Parks and Rec has been the most consistent and reliable of NBC’s comedies this year. So, did the finale hold up the show’s standard of greatness, or did it crack under the finale pressure? Read my take after the break.
Parks and Rec
Episode grade: A
Community is my favorite of these two shows (and all of NBC Thursday) by a hair, but Parks and Rec has been much more consistent and reliably great. Both shows have their place: Community is quirky and moving and brave and rough around the edges; Parks and Recreation is brilliant and well-rounded and polished and unabashedly sweet. In short, it was not really a surprise to me that the P&R finale was another great episode. The show’s hit about 22 for 24 on the season.
One thing I loved is that the episode managed to keep the series’ low-key tone while throwing in lots of twists and major character developments. The episode didn’t feel nearly as frenetic as Community’s finale did, even though more ultimately happened. Maybe it was the deft, season-long buildup to these plot twists, or maybe it was just the first-rate writing and pacing, but “Freddy Spaghetti” felt something like an instant classic.
- The mild frustration of April and Andy getting so close, then slipping up – Much like the fourth season finale of The Office, whose final moments felt more bitter than sweet at the time April storming out on Andy in the hospital left me a bit bummed. At the same time, it didn’t feel forced or permanent, and I think it won’t be a major mark on the episode in the long run unless the writers decide to drag out this issue for too long. It seems inevitable that the two will get together, but I’m starting to grow weary of the will-they-won’t-they, compelling though it has been.
- The vilification of Ann – Well, sort of. She kind of ruined the great April-Andy moment and doesn’t seem to have much of a beneficial role on the show. A year ago, she was the most likable character on the show, and now that’s flipped. She works better when she’s a kind-hearted but skeptical straight-woman foil to Leslie than when she’s working on her own personal life.
- The overall boringness of Mark – The writers never really knew what to do with Paul Schneider. The reason his farewell bothered me in this episode was not because of how he was used here so much as how he was used the past two seasons. He transformed from sleazeball with a sort of weird vibe with Leslie to a dull straight man shoved to the side as Ann’s boyfriend. I think it’s a bit of a shame that the writers didn’t give a Leslie-Mark coupling more of a shot. Schneider and Amy Poehler’s chemistry in the last scene of “Freddy Spaghetti” was quite excellent.
- Tom’s behavior around Lucy – I love the actress chosen to play Lucy, and I love the idea of Tom with a girlfriend. Last week’s scene of the two meeting and deciding to go out was a really nice moment for Aziz Ansari. But here, Tom was again unleashed: from bragging about his sex at the concert to being a sketch-ball when Leslie knocked on his door, it’s hard for me to see Lucy’s continued attraction to him. (Edit: The producer’s cut of this episode on Hulu does a slightly bit of a better job fleshing this relationship out.)
- The conclusion between Leslie and Ben – I thought this episode served as a nice showcase of one of the core values of this show this season (especially compared to the more demeaning season 1), the idea that Leslie’s optimism is something to be admired. Repeatedly, P&R has shown that public servants working passionately to provide a service, even a tiny one, can really make a difference. The world would be a better place if everyone believed their jobs are as important as Leslie Knope believes hers is. Seeing cold-hearted Ben come around to this fact at the end really made the episode for me. The two have the good kind of tension, and I really liked Ben’s meek attempt at flirting.
- Any and every scene between April and Andy – That kiss was probably the best romantic payoff I’ve seen on TV since the Jim-Pam kiss at the end of The Office, season 2. But the rest of A&A’s interactions, from her avoiding him by talking to Gerry, to his admission of feelings for her, to their radiant smiles after the kiss, to her storming out of the hospital room stammering “bye,” everything just worked.
- The transformation of Andy – What a difference a year makes. At the end of season 1, Andy was the least likable character on the show. He took advantage of Ann and had no real redeeming qualities. Season 2 gradually built him up, and his admission to April that Ann kissed him, while naive, solidified his spot as the best dude on the show.
- Ron Swanson – Just… Ron Swanson. So good, episode in, and episode out. “Freddy Spaghetti” was no exception. There were great Ron comic moments (the fall as he races to warn Leslie, the turkey-bacon leg) and great moments of his leadership (his impassioned speech in defense of Leslie), too.
- The new guys – Rob Lowe didn’t do much for me last week, but he was on fire tonight. His undying chipperness and spontaneity seem to get funnier with each passing scene (I especially loved his request for a massage, goal of running to the moon, and explanation of his heart-rate). Adam Scott, on the other hand, has been a solid counter to Amy Poehler’s enthusiasm from the beginning, and he was sharp again tonight. I think he and Poehler have tremendous chemistry, and I look forward to that relationship developing next season.
- The extended cut – It’s great to see a show in its prime really fleshing out its ideas, even ones that won’t be aired on TV. The producer’s cut, available online after the show airs, has about eight minutes of new material, and makes the episode even stronger. I really wish Community had done this, too: “Freddie Spaghetti” didn’t need nearly the amount of space to breathe that “Pascal’s Triangle Revisited” did.
- The inversion of the season 1 finale – Last year, Andy had two casts taken off. This year, he had one put on. Last year, Mark and Leslie sat on the lot at night, worried about the difficulties ahead. This year, Mark and Leslie did the same, but celebrated a job well done instead. Last year, Ann and Andy broke up. Here, they kissed for the first time since then. That’s solid writing all around.
- The rest – Every time I write a bullet point about something I like, I think of two more things to add, so I’ll stop here before this post drags on too long. A few other highlights on my mind: every Gerry scene, Lucy having a firm handshake, the brilliant intro of the deserted City Hall, Andy’s “Dude, don’t even think about kissing me!” outburst (best line of the night), another classic public forum scene, Ron’s ring-tone, Andy’s “super sweet-ass rad crotch rocket,” etc. etc. etc.
P&R will have a bit of an extended hiatus in spite of its full renewal. NBC is pushing new comedy Outsourced on Thursday night, and so has done some shuffling. At first, it will be Community at 8, then 30 Rock at 8:30, then The Office at 9, then Outsourced at 9:30, with Parks and Rec held for a month or two. At some point, they’ll fit it back into the schedule. Assuming Outsourced is as bad as the early buzz indicates, I’m hoping it gets the boot and Parks and Rec gets put at 9:30 with a chance to grow a little bit more audience following The Office’s pretty strong ratings. 30 Rock’s ratings aren’t going up any time soon, but the still-young Parks and Rec is a lot stronger right now and has more potential to grow in ratings the way The Office did around this point in its life.