Parks and Recreation: “Harvest Festival”

Around a year ago, a friend remarked that she didn’t watch very many TV comedies because the ones she had seen all bore a mean streak, or were populated entirely by jerks. I immediately recommended she check out Parks and Recreation. A bad sitcom, like those my friend had watched, dislikes its characters and expects the audience to do the same. A good sitcom likes its characters but still plays them for fools from time to time. A great sitcom loves its characters, warts and all, and would rather build them up than tear them down. Parks and Recreation is, to say the least, a great sitcom.

It’s hard to know what to even say about a show that’s firing on all cylinders as completely as P&R is right now. “Harvest Festival” was a pure delight from beginning to end. April and Andy haggling over how many teddy bears he has to win her (two million). Donna nudging Ann into a rebound make-out session with a Jersey Shorecast-off. Leslie and Ben’s adorably nerdy high-five/fist-bump/laser guns. Ron Effin’ Swanson driving the children’s choo-choo (with Tom in tow). And of course, everyone’s unrestrained giddiness at the sight of Li’l Sebastian. Somebody, please, hurry up and make “giddy Ron Swanson” into an animated GIF.

This also felt like a good entry point for new viewers. We got a brief reminder of the stakes of the festival for the Parks Department, a nod to Ann’s recent (temporary?) break-up with Chris, and a recapitulation of Ben’s teen-mayor misadventures (and his status as, in some respects, a permanent “other” – even though he’s been accepted by Leslie and the gang, his lack of proper wonderment at Li’l Sebastian marks him as a clear Pawnee outsider).

The B-story was also comfortable material for veteran sitcom viewers who are new to P&R: April is upset when Andy fails to return her “I love you.” As well-worn as this plot device is, though, it felt genuine to the characters here. After all, Andy didn’t really fail to reciprocate April’s feelings; to him, “awesome sauce” means pretty much the same thing. (Love is “what makes the sauce so awesome.” Duh.)

As we all knew she would, Leslie gets the win she so richly deserves. Perhaps the conflict with Ken was wrapped up a bit too neatly, but given that the conflict involved an “Indian curse” there wasn’t much need to take it too seriously. My favorite thing about it was showing that Leslie is so good at cultivating relationships throughout Pawnee that even when she’s butting heads with another community leader, there’s a palpable sense of good faith and mutual respect. Actually, that was probably my second favorite thing, with my favorite being the Taiwanese-style animation of Leslie being possessed by demonic spirits. But it’s a close call.

Appropriately, more headaches came from Pawnee’s notoriously nasty local media than from the minor mishaps springing from the “curse.” Joan Callamezzo searching for the tiniest shred of scandal to prey upon, and ultimately being rebuffed yet again by Leslie’s determined positivity, captures the heart of this show perfectly. Joan, like those bad sitcoms I mentioned no less than the gotcha journalism she satirizes, uses schadenfreude to entertain. Leslie, like Parks and Recreation, would rather rely on camaraderie, accomplishment, and the occasional tiny horse.

Other notes:

  • “For the next few years Sebastian was the number one boys’ name in Pawnee. And the number-three girls’ name.”
  • “There’s a lot of people that don’t consider salad a food.”
  • Four hospitality kiosks, people! And clowns!
  • “Plus, you know, with Pawnee’s history it’s very difficult to not be offensive.”
  • “Eagle-eyed-tiger-new-band-name-I-call-it!”
  • Donna: “I’m gonna recommend you bottle that noise up.” Ann: “That’s what my mailman said…”
  • “Wow. That is a shockingly huge mini-horse erection.”
  • “I was also shortstop on my JV baseball team. No one ever brings that up.”
  • “Good idea. Horses love mazes!”
  • Channel 4: Number one in curse coverage.
  • “There are not, as one reporter suggested, dozens of escaped convicts meandering around the carnival. And at no time was any Parks Department worker, quote, feasting on petting zoo animals.”
  • “A Native American tribe making a deal with the government. What could go wrong?”
  • “Wow, why even say that right now?”

Originally published at The Vast Wasteland, March 18, 2011.



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