiscence about what Lesile will miss about Pawnee.

And then, all of a sudden, Leslie has an idea! She can have it all! She’ll bring the midwest branch of the National Parks Service to Pawnee! Of course, watching, I thought, even within the world of Parks and Recreation, this is an insane idea. Um, Chicago is a huge city, the biggest in the region, and a logical hub, which would be convenient for employees and office visistors. Pawnee, is a, honestly, pretty terrible backwater town, but beyond that, a small city in the middle of Indiana. As great an addition as everyone agrees Leslie would be, you can’t move a long established department from Chicago for her. Or so I thought. And thus, when her new boss turned down her suggestion to move the department to Pawnee, because it was silly and made no actual sense, she’d finally be forced to make the difficult choice once again.

But, no, that’s not what happened at all! She can have it all! With Ben preparing a booklet on the cost savings of housing the department in Pawnee  (Um, of course, it’s cheaper to not be in Chicago – it’s not located in Chicago to save money), all of a sudden, just like that it’s agreed that it should be in Pawnee, and zap we’re three years in the future.

The three year jump is another topic entirely and I have no intrinsic issue with it (and actually really like the idea of skipping the pregnancy). What I do have a problem with is with the massive cop out Parks and Recreation took here. The second half of the season has been building up to an extremely difficult choice by Leslie – take her dream job but be forced to move from her beloved Pawnee, or pass up this amazing opportunity and remain in the town she loves. I don’t envy her that choice. It’s not an easy one, but it’s one she had to make.

Only she didn’t, and not only did that bail on a tough choice, but the way it bailed just made absolutely no sense. I love you Parks and Recreation, but this was a moment of weakness.

 

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2012 edition: 6-4

22 Feb

We’re nearing the end of my ranking of shows that I watched in 2012 – the intro explaining what qualifies is here and 6, 5, and 4 are below.

6.  Parks and Recreation

The cast of Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation isn’t revelatory or mind-exploding; it’s merely a workmanlike comedy which is funny and great nearly every single week, almost never putting out a weak episode.  Like just about every show on TV that has lasted more than a couple of seasons, Parks and Recreation has threatened to tire and run out of ideas over time.  In its case, the biggest concerns have been the potential hammering into the ground of the single dimensionness of some of the characters, including Tom, Ron, April, Andy, and Chris.  However, the show has somewhat recognized this and begun handling this issue in a better way by fleshing out at least some of these characters; Tom and Ron have had their single-minded ridicouslessness mellowed out by Tom’s new store and business ploy and Ron’s new girlfriend, which make both of them seem at least ever so slightly more like real people.  I oft complain about unearned emotion on television; I hate when shows use songs to rev up emotional feeling towards characters that you wouldn’t care about otherwise.  Contrary to this, Parks and Recreation has earned the right to emotional moments through character building over the years; it was hard not to be moved when Ben proposed to Leslie.  Leslie and Ben are both extremely well built characters, and the show reached its peak period when Ben and Rob Lowe’s Chris Traegar joined the cast and the bland Mark Brendanawicz left at the end of the second season.  Ann is multi-dimensional as well, but sometimes has trouble finding anything to do in the midst of the Parks and Recreation employees who have a tighter bond.  Every one of the characters is  capable of delivering laughs, and many of the recurring bits, like the Eagleton-Pawnee rivalry, and the idiocy of the Pawnee residents at town meetings could easily wear out, but are used just sparingly enough, and are written well enough, that they continue work.  All of these elements add up to a show that while not groundbreaking will be considered a classic for years ago to come and hopefully has a couple more seasons left.

5.  New Girl

Jess and the gang

New Girl is also of the Parks and Recreation school of comedy; there’s no dynamite crazy ambitious episode where everything comes together like in Community (or maybe Louie) but rather sheer episode to episode consistency and hilarity.  After taking a few episodes to find its voice, New Girl has really come into its own over the last season or so, emerging to the point that I found myself talking with several other people who agreed that all of a sudden New Girl had to be considered in the top tier of TV comedies.  There are small kinks; mainly that they’re still slowly figuring out how to use Winston and Cece.  The handling of the other three characters, however, is superb.  Jess turned down the quirk just enough after the first few episodes of the first season and has been incredibly entertaining since.  Schmidt has been the break out character, and has certainly earned the acclaim, expertly playing a lovable pretentious douche with just the right amount of obnoxiousness to love.  Nick is the most underrated of the three, but my personal favorite; his smallest lines and movements I find hilarious and worth repeating over and over again; recently I quoted the short vaguely throwaway line, “I’m not a dad guy” constantly around my brothers who quickly grew tired of it, but I never did.  A Nick b-plot earlier in the season in which a homeless guy came into his bar and told Nick that he was him from the future was fantastic, and perfected walked the line of is-this-real-this-can’t-be-real for both the audience and Nick.  Another small flaw is that the writers haven’t quite properly figured out how to use cutaways – too often they get nothing from the flashback that wasn’t already gotten from the description.  Still, this is great TV just emerging, and if you’re not on the bandwagon yet, it’s time to get on.

4.  Community

Greendales

As noted in my Parks and Recreation entry, Community, due in part to its ambition and risk taking,  is more inconsistent compared to New Girl or Parks and Recreation but that’s a trade off for the occasional incredible episode in which everything comes together to produce 22 minutes of unforgettable TV.  Gimmick episodes, which work for some shows and don’t for others, have become the stock-in-trade of Community, probably more so than any other show ever. Several shows have attempted the fake clip show, but no one has done it better than Community, in the episode “Curriculum Unavailable”, in which John Hodgman plays a psychologist trying to convince the Greendale crew that they’re in a mental institution rather than a community college. An entire Law & Order homage episode would have been an insane idea for just about any non-Community show and was cat nip to longtime fans of the program including myself, and featured an appearance by real Law & Order medical examiner Leslie Hendrix and spoke to casual and hard core fans of Law & Order.  Virtual Systems Analysis may have been the best episode last spring, in which Annie and Abed take a tour through the Dreamatorium and explore Abed’s unusual psyche. Though that episode and others, Dan Harmon has shown he is the best since Joss Whedon at packing powerful emotional punches in gimmick episodes.  In any given week, Community is more likely to have a couple of attempts fall flat than the two shows listed before it on this list, and John Goodman’s role as head of the air conditioning repair school was an example of something that never quite worked for me as well as it could have (the plotline had its moments, but often felt like it was just off).   Community is also more likely though to produce that brilliant episode, and while I look forward every week to New Girl and Parks and Recreation because I know they’ll be good, I looked forward to Community because there was a shot at brilliance.

April Ludgate is an Asshole

29 Sep

I love Parks and Recreation. It’s one of the best comedies on television, and even if dare I say it may have entered a period of slight decline (Tom and Ann dating reeks of running out of ideas) it’s still great.  So this comes from a place of love, but I have a qualm with the program (well, a couple of qualms, but others can wait for later).

April Ludgate is a complete and utter asshole.  You know, I tolerated it for some time.  I don’t mind her being lazy; I can understand that.  I don’t mind her being cynical and pessimistic and disliking people in general; all understandable.  But what just crosses over the line is she’s out and out mean, and for no reason.  Not like busting someone’s chops, or having a good laugh, but like a serious jerk who no one would want to hang around.  She’s actually nice to Andy, and I understand why Ron would like her, but that’s it.

She’s always been pretty mean to people, and particularly Ann, and I was willing to empathize with that, even though it was completely unnecessary and uncalled for, because of the Andy situation.  What crossed the line for me was when she, at a party, at her, Andy, and Ben’s place, threw Chris’s car keys in the garbage.  This is not fucking funny or okay.  This is they keys to his fucking car.  Taking someone’s car keys for any reason other than he or she drank too much is totally unacceptable, but if she took them, let him look for them for a minute, and then gave them to him, I’d grant her some leeway, as maybe a good laugh.  But, no she throws them out.  How the fuck is he going to get home?  So basically he’s stuck with no keys, can’t get into his car and home, thinks he lost them, which might be the worst part of all, and has to call a locksmith, which costs money, to get back in, all because April thought it was fucking funny.  I’m not saying she has to like Chris.  But that’s more than just a mean comment or a snide remark, that’s an asshole-ish action.

An even worse and more line-crossing action occurs in the most recent episode, the second of the fifth season (“Soda Tax”). Ben was nice enough to bring April along with him to work for him in Washington D.C.  No one made her go, she had a job in Pawnee, and she absolutely didn’t have to accompany him.  There was no pressure on her to go; it was completely her choice.  It was nothing but an extremely generous gesture from Ben who thought she might enjoy something in a busier city which could be more intellectually engaging, which again, I point out, she could have easily turned down at no cost.

Ben realizes that his college interns don’t respect him, and unfortunately, it’s largely out of his control because they’re well connected.  What prompts this realization is partly their shoddy work product, but also a caricature of Ben with a stick up his ass posted on the wall of the office.  Ben is naturally appalled by this totally uncool picture and tries to bond with the well-connected ringleader intern to curry his good favor.  Eventually he gives up trying to be liked after seeing a second caricature, even after he worked so hard to be cool.  Ben tells the intern to just do his work, and please stop making caricatures.  Unfortunately, it turns out that the intern didn’t draw the caricatures at all.  April did.  This reveal comes right after Ben explains that April is not, as is commonly believed in the office, his daughter, but rather his friend.  Some friend.

Yes, April, who Ben did a great favor to by taking along to Washington .  Now it’s bad enough that she gives absolutely no effort and is of no help at all to Ben in DC, even constantly giving him guff.  But oh no, doing nothing is not enough to fuck over Ben, who is desperate to succeed in his dream job and is working really hard.  No, she has to actively sabotage him, making his entire work environment poisonous and stabbing him directly in the back.  It’s bad enough to be unnecessarily and unprofessionally lampooned by employees, but by one you brought with you who is supposed to be your ally and who you consider your friend.  That’s pretty unforgivable.

And then at the end, she all of a sudden agrees to give 15% and is helpful, using her powers for good to try to intimidate the unruly intern and that’s supposed to fucking make up for it.  I’m sorry.  Too fucking late. Ben may forgive her just like that, but I don’t.

It’s just so crazily mean spirited.  Chris, at least, and I’m not defending the stealing of keys, but he can be annoying.  Ben has never been anything but kind and helpful.  You cross Adam Scott, you cross me.  That’s just the way it is.

Again, I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt – her laziness and bad attitude, and her general dislike of people, I’m plenty willing to tolerate.  She still has lots of funny moments.  But it’s gone too far and there’s basically only one inescapable conclusion, when you try to actively sabotage someone who has been nothing but generous towards you.  April Ludgate is an asshole.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 5: Parks and Recreation

15 Nov

While 30 Rock has been the critical darling for the past half decade of so, Parks and Recreation has moved up past 30 Rock on many a person’s rankings (including mine, obviously), and that’s quite understandable.   Parks and Recreation is still in its growing phase, or at leas near it. The show continued to get better and perfect itself over this past season, it’s third, and has been as strong as ever in the first few episodes of the fourth.

In reviewing some comedies in this new television season, I’ve talked about how difficult it is to be great from the beginning with a comedy.  The actors have to learn how to best portray the characters, and the writers have to learn what works in a way that can only be established in actual episodes.  Like in sports, unfortunately, not everything can be worked out during the preseason.  There are many, many examples of this phenomenon – comedies finding their footing and improving greatly over the first season or two – but Parks and Recreation may be the single most dramatic in recent history.

When the show first started, I had mixed emotions.  I was excited, because it was created by Michael Schur, who was largely responsible for firejoemorgan, the fantastic blog which made fun of dumb sports commentary, but I was wary because I’ve never liked Amy Poehler.  The premise of the show at the time was that Poehler’s parks and recreation department employee was determined to turn a hole in small Indiana town Pawnee into a playground after Rashida Jones’ character Ann Perkins’ boyfriend Andy Dwyer(Chris Pratt) fell in and broke his legs.  I watched the first couple of episodes, and it confirmed my biggest concerns.  It had plenty of good points but Poehler’s government do-gooder overachiever Leslie Knope was so over the top that it overshadowed everything else.  It was a poor Michael Scott impression at best, and although Scott’s never been my favorite character, Poehler certainly couldn’t pull it off like Carrell.  I stopped watching.

Mid-way through the second season, people and the internet kept trying to tell me to come back.  I was skeptical, after having seen part of the first season, but it was people and internet I trusted, and it was still a good creative team, so I relented.  I’m glad I did.  The show was well on its way in its transofrmation to one of the best comedies on television.  The biggest single difference may have been that the writers pulled the reins in on Leslie.  Instead of an overbearing Michael Scott like character, she was aggressively competent, and relentlessly well meaning, making her touch of crazy which still existed more endearing than obnoxious, generally.

Even better, the supporting cast had come out of its shell.  Andy, the deadbeat boyfriend in the first episode originally planned to only appear in a couple of episodes, changed completely into a lovable happy go lucky but delightfully a little bit slow witted character who has become one of the breakout characters of the show.  The other biggest breakout character was mustachioed boss Ron Swanson, played by Nick Offerman, whose anti-government libertarian positions meant he left all the work for Leslie, and who offers lines, which even completely out of context sound wonderful like “You had me at meat tornado,” and produces the Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness, shown below.  The fact tha these characters have broken out so successfully, has obscured who I thought would be the obvious breakout character, Aziz Ansari’s Tom Haverford, whose fantastic renaming of food quote (I cut some of it, but it’s so good I didn’t want to leave out too much)”Fried chicken is fry fry chicky chick. Chicken Parm is chickey chickey parm parm. Chicken Cacciatore chickey catch. I call eggs pre-birds or future birds. Root beer is super water. Tortillas are bean blankies. And I call forks food rakes.”  inspired a fantastic website, Tom Haverfoods.

This reorganization of the show left one odd man out, Paul Schneider, who played Mark Brendanawicz, another government worker who was friends with Leslie.  Originally designed as loosely the Jim Halpert character, Brendanawicz’s role kept getting squeezed as the show continued until he chose to leave, which was the best thing for the show.  He was replaced by Adam Scott and Rob Lowe joined the cast as well at the end of the second season.  Even as the third season started, it was hard to remember that Schneider was ever on the show.  I have had a man-crush on Adam Scott ever since Party Down, and he does a fantastic job portraying awkwardness as Ben Wyatt.

Why It’s This High:  Making Amy Poehller make me laugh is something I never thought would happen, and this does, and still not nearly as much as Ron or Tom or Andy.

Why It’s Not Higher:  We’re at the point where there really aren’t great reasons why it isn’t higher, it’s very good, though I suppose I still don’t totally love Amy Poehler – old annoyances die hard.  Still, these are quibbles.

Best episode of the most recent season: I’ll pick from the third season, since it’s the last fully completed (arbitrary explanation, granted) and there’s really no obvious top episode or even couple of episodes as there are with some shows.  Without spending too much time to parse every individual episode’s A, B and C plots, I’ll go with “Eagleton” where there are some fantastic depictions of Pawnee’s rival town, the much richer Eagleton.  Although there’s a risk of occasional overuse, Parks and Recreation has gotten a lot of mileage from its depiction of residents of Pawnee as largely idiots, and its less frequent depictions of everything regarding Eagleton as snooty and ostentatious.