Thursday, May 14, 2009

Parks and Recreation, "Rock Show": Mouse-Rat! Mouse-Rat!

Quick spoilers for the "Parks and Recreation" first season finale coming up just as soon as I write a song about something physically near me...
"Honestly, Leslie, it's going to be a long uphill battle. You are going to be super-annoyed with all the people who want you to fail. There is a sea of red tape, endless road blocks. So, yeah, I don't know. I don't know." -Mark
"Screw it. I'm gonna try to do it anyway." -Leslie
Now that was an episode of a show I would look forward to watching in the future -- and a main character I would enjoy watching as part of it.

It took Greg Daniels, Mike Schur and Amy Poehler six episodes, but I think they may have found a good tone for both the series as a whole and Leslie in particular. Here, the jokes and the characterization all felt natural, Leslie felt like a person instead of a caricature (or like Michael Scott's long-lost cousin) and, like on some of the more relaxed episodes of "The Office," I just enjoyed spending time with these characters.

The supporting characters have all been fine all along (particularly Tom and Ron), and the last few episodes have shown that the series doesn't have to just do episodes about getting the park built. The real problem was Leslie. Poehler, like a lot of sketch comedians, even the great ones, has a tendency to play broad, and it was hard to either relate to or laugh at Leslie within the deliberately mundane context and format of the show. But watching her squirm on her unexpected date with the old man, or getting drunk with Brendanawicz, I felt like I finally knew who this person was, and I liked her even as I was laughing at the awkwardness. They dialed her back just enough for it to work, even as they were giving other characters some broader gags to play, like the look Tom gives the camera when he realizes that the geezer is Leslie's date.

I also loved Ann tearing into Mark, who's turned out to be quite the d-bag.(*) Earlier in the episode, my wife and I were having a discussion about whether Rashida Jones is actually funny, or just a person who fits in well in projects where she faciliates other people in being funny. In the end, we decided there was no crime in being a good straight woman, and while her rant also wasn't a big laugh riot, it did pop off the screen in that way she does when she's playing righteous anger.

(*) Interestingly, the original pilot script that I read had Mark cashing in his favor from Ron for the sub-committee not because he admired Leslie's optimism, nor because he felt bad for her because Tom and April were making fun of her, but simply because he had met Ann and needed an excuse to keep seeing her. That version of the script was less flattering for both Mark and for Leslie, and I like how it eventually played out, in that we still got to see Leslie at that earlier stage in a kinder light, but now we're also seeing that Mark's someone who acts like a nice guy but is really a tool. Whereas Andy seems like a tool but is really... no, he's also a tool. But, as played by Chris Pratt, a funny tool.

I've been talking for most of this abbreviated first season about a learning curve, and about wanting to give the show time to find itself. I'm not saying "Rock Show" was a masterpiece, or the series' Rosetta Stone, but at the very least it's a signpost on the way to it becoming the kind of comedy I believe it can be with the talent in front of and behind the camera.

What did everybody else think?

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree Andy is funny, but where do we go with him? It won't be believable if Ann stays with him...

Anonymous said...

Ron introducing Tom to his date as "my ex-wife's more attractive half-sister" has to be one of the funniest things I have heard in a long time.

Anonymous said...

Ron owns all. "Who wants to watch me climb a tree!?"

Anonymous said...

I hate this show ... that is all.

LA said...

I thought Rock Show topped both The Office and 30 Rock finales tonight. Aziz is so damn funny.

Alf said...

I loved all the cheap knock-offs the band played.

Andy said...

I agree this show seems to be finding it's stride. It's not in 30 Rock, Office or HIMYM territory for half hour sitcoms, but it's a keeper none the less. Mark and Leslie are made for each other and the characters have a great chemistry.

Patrick Wynne said...

Man, I really wish Chris Pratt would still be around next season. He's one of the best things about P&R.

"I've fellin' in the pit..."

Anonymous said...

After the episode I did a quick google search for Scarecrow Boat. Full band site is already up with downloads for four of their songs. This is kind of awesome.

Viking Zombie Boyfriend said...

I'll second the wish for Chris Pratt to stick around for next season, too. Since Andy doesn't have a regular job, I could see him wrangling some kind of low-level government gig (maybe in return for a favor he did for one of the other guys, all of whom are a tad sketchy). That way, he could still interact with the other characters without having to be Ann's boyfriend.

I think "Parks" needs Andy. The character is refreshingly comfortable in his own skin, without Tom's desperation or Ron's anger. Not to mention, Chris Pratt is very easy on the eyes.

arrabbiata said...

In recent years I have found it more and more difficult to understand how network executives make their programming decisions, but I'd like to think that it was this episode that convinced NBC that the show is worth continuing for a while.

It's nice to see this show separate a little more from the Office. At first Mark seemed like an obvious Jim equivalent, but we've come to know a side of him that Jim has never shown, and that's ok. (by the way, Jim and Pam were amazing this week in the Office finale) The Leslie character is starting to round a bit as well. And the rest of the cast has been funny all along. I also enjoy the show's take on some of the realities of small town life and government, something another Greg Daniels show, King of the Hill, did very well. Looking forward to more in the fall.

Fernando said...

I'm glad they decided to tone down Mark's d-bagness in the pilot, cuz it's so much better when it sneaks up on u. I'm glad they didn't try to make Mark, Jim Halpert jr, giving him all of Jim's charm with very little, almost untraceable amounts of heart. This last six episodes u always expect him to not be such a horndog/d-bag and it almost breaks ur heart when u realize he is. Andy is an out and out d-bag, but Mark plays the cool guy so well until u realize, wait, he's hitting on a girl right in front of her man, or his way of dealing with the reporter is to sleep with her and flaunt it in front of leslie. Very brave character choices for this show with the Male love interest.

olucy said...

Agree that this was the best of the season, at least for Leslie. She was a little more grounded, a little less Michael Scott, while still being very funny.

And good for her for not taking the same road again with Mark.

This was just a good ep all around. I loved the names of Andy's past bands.

Johnny said...

I loved that Tom's wife turned out to be an attractive doctor - that was not at all what I expected, in a good way. And Aziz's delivery when he introduced her to Mark was great.

DolphinFan said...

I don't think the Mark character is simply a d-bag, more like a overconfident cad, and the contrast between him and Jim Halpert is being fleshed out pretty nicely by Daniels/Schur/etc.

It's been established that Jim was a nerd who had overbearing, bullying older brothers, and to the extent he overcame the resultant low self-esteem and realized he'd become desirable to attractive women, he mostly applied it to falling in love with Pam. Mark strikes me as a guy who has never had trouble scoring, but hasn't been the most discriminating playa either--and that played out well viz-a-viz Ann who is a lot smarter and more sure about what she wants than he is, and Leslie who flummoxes him because she can seem either desperate or grounded. It's hard for someone like Mark as he's been written to figure out which side of Leslie he can manipulate. He's a dog but they've written him with enough layers that it'll be believable when/if he learns some new tricks.

Rashida was great last night because she brings a no-BS approach to her characters. And Chris Pratt is actually becoming more like Mark (not just from trading serious Pit/drunkenness-caused leg injuries) in that he's kind of a jerk but also has depth, particularly when he cleaned the entire house and himself while Ann was working.

Add to that Ron actually showing some charm, Tom's wife turning out to be lovely and nice, and Leslie's mom being pretty stupid regarding her daughter's political AND social lives, and this was a nice way to end the short season. On to the 2nd one this autumn!

Jordan said...

I think we've given this show some leeway to find itself because it took the office into the second season to do so. After that episode, I think it's well on it's way.

Anonymous said...

Interesting how this episode seemed really trying to completely shed any Office comparsions with its characters. Leslie suddenly seemed competent and popular, Mark sleezy, or at least sleezier, Ann strong and direct. I think the producers are probably relearning the lessons of the first two season of the Office. The soonier you starting getting away from the oringal and doing your own thing the better. The way that I look at this first season is like a nine-hour pilot. Awkard, but with some bright spots, it could still go either way.

GabbyD said...

yes, starting from the last ep, to this one, Parks has started to win me over...

ZeppJets said...

There's a great spot towards the beginning of The Office season 4 (can't remember if it's a promo or an episode proper) where Karen gets to say something like "Jim dumped me and left me crying by a fountain in New York City...how was YOUR summer?".... so yea, Rashida Jones can turn on the funny. Especially when angry.



"who wants to watch me climb a tree?"

par3182 said...

the scene with mark hitting on ann while denying it was brilliantly played by both actors

and the old guy leslie was inadvertently dating was hilarious

but the highlight was andy's improvised ballad "ann"

Tara said...

The finale made me glad I hung in there after the letdown of the pilot. Even Rashida Jones is growing on me after being my least favorite part of the show for the first couple of episodes. And I'm probably the only person who had never heard of or seen Aziz Ansari before P&R - I adore him. I like all the characters quite a bit, but I know there are extra good things in store whenever Tom's around. I'm so glad NBC is giving the show a shot next season.

Owen said...

I LOVE Chris Pratt. It would be wonderful if they could find a way to keep him.

Reminds me of Everwood. He was all kinds of awesome. And now that I think about it played a pretty similar character.