Thursday, April 16, 2009

Parks and Recreation, "Canvassing": The Knope fillibuster

Spoilers for episode two of "Parks and Recreation" coming up just as soon as I call my top sod guy...
"I'll push anything... through anything... you know me." -Leslie
I liked the pilot episode, but I thought "Canvassing" was an improvement across the board.

First, they've quickly started nudging Leslie away from being a Michael Scott clone. Yes, her reach vastly exceeds her grasp, and her tunnel vision can blind her to the bigger picture, and several other cliches I won't bother to mix together here, but she already seems much more self-aware and aggressive than Michael. It took the "Office" writers until well into the second season before Michel stopped being a cartoon, but there were moments here -- notably Leslie with her mom (played by the great Pamela Reed), but also Leslie hearing about the project being fast-tracked, and Leslie catching the others playing Rock Band with Andy -- where she seemed very human.

Second, after rightly devoting most of the pilot to establishing Leslie, "Canvassing" gave the supporting cast more to do.

I've only watched a few minutes of the David Gordon Green movies, and I never saw "Lars and the Real Girl," so "Elizabethtown" was my only real previous exposure to Paul Schneider. But I'm already liking the way his more laid-back, natural style fits into this more anarchic, comic world. His delivery of "April, please stand behind me" as they realized they were talking to a pedophile was hilarious precisely because it was so low-key.

We also got to see more of Aziz Ansari in action as Tom, and to see that he isn't so much a slacker as a hustler, working the phones (and making more corrupt deals) while the others were pounding the pavement. He also got the episode's second-biggest laugh with the way he said he was oddly attracted to Kate Speevak.

If I have a concern at this point, it's the singular focus of the series. Mike Schur has talked a lot about how these kinds of public works projects can go on for years, even decades, and I'm not really worried about the realism of it. I just think the show would benefit from having subplots that are unrelated (or tangentially connected at best) to the park subcommittee. Episode two, when you're still getting the audience used to the idea, may be too early for that, but "The Office" and "30 Rock" both benefit (as they did tonight, which I'll blog about later) from being able to toggle between at least two different stories, and I'd like to see some of that here, if possible.

Still, a good second building block on a project that's coming together much better and more quickly than Leslie's.

What did everybody else think?

28 comments:

ZeppJets said...

I thought the pilot was the stronger of the two so far. This early in the run, my favorite things have been the broad, visual gags (Leslie trying to dislodge the drunk from the slide, "Is that a travel pillow?" etc) which this episode lacked.

I'm a fan of Rashida Jones and would like to see her get more to do. I still have high hopes for this show.

olucy said...

I also liked the pilot more than this ep. I thought this one dug her deeper into Michael Scott territory. You do have a point about her aggressiveness... but there's too many comments that paint her as utterly oblivious to her place in the universe.

Will watch another one or two, but if it doesn't stick, it won't break my heart.

christy said...

I actually thought this one felt even more Office-like than the pilot. It wasn't really Leslie herself, but little bits of the whole thing. Several lines or mannerisms had me thinking "oh that reminds me of the Office" especially during the first half.

Same time, I also laughed quite a bit. I think it's very possible this one could come into its own quickly.

Cameron Hughes said...

I think Chris Pratt is great on this. The rest is just meh.

"You have BIRDS now?"

Rachel said...

I started wanting to watch this because of Amy Poehler and Mike Schur, but now it is a much watch just so I can get a weekly dose of Paul Schneider. Watch "Lars and the Real Girl" and "All the Real Girls"! Join the Schneider loves fest, he really likes real girls apparently...

Sirfuller said...

That line she used on the lady who didn't want the park -- 9 of 10 meth addicts agree with you. That was hilarious for my sick sense of humor.

Stylist Mick said...

If Parks & Recreation doesn't find a way onto the schedule, a spinoff of Andy and his Rock Band dreams would be very much appreciated. Sort of like a musical version of Eastbound and Down.

Mike F said...

funny moments/lines, but still pretty meh overall...and trying too hard

bsangs said...

Trying WAY too hard - and it's about 25 minutes of non-funny. One or two lines isn't going to keep people watching. I'll give it a couple more episodes before wondering when Amy goes back to SNL.

Viking Zombie Boyfriend said...

I liked this one a lot more than the pilot. One of my favorite bits: the doomed Easter egg hunt, which built up to the shot of the little girl tearfully hurling her empty basket onto the ground. Also loved: the dynamic between Leslie and her Mom, and the continued douche-tasticness of Ann's boyfriend. (He's like a cute FDR!)

Matt said...

I really liked this one, because whenever I've done political work, there've always been people like Leslie who don't realize that for all the passion and preparation they bring to their cause, they actually undermine it. (See, e.g., Howard Dean Canvassers in Iowa--2004.)

Yes, there were a couple of moments that were excessively Michael Scott-y (the Jack Nicholson stuff), but Leslie's a different type of character--she actually realizes she isn't that good yet, but thinks she could be great. Michael, on the other hand, is oblivious to that he's anything other than great.

dronkmunk said...

I sure hope Ricky Gervais is getting some royalties for this show.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was hysterical. I agree the show's world is a little small right now, but that's something they can work on later. Leslie's Karl Rove tactics were hysterical. Mostly because they were so totally accurate. ("If you don't vote for this park it means you don't love your child!") I think if The Office weren't around to compare it to people wouldn't be judging the show nearly so harshly.

Ryan said...

I'll agree with the previous remarks and say that Leslie was more Michael Scott-like in this episode. One of the things that I thought might separate the two based on the pilot was that Leslie seemed less prone to nonchalantly making offensive comments, but then the line about how Tom wouldn't need any sunscreen was straight out of The Office.

But all that said, to me, if the worst thing you can say about a show after two episodes is "it's really similar to another show that I like a lot," then that's not such a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

One thing that annoys me is that Aziz Ansari's character is named Tom Haverford. I love that they've done color blind casting (we definitely need more minorites on screen), but would it kill them to give the character a name that at least suits the actor? It's more distracting than all the hidden bellies on HIMYM. They did the same thing on House. I love Kal Penn, but he did NOT look like a Lawrence Kutner. And then they explained that he'd been adopted and changed his name (ironically, the only personal detail we ever got about him) but that was clearly an attempt to explain away the name after the fact. Wouldn't it have just been easier to have changed it when they cast an Indian actor? I remember last year that Lucy Liu's character on Cashmere Mafia was named Mia Mason. I was waiting for some explanation, but then Mr. and Mrs. Mason showed up and they were both Chinese. Um, huh?

Alan Sepinwall said...

One thing that annoys me is that Aziz Ansari's character is named Tom Haverford. I love that they've done color blind casting (we definitely need more minorites on screen), but would it kill them to give the character a name that at least suits the actor?

There was a joke in the original pilot script (which they may or may not reinsert in a later episode, so I'll be vague) about how he changed his name (first and last) to something more deliberately WASP-y.

lar said...

I'm still on the fence about this show--I want to love it, but I'm not quite there yet.

BTW, "Lars and the Real Girl" is a TERRIFIC movie, one of the best I watched last year. Definitely one for your must-see list.

Anonymous said...

Do people think the show would be better if they dumped the documentary angle and just made it a regular single camera sitcom? I don't think it takes away from the show as much as some people do, but I also don't think it really adds much either. And getting rid of it would lessen comparisons to The Office. Hopefully seeing all the people complaining about the shows being too similar has at least killed the idea for the ill-advised Office spin-off Ben Silverman really seems to want.

Michael 8-) said...

Alan, go watch "Lars and the Real Girl." It's one of those stories about the way you wish the world would actually be...

I've got to say I, too, think the documentary angle is stupid. Off and on, I've felt like it strains the credibility of "The Office" or they had to come up with ways to work around the conceit this far into the show.

I don't really understand why they would choose to make another show with the same concept. For example, I have no problem with the character of Leslie's boss, but I keep rejecting the belief that he would say some of these things with a camera in his face recording him.

Number Five said...

Agreed with those who said Leslie felt more Michael Scott-ish - they don't quite have a handle on her yet. Similarly, the town hall meeting didn't really work as the climax of the episode. (although I liked "she's filibustering her own meeting!" and the use of "youth") Were we supposed to believe a lot of the neighborhood is actually supposed to the park idea? Or that Leslie antagonized them in opposing it? Both?

But, the easter egg sequence was very funny. So were several individual moments, like the pedophile encounter, and the Rock Band betrayal, and the "fast track" discussions. I liked how they showed Leslie's boss has his own boss he has to bow to. They have a great cast.

I agree that I'd prefer to see the park/pit be a throughline but not necessarily dominate most episodes. It is, after all, a workplace comedy, so there's no limit to the stories they could do, and someone in Leslie's position would have lots of different things on her plate.

Peter said...

i thought it was a pretty crappy episode and a waste of pamela reed but i have to agree with leslie and tom:

the phantom tollbooth is an AWESOME book

georgie said...

I loved Amy in SNL, Blades of Glory and Baby Mama, so I desperately want to like this show... but I just can't :( I'm not a big Office/Michael Scott fan either, which kind of explains it. It's just too painful to watch this character type make a fool of him/herself for 25 minutes. Amy's got a lot of energy and is brilliant when she's zany... I feel like this is a waste of her Amy Poehler-ness.

DolphinFan said...

The best way to view any of the six episodes they're going to show this season (I think that's a standard late midseason short order) is that this is a trial run ahead of the 2009-2010 major test. And just like Season 1 of THE OFFICE paved the way for some vital changes that truly ignited the show's success in Season 2, P&R thus far is in the comedy lab.
My suggestions for either the remaining 4 eps this year OR Season 2:
*Keep the confessional format, after briefly explaining why it's going on, and then never refer to the background again.
*Make Leslie aware of how both Tom and Nick feel about her as a boss and underling, respectively.
*More Rashida Jones, less Chris Pratt. We had a Roy already and you are not Roy, sir.
*Transfer the intern to Army Basic Training in Greenland. Once there, mention that Gen. Chuck Cunningham has recommended her for a 12-year leadership program. If the show somehow lasts 13 seasons, mention that she's dead.
The show has potential to be terrific. But we won't know if will be until November.

Anonymous said...

I found it really hard to believe that no one at that meeting could find anything positive to say about replacing a giant pit with a park. All Leslie would have to say is, "We've ordered an environmental impact statement, but really, what's the environmental impact of leaving a huge pit full of trash where your kids can fall into it?"

krystle-ab said...

I am going to go against the tide here, I actually loved this episode (and the pilot).

I have only ever wacthed snippets of 'the office' and I was completely un-spoiled about this show, in fact I had never even heard of it until it was on my screen. Maybe these two things effected my viewing (I certainly am not comparing the two shows as I just can't) and I had no expectations.

blinky said...

This show is, staring-at-the-screen in slack-jawed amazement, bad. We watched this show and wondered why it was so horrible. It seems like it was reverse engineered from watching The Office by a team of 10th grade drama students from Albania.
Amy Poehler seems to be trying her best to channel Pam trying to act like Michael Scott. She has all the same facial expressions as Pam but none of the comic timing.

Just awful!

Michael said...

Absolutely loved it. Started laughing right from the beginning with the Easter egg hunt and didn't stop.

Anonymous said...

"Were we supposed to believe a lot of the neighborhood is actually supposed to the park idea?"

"I found it really hard to believe that no one at that meeting could find anything positive to say about replacing a giant pit with a park."

It's been almost a year since this has been commented on but I figured it couldn't hurt.

I was watched the commentary for this episode and the creators said that they dug out the pit for the show in a city owned empty lot they rented. In between takes they asked some of the actual neighbors in the area what they would want the empty lot to be used for. Some said condos, some said a supermarket. Only one said a park.

There are definitely negatives to a city owned park. Upkeep costs could affect taxes, bums sleeping there, drug users, pedophiles. Obviously, it's a bit ridiculous that they wouldn't simply fill in a giant hole with some dirt but saying everyone would be for a park isn't necessarily true.