Parks and Recreation recap: ‘Harvest Festival’

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It’s a great week for Parks and Rec fans, as yesterday brought us news that show was picked up for a fourth season and will be debuting extra-long “producer’s cuts” throughout the rest of the season. NBC put an extended cut of this past season’s finale up online last May, and the longer episode delivered, somehow managing to improve upon what was a spectacular piece of television to begin with. On top of all this recent amazing news, “Harvest Festival” aired last night and lived up to the high expectations raised by the show doing a big event episode.

After only six episodes of build-up, I was surprised the writers chose to wrap up the Harvest Festival story arc so soon. The Harvest Festival felt season finale-worthy, and that’s the direction I was expecting the rest of season three to take. Instead, we got treated to the Harvest Festival without having to wait too long, just another example of the ways Parks and Recreation skirts the formulas most other shows use. It looks like the rest of the season will involve the Parks staff taking advantage of the festival’s success to further their careers.

The cold open presented another instance of Ben Wyatt taking the heat off Jerry by absorbing the brunt of the staff’s hatred, but only for a few minutes. We first saw this happen in “Ron and Tammy Part II,” in which Ben’s suggestion of calzones for the festival was met with much derision. Although I love all of the humor that comes from everyone’s utter disdain for Jerry, it’s nice to see the guy catch a break every once in a while when the group’s negative energy gets turned on someone else, even if it doesn’t last very long. By the end of the episode, Jerry has been blamed for losing a mini-horse somebody else was in charge of watching and for causing the power outage that traps him and several others on a Ferris wheel.

Leslie has gone all out for the big Harvest Festival. This means hiring Li’l Sebastian, a mini-horse who is a beloved celebrity in Indiana, for reasons unbeknownst to a frustrated Ben. The Li’l Sebastian gag was really funny, my favorite detail being that the mini-horse received an honorary degree from Notre Dame. The staff’s overwhelmed reactions to the horse were priceless, Nick Offerman and Aziz Ansari’s in particular. Don’t worry, we haven’t seen the last of Li’l Sebastian, as a future episode seems to be revolving around him. The recently-announced title for the season finale is “Li’l Sebastian.”

Li’l Sebastian is a great addition to the Parks and Recreation universe, but there’s another guest star in “Harvest Festival” who’s worthy of praise. This episode saw the first appearance of Jonathan Joss as Ken Hotate, a member of the Wamapoke Tribe and owner of the local casino. Joss is a character actor who’s typically cast in small parts as Native Americans. He’s best known for voicing John Redcorn on King of the Hill (comedy writer extraordinaire Greg Daniels co-created both King of the Hill and Parks and Recreation). Joss gives a memorable performance here, culminating in his over-the-top tribal ritual. I hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of this character.

“Harvest Festival” was a very satisfying episode that successfully wrapped up season three’s first big story arc, which is perhaps the show’s most-elaborate ongoing plotline so far. There were hilarious moments here from everyone in the cast (besides an absent Rob Lowe), and I particularly enjoyed Ann’s rebound fling with a wannabe Jersey Shore castmember and Ron Swanson continuing to gradually accept his role as the office father figure. I look forward to following this show into its fourth season and beyond.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

• Rob Lowe was missing from this episode, but there’s no cause for concern. He’ll be back next week and will be staying on the series indefinitely, as fears that he would be leaving to replace Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men have been allayed. I don’t know what his character Chris Traeger’s reason for coming back to Pawnee will be, but I’m sure the writers have come up with something good.

• The use of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” in the episode’s final minutes is a rare instance of non-diagetic music in Parks and Rec, but it works here. The song is a little overplayed, but it’s exactly the kind of satisfying, inoffensive song that blasts from booths at small-town celebrations all over the country.

• I loved the absurd computer animation from the news depicting Leslie’s disagreement with Ken Hotate. I never thought I’d see a TV series pay tribute to the kind of strange Taiwanese videos that surfaced to inaccurately explain Conan O’Brien and Ricky Gervais’s recent media debacles, but it worked well here. It’s the kind of intensely specific but very funny reference that I love this show for making. While the joke may be lost on those in the audience who aren’t familiar with the source of the homage, that’s almost what makes the joke funnier than it already is (like the Alta Vista gag in “Media Blitz”).

Bradford Evans is one out of four or five comedy writers who live in Los Angeles.