There’s nothing like a snow day like today to make even the most grown-up grown-up feel like a little kid. Even if you were working from home today, you’re staying in pajamas all day and eating grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch. So there could not have been a more appropriate night for Parks and Recreation to step aside for half an hour and leave us, in its place, AN ENTIRE EPISODE of The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show!
While it’s the classic Parks we’ll remember and truly miss, there’s something so fantastic about a show that has developed such a self-sustaining, bizarro internal universe that it can support an entire episode framed as a show-within-the-show and not lose the audience in the process. (The gold standard here is 30 Rock with its perfect Queen of Jordan episodes.) Johnny Karate is not only everything I have dreamed Andy’s educational show for kids would be and more, it is also a show I think I would have watched had it, you know, actually existed when I was a kid (or ever). Hey, as Johnny Karate explains, it’s all about learning, music, animals, fireworks, water skis, and, above all, ice cream, pizza, ninjas, getting stronger, sharks versus bears, and, above all, KARATE.
We begin with a mystery: Someone has stolen Johnny Karate’s guitar. It’s worth, literally, 900 million dollars. Looks like a job for Burt Macklin, FBI! “The peace in Iraq will be canceled if they don’t get this guitar back.” Donna is on the scene, playing “The Chief,” who tells Johnny that he’s the best agent she’s ever seen — “and I’ve worked with James Bond.”
The best part of this is seeing how Andy makes space on his show for all of his buddies, and all of their roles are so in keeping with the roles they play in his real life. Even Garry gets something sort of important to do!
Andy announces that it’s his last show because he’s moving to Washington. “It’s the capital of the entire world.” Already it’s clear that April is even more angsty and uncomfortable than unusual. (Or should I say, April Ludgate-Karate-Dwyer.) But she rallies for one last visit to April’s Animal Corner, where we discover that the Goliath Bird-Eating Tarantula is missing. Andy took it out to play hide-and-seek and he couldn’t find it. No big deal! April’s Animal Corner just morphs into one of our other favorite segments, Loose Animal in the Studio. Looks like this is something that happens with alarming frequency, as Andy already has a long, boring disclaimer, complete with graphics, ready to roll.
The structure of Andy’s show kind of reminds me, in spirit, of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls: It’s all about learning, trying, helping, and having fun. Johnny even has Five Karate Moves to Success: Make something, learn something, karate-chop something, try something new even if it’s scary to you, and be nice to someone.
First up: Make Something with Carpenter Ron! Andy asks Ron how he’s doing; Ron says, “My contract is very specific; I do not have to answer that question.” Never change, Swanson. When Ron thanks Andy for being like a son to him, Andy pulls up the graphic for “hug moment,” but Ron quickly vetoes it. Again, never change.
Next we move on to Learn Something with Professor Smartbrain, a.k.a. Ben Wyatt. This segment includes a little something called the Boring Buzzer, which is greeted with giggles from all the kids in the studio except that one nerdy kid with the glasses who will one day grow up to be just like Ben. Ben teaches about geography and how to get from Pawnee to D.C. Andy asks about teleportation, and let me just say, I think about teleportation at least once a day and I was really hoping that, by 2017, we would have the technology to at least teleport short distances by ourselves, if not across state lines with other people. But nooooo, Ben the Buzzkill says it’s “impossible” because of “theoretical physics.” So much for that dream. Thanks, Obama.
Mailman Garry shows up, ostensibly to deliver a heartfelt letter to Andy, but really to get karate-chopped by Andy’s fleet of pocket-size, adorable ninja children.
Onward: Try Something New with Leslie Knope! Leslie is going to teach us how to be brave by taking over hosting her friend’s TV show. Time for “Andy Dwyer: This is your life.” But first, fake commercials for Pawnee businesses! The first one is my favorite, Ron sitting at his desk, saying directly to camera: “Hire Very Good Building Company for your construction needs. Or do not. I am not a beggar.” [Long period of silence, Ron continues to stare at the camera, then checks his watch.] End of commercial.”
Leslie reminds us all of Andy’s — and, more broadly, Parks and Rec’s — humble beginnings. When these two kids met, Leslie wasn’t really our Leslie yet. She was still stuck in a Michael Scott mold, and Andy was still kind of a dope who’d broken both his legs by getting wasted and falling into a pit outside his then-girlfriend’s house. She gifts him a monogrammed day planner (has Andy ever planned a day in his life?), which he immediately loses. April looks like she wants to teleport right out of there. (Sorry to bring it up again, it’s just, I really don’t understand why we can’t do it yet!)
That British guy from Andy’s stint in London comes back to knight him and to knight Ben, which is a bit of a weird, pointless non sequitur but it allows Ben an opportunity to flaunt his Game of Thrones geekiness and Andy gets to be named “a loyal and true karate defender of the Queen.” Not too shabby.
Then we pay tribute to Burt Tyrannosaurus Macklin; Andy gets a genuine Pawnee Police Department badge, even though the real police officer would like to make it very clear that this badge comes with no law enforcement power whatsoever. Andy gets Ben to look at a clue to his missing guitar “under your telescope” (it’s a microscope) and Ben sees that the clue has the initials “J.C.” on it. “President Jimmy Carter stole my guitar. But why?” Nope. It’s John Cena, martial-arts superstar!
(At this point in my notes, once it became clear that everyone who would be featured in this episode had already gotten their time, I wrote: SERIOUSLY, WHERE THE HELL IS AZIZ ANSARI? I know the show has some internal justification for his absence, but really, what gives? We're in the home stretch!)
Ron comes out dressed as Duke Silver, and Donna sings a slow jazz rendition of “Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting.” I wasn’t feeling that productive up until this moment, but now at least I know what my wedding song will be.
Andy thanks everyone, saying that this has been the greatest job he’s ever had and “today has been the best day of my life. And that’s saying something, because I once found a rock that looked exactly like Santa Claus.” April looks like she wants to vomit, then die, then vomit again, then die some more. Andy is ready to be nice to someone; April bolts out of the studio.
April is a wreck because Andy is doing what he’s meant to do, and she doesn’t want to be the reason he can’t do what he loves, which is really moving! But Parks, feminist wonderland, rarely if ever requires a female character to sacrifice her professional (or personal) ambitions on the altar of love. It’s always the guy who does the giving up — would that it were so here on Earth as it is in Pawnee heaven! — so it’s not really a surprise to hear Andy tell April that all he wants to do is go with April to Washington, because everything they do together will be awesome. “You are what I love, without you I wouldn’t be anything, you’re my Verizon-Chipotle-Exxon.”
I leave you with this giant pile of feelings and the Johnny Karate good-bye song:
Well, it’s time for us to go, but I want you all to know
That karate’s not about fighting,
It’s about knowing who you are,
And being kind and honest while you’re kicking for the stars.
Yeah, that’s the Johnny Karate way!
Two episodes to go, everybody. Deep breaths. And be careful. Pretty sure that tarantula is still on the loose.
A few other things:
Perd as the announcer!
“I don’t give a crap, Batman! You work for me. Increase the perimeter.”
I would like Andy to give a tour of all the major landmarks in D.C.
“Always remember, kids: When you find something new, you must always lick it before you eat it.”
“Remember: Never attack a real postal employee.”
The Wamapoke Casino’s slogan: “Slowly taking back our money from white people one quarter at a time.”
Andy: “Phenomenon means ‘to explore a cave.’”
There’s a Mouserat rockumentary!!
“I don’t know what the problem is, sergeant. Just drain the ocean!”
What show wouldn’t benefit from the addition of a Funky Monkey Dunk Tank?