"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." -MarkNow 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.
"Screw it. I'm gonna try to do it anyway." -Leslie
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?