‘Parks and Recreation’ return for its final season with a strong pair of premier episodes

Parks and Recreation is often called the Little Show That Could: it struggled mightily through its six seasons with super-low ratings, always seemingly on the cusp of cancellation. Now in its final season, NBC seems to have enough though, and its burning off its final 13 episodes with back-to-back airings for the months of January and February.

“2017”

Parks and Recreation For those who remember, the last season ended on a cliffhanger, jumping three years into the future, which brings us to 2017. Leslie is rocking bangs, but other than that she seems to be the same. And though it’s the future, we don’t get any jet packs or flying cars – the only thing we get that’s futuristic is a weird, sci-fi iPhone-thingy distributed by Grizzl, the company that Ben wooed for free WiFi last season. But there’s another big change – the gang of Parks and Rec have split up: Donna’s a successful real estate agent, Tom’s a popular and lucrative restauranteur, Andy’s working as a kiddie TV show  host (Johnny Karate plagiarizing Pee-Wee’s Playhouse), and Ron Swanson left the government to work in the private sector, starting his own company, the Very Good Building and Development Company.

Unfortunately, an icky change is that Leslie and Ron are now mortal enemies. What was once one of the coolest mentor/protegee relationships on TV (reminiscent of the friendship between Liz and Jack on 30 Rock), has soured because Ron’s company is working with Sweetums heiress Jessica Wicks (a great Susan Yeagley) on selling off a large piece of wild land to the highest bidder; unfortunately, Leslie wants that land for a park, and is doggedly trying to get the land for the government. Also, something called “Morningstar” came between the two former friends, which results in an awful feud, likening Ron to Voldemort. It’s unsettling to see them at odds with each other – even if the two had diametrically opposing viewpoints on politics and the role of government, they had a deep love and respect for each other, which is seemingly gone at this point.

In the other plot of the episode (the not-as-strong-plot) has April and Andy worry that they’re becoming “boring” – the two have stable jobs and are making good money. Also, they help Leslie and Ben take care of Wyatt triplets, though Leslie’s thoughtful gift of a slow cooker is what set April off on a moody funk (moodier than usual), worrying that she and her husband are drifting into complacent middle-aged boredom. I like that April and Andy are growing up, but I don’t really like that the solution is for them to plan silly stunts at an evening gala, only to be sabotaged by their own caution (it’s great that poor Andy takes Zantac for his chronic heartburn). Eventually, they do the most grown up thing people do when it’s time for them to admit they’re grown up: they buy a house, but because it’s April, the place looks haunted (and looks like the house from The Amnityville Horror).

Parks and Recreation

Oh, and in a nothing C-plot, Ben is getting a Man of the Year award from the Pawnee Chamber of Commerce, and is stupidly shocked that when Tom comes up to present the award, Tom goes on about his own business successes at the expense of Ben’s accomplishments. My question was, “Did Ben just meet Tom? Tom pulled this nonsense forever.” The way the two worked out their differences was Tom came in the next day and read his original speech which was so heartfelt and kind, the two men dissolved into tears.

Though the Ben’s Man of the Year thing was a silly plot device, it did allow for Leslie to have a great moment with Ken Hotate (Jonathan Joss), chief of the Wamapoke tribe. Leslie is courting Ken to convince the Wamapoke tribe to help the Pawnee government buy the land – and Ken has a great moment when he actually breaks down Leslie’s appallingly insensitive request: basically, the Wamapoke are supposed to help pay for land that was stolen for them, but then simply give it to the government.

Of course, viewers will see vague traits of the first season in Leslie’s new crusade. In the premier season, Leslie was hellbent on getting a dirty old lot turned into a neat little park. She succeeded because she had the support of her team as well as the guidance of her best friend, Ann. But in “2017” we see that because Leslie moved on to a higher position, her former colleagues did as well, and now she’ll have to go on her adventures solo. It’s a poignant fact because it’ll test just how capable Leslie is without her dynamic team behind her.

So it’s no surprise that she struggled in “2017” to come up with a good plan. In the end, she realized she’d never outbid Grizzl’s $90 million bid, and hopes to appeal to Jessica’s “decent” side – instead of offering money, she conjures an image of a park dedicated to Jessica’s late husband – making her married name immortal. It’s the sort of last minute Hail Mary kind of move that always helps tie up the episodes, only this time it’s a bit sadder because she doesn’t have her pals to revel in her success.

Parks and Recreation

While “2017” isn’t the best episode of the show, it’s still pretty strong. The problem with the show – a problem it had throughout its run – is that often it felt as if the themes were pretty repetitive, even if the plots were pretty original. Siloing Leslie is interesting because so much of her life is about her job and her friends – and though her friends still love her, it’s a different world for Leslie now, and it’s clear that even if professionally, she’ll do alright, socially, she may not be as adept (in a small detail, we understand that motherhood and work has kept Leslie from keeping up with Donna and Tom).

Random notes:

  • I love that Jon Hamm had a tiny cameo as the dumdum Ed, who gets fired for his incompetence and offers a cheery “if anyone wants to hang, I’ll be at Subway.”
  • Ben in his black tie looks like a “sexy orchestra conductor”
  • In the future, Shia LeBouf is a wedding dress designer – so is Vera Wang a pretentious wannabe pretentious artist/actor?
  • Larry/Gerry is Terry now….I can’t keep track.
  • Ron’s revolutionized eating with a stick by spearing seven shrimps on a stick, to which a furious Leslie responds: “Shove them in your dumb mouth and when I turn around, you can stab me in the back with the skewer.”
  • At the gala, Ron and Leslie get into a shoving match and destroy the cake. When Leslie orders the backup cake and finds out that one hasn’t been made,  she retorts, “Who doesn’t bake a back-up cake?” A wise and sage question, indeed.
  • I love the Leslie baked “Prepare for War” cookies, except the “o” in “war” is a heart – and it reminded me of last season when Leslie baked cookies for Eagleton, but ran out of yellow icing and used mustard instead.
  • In the future, Kevin James is Jason Bourne in the reboot of the Bourne franchise. I should say in the dystopic future, Kevin James is Jason Bourne in the Bourne films.

“Ron and Jammy”

Parks and Recreation

When I read the name of the title, I thought I misread it wrong “Ron and Jammy?” In this season, it looks like Leslie’s list of archenemies has grown: from Jeremy Jamm (an always welcome Jon Glaser), to Tammy (Megan Mullaley), to now her former bestie, Ron. Because Ron’s (probably) happily married, Tammy’s set her sights on the insane librarian and former Mrs. Swanson, Tammy. Because she’s smarting over Ron’s constant refusals, she sets her sights on the ugly Jamm, instead. Because Jamm is on the committee that decides the fate of Leslie’s latest project, she initially uses Tammy’s hatred of Ron to coerce Jam to vote in her favor – except, Tammy’s still obsessed with Ron and hopes that if she votes in his favor, he’ll go back to her.

This plot twist turns into a rather strange episode, in which Ron and Leslie set aside their differences – for now – to help Jamm get away from Tammy’s craziness. The sequence is funny and well-written – I especially loved the “Pavlovian” method of spraying Tammy’s perfume in Jamm’s face, and then Leslie savagely hitting him in the face (I always wanted Leslie to just haul off and beat the guy – Ben did it once, but it was especially cool to see Leslie wail on the guy, even if it was for his own good). Leslie goes as far as role playing as Tammy, mimicking Tammy’s helium-voice and smuttiness. Jamm manages to extricate himself from Tammy’s clutches, thanks to the intervention of Ron and Leslie, and in gratitude and loyalty, he refuses to vote, forcing a tie. Leslie and Ron have a moment when the two acknowledge the others class, but don’t end as friends.

Parks and Recreation

The other plots weren’t as strong, but still managed some laughs. I love that Tom and Andy zipped off to Chicago to meet up with Tom’s ex, Lucy (Natalie Morales). It’s great to see my hometown on the show, though I cursed that I wasn’t around to see the filming. Tom’s feeling of ennui and loneliness push him to offer Lucy a job back in Pawnee – sad trombone: Lucy’s jazzed about the job, but she’s got a boyfriend. A sweet subplot, but a nothing one.

Parks and Recreation

A bit more substantial is April’s quarter life crisis that is inspired by Joan Callamezzo (Mo Collins). The Pawnee celebrity is a mess – an awful and unraveling mess, which makes her very attractive to April. Joan is honored on the Pawnee Walk of Fame and shares her story, revealing that she’s wanted to be on TV since she was ten; she gives this piece of (surprisingly) good advice: do what you love, otherwise, what’s the point? She shares her feelings with Ben, who tries to help – and the two visit a mortician, but even though the morbidity of the job appeals to April, the minutia and study involved doesn’t. Ben promises not to give up on his friend, and the two end with a reluctant hug. Parks and Recreation

I liked “Ron and Jammy” slightly more than “2017” because it feels as if the plot is tighter. The first episode came off as more of a catch up, letting us know what happened in the long interim. “Ron and Jammy” works better because it manages to transcend the baggage of the show’s last season. Watching this episode, I thought, strangely, of the later seasons of Desperate Housewives and how the core group of characters had their own plots that often separated them from each other. Because they don’t work together anymore, and because the characters have grown up so much in the three  years, it’s unclear how will they be able to interact as much as they did back in the day (this was one of the reasons why Ann Perkins’ role was so problematic later on).

Random notes:

  • I love that Jamm’s karaoke song is “Gangster’s Paradise”
  • Leslie’s surprisingly self-aware, announcing that she has a “severe tunnel vision about achieving my goals.”
  • Mo Collins is great.
  • Leslie’s assessment of Ron: “In my experiences with butt faces, you are one.”
  • Was Lucy in Destiny’s Child?
  • Andy could’ve been the head coach of the Chicago Bulls.
  • In the future, the Cubs won the World Series. huh.
  • In the future, Hitch got a sequel. I guess Kevin James has a robust role in the future. Shudder….
  • As a Chicagoan, I liked seeing Tom, Andy, and Lucy walk on the lakefront as well as hang out underneath Cloud Gate.
  • April: “How did you become a mortician? Can’t I just sign up?”
  • Ron on Tammy: “Why don’t you go into the pet store and feed yourself to the snakes?”
  • I love it when Tammy strips naked in the library and when Leslie shouts in alarm, she’s shushed by another patron, even though there’s a crazy, naked woman screaming her head off.

 

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Filed under Comedy, Sitcom, Television, Writing

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