While not as wildly funny as the previous week’s episode, last night’s new Parks and Recreation still packed in a lot of great moments. That’s no surprise, considering it was written and directed by co-creator and showrunner Michael Schur (best known to fans as Dwight’s offbeat, bearded cousin Mose on The Office). Although the show features a writing staff of about nine or ten who each do a mostly-equal share of the work, if anybody is the auteur behind Parks and Rec, it’s Michael Schur. While a few elements in the episode didn’t work for me, it’s on the whole a very entertaining installment and a nice showcase for Schur’s behind-the-camera abilities.
The trouble begins this week when Leslie introduces her plans to bury a time capsule in Pawnee, with its contents representing modern life in the town. Local oddball Kelly Larson (played by SNL vet Will Forte) swoops in and throws everything off course by chaining himself up in Leslie’s office when she refuses to include the Twilight books in the capsule. Forte is the third Saturday Night Live cast member to guest star on Parks and Rec. While I didn’t enjoy his guest spot as much as I did Fred Armisen’s, I found Forte’s style of humor much more suited for this show than Andy Samberg’s. I was worried going into the episode that Forte would be playing the kind of simple, deranged guy he’s known for, but it was surprising to see the writers infuse him with a little depth by having him go so far out of his way for his daughter.
Leslie seeks to resolve her Twilight problems by inviting residents to throw their ideas into the ring. The show features these town hall meetings (or “crackpot conventions” as Ron calls them) every now and then, but I’ve never been too crazy about any of these scenes. There are plenty of laughs to be had as these absurd bit players are trotted out, but I’d rather spend more time with the main cast. One of the things I love about Parks and Rec is that the central characters can be as ridiculous and weird as those found in a cartoon, while still remaining completely grounded and three dimensional. While Ron, Leslie, and the countless other wonderful characters behave outlandishly from time to time, their flaws come from a very human place and they care deeply for one another. These town hall “crackpots” are simple and lack the blend of goofiness and sweetness that makes the rest of the show work so well. Adam Scott’s Ben Wyatt refers to the crackpots as “weirdos who care,” and I think this is an apt way of describing the central cast. While the town hall weirdos care for their comically trivial interests, they don’t care for each other like the show’s larger characters and that’s the main reason they’re not as effective.
Parks and Rec’s greatest strength is finding fresh new combinations between members of its large central cast. Last week, we saw Ben and Tom get a little bit of screen time together, as well as a return to the Andy-Ron dynamic that worked so well in season two. Last night’s “Time Capsule” featured the first major pairing of Chris Traeger and Andy. Both characters have emerged as bright spots in a cast full of amazing performers, so it was only a matter of time before they were paired up. Chris’s boundless enthusiasm proved a nice match for Andy’s unabashed plainness, and I look forward to the writers using this combination more in future episodes. I’m sure we’ll see the writers continue to play around with different pairings in this large cast. Am I alone in desperately wanting Ron Swanson and Rob Lowe’s Chris Traeger team up?
Besides the ongoing Andy and April business, this was largely a standalone show, taking a break from the Harvest Festival story arc. The episode is one of the six filmed immediately following production of season two to cover for Amy Poehler’s pregnancy, back when the show was planned to return in the fall. This was the last of the six filmed because it featured the best opportunities to conceal Poehler’s condition, but the episode was always intended to air at this point in the show’s chronology. Last night’s show leaned a little heavily on the absurd side of the absurdity-pathos balance Parks and Recreation has developed for itself, but was still well worth watching.
• Leslie running down the town slogan list was an episode high point. Some of Amy Poehler’s best moments in Parks are these quick-cut sequences, in which she delivers a stream of improvised lines. Last season’s hunting episode, in which she quickly rattles off her list of excuses to the park ranger, is another impressive example of Poehler’s strong riffing abilities.
• I love the idea of Jerry’s recording snafu living on for him to be the source of frustration for future generations. It’s my favorite Jerry joke of the season so far.
• I’m worried they’re turning Rob Lowe’s use of the word “literally” into a catchphrase. He uses it twice in the episode and once in the “stay tuned” voice over message before the tag and credits. Keep Parks and Recreation catchphrase-free!
• This week’s episode was a little light on Ron Swanson, but don’t worry, fans! Next week, Megan Mullally returns as Ron Swanson’s ex-wife Tammy in “Ron and Tammy 2.”
Bradford Evans is a writer living on the edge.