Thursday, September 24, 2009

Parks and Recreation, "Stakeout": Burger me!

Spoilers for the second episode of "Parks and Recreation" season two coming up just as soon as I have flashbacks about that brownie...

"Stakeout," in addition to being another funny episode to start the second season, was interesting to me for the way it divided up the cast into clear stylistic pairings. We got Leslie and Tom, played by two high-energy comics in Amy Poehler and Aziz Ansari, hiding in the van together; Ann and Mark, the two relatively normal, straight men characters on a date; and, in my favorite combo, Nick Offerman and Aubrey Plaza in an epic duel of comic minimalism as April offered to help Ron deal with his crippling hernia. Andy, meanwhile, remains the wildcard as he lives in the pit, out of some pathetic hope that Ann will take him back and he can move back in within seconds.

The Ron/April stuff was the funniest - Ron flinging the burger at his mouth is the funniest food-related thing to happen on NBC Thursday since Kevin brought his famous chili to work - but the Tom/Leslie scenes had their moments, and they were important from a long-term perspective. It's one thing for Jim to be constantly mocking Dwight on "The Office," since Jim is our hero (sort of) and Dwight is a broadly-drawn and obnoxious supporting character. But this show's writers are making a clear and understandable push to make Leslie seem more human and sympathetic. So for Tom to hate and/or mock Leslie 24/7, while Leslie's too sweet and oblivious to fight back, might be a bit much, so it was good to see an occasional moment where Tom recognizes that she's not so bad all the time.

That storyline was notable for three other things. First, it added back in a joke that got cut from the pilot script explaining why Aziz Ansari is playing a character named Tom Haverford.

Second, for the second week in a row, and more directly here, we got a story playing off of recent political headlines, with Tom's encounter with the cops turning into a Skip Gates parody. (He even says "I'll step into your mama's van!" in lieu of "I'll speak to your mama outside!") When I talked with co-creator Mike Schur for last week's interview, he said the writers are making an effort to be more topical this year. I'm curious how you feel this one worked out; does coming this close to the details of an actual event take you out of the story?

Third, the main cop was played by comedian Louis CK. My only previous exposure to him was his HBO sitcom "Lucky Louie," which I panned (and which unexpectedly led to Jim Norton yelling at me on Opie & Anthony for a few minutes), but I liked him a lot here, particularly his talking head at the end - "I was attracted to her in a sexual manner that was appropriate" - which Schur said CK improvised.

In fact, one of the key stylistic differences between "Parks and Rec" and "The Office" so far is that Schur and Greg Daniels have let their actors improvise more often than "The Office" cast gets to. I asked Schur about this, in something that wound up getting cut from the actual interview piece, and this is what he wrote:
I think it may just be because Amy and Aziz (and Aubrey too -- all the "A"s) are so comfortable improvising, we just allowed for more time for them to do it. I knew Amy as an improviser first, and I think she's the best improviser I've ever seen, so it would be silly of us not to take advantage of that. Offerman is great too. They all are, really.
So what did everybody else think?

30 comments:

Emily N. said...

Ron flinging the burger at his mouth was hysterical! Overall, I thought it was a really entertaining episode with several laugh out loud moments.

MattB said...

Alan you ought to check out some of Louis CK's standup - I don't think his HBO show, or this appearance, does it must justice.

I think he's had an HBO standup special or two you could probably rent or find on youtube.

Otto Man said...

Yeah, I love Louis CK, but that HBO sitcom was practically unwatchable. Too dark and, though this is petty, just ugly visually and cheap, like it was community theater.

His standup is great, and even though this character seems to be against his smartass type, good to see him on a network show.

Rawls said...

Community theater? Cheap and Ugly? You missed the entire point of that show.

It WAS supposed to be theater-like. The show was super funny. Sometimes life is ugly, people do live in shitty apartments and people do feel miserable.

Probably one of the realer portrayals of a poor family trying to make it on tv.

Dark, I guess. But I enjoy my comedy black. I mean the new season of curb has ld trying to break up with a cancer patient, thats dark. And funny.

Parks and Rec was the best its ever been tonight.

These are for you Otto Man, one for your eye, one for you narrow Irish A**!

Rachel said...

Thought it was another hilarious episode. P&R is starting to find its tone just like The Office did way back in the day.

Robert Cervantes said...

Alan,

I honestly think that critics have this TV centric view of how a sitcom should be. Lucky Louie, to me, was such a breath of fresh air. I was sad when it didn't go past a season. It was funny, but accurate enough where each parent could relate.

Don't feel bad about Jimmy berating you for your criticism. It means you actually got noticed. Lol

About this episode, I nearly fell off my chair when we saw Andy do a swan dive into the pit.

Overall, Louie CK kicks butt. And he didn't disappoint here. Just being a fan of his and hearing him on Opie & Anthony frequently made me enjoy his character even more.

halau said...

As PAtton Oswalt has said, Louis CK is the best stand up comedian working today and nobody can hold a candle to him.

He's brilliant.

groovekiller said...

Hey Alan -

I hated Lucky Louie too - it just depressed me to watch.

But Louis CK is hilarious. This clip of him on Conan earlier this year is well worth your 4 minutes...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LkusicUL2s&feature=player_embedded

Ostiose Vagrant said...

Wait, why didn't the camera crew help Ron out? Those guys are jerks.

And is there ever going to be a song that tops that Police song as THE stalker song.

Will said...

And is there ever going to be a song that tops that Police song as THE stalker song.

"Private Eyes" by Hall and Oates is up there. Chuck played it in Season 1 when he made a stakeout mix.

christy said...

"epic duel of comic minimalism"

I love that phrase. It does so perfectly capture the essence of the April/Ron scenes.

The burger toss, the shoving and chewing an entire candy necklace (not getting that there was a string was predictable but still funny) and "no, there isn't a stereotype about Indian people and parking" were my faves.

Erik said...

I love Aziz (seeing him tomorrow), but April has been killing it lately.

Henry said...

I'm still laughing at the visual gag of Andy, upon seeing Ann and Mark heading his way, running off and taking a head-first swan dive into the pit.

Henry said...

Or the quick cut to Ron in the dark when Leslie mentions that she will bring Ron Swanson in to deal with the cop like he's some big shot. Which is made all the more hilarious when Ron builds himself up to April as they leave the office.

Michael said...

Was I the only one who immediately got worried for Andy when they showed the garden. Like he had been forced out of his Tent home?

Aziz Ansari and Nick Offerman killed tonight.

andythesaint said...

The swan dive was the best. And I'm still laughing at "I was supposed to have a rock fight with a crazy guy... but he's 20 minutes late".

One thing I noticed was that the documentary style was used pretty effectively tonight, particularly with Louis CK's improvised bit at the end, which played off of how uncomfortable such a discussion with a camera crew would be, especially for a character like CK's cop. Last year, the documentary style seemed unnecessary, so I'm glad to see them using it more effectively.

belinda said...

This is going to sound crazy, but for the last two episodes I've actually enjoyed P&R and Community more than The Office. Is that weird?

I can watch Ron and the burger flip again and again, and it's still funny.

Greg said...

Agree that the burger flip was the funniest moment of the night, any show.

The Wife said...

We gave up this show last year, but still had a season pass on our TiVo, so got this season's shows. I agree with Belinda, we are enjoying P&R more than the Office right now. Unfortunately, I think it may be too late given the very low ratings for P&R.

Brian said...

Alan, you really need to watch both of Louis CK's HBO stand-up specials, Shameless and Chewed Up. I promise you that you will not be disappointed. Like other commenters have said, Lucky Louis was funny, and he's funny here on Parks and Rec, but Louis CK is absolutely at his best when he's doing stand-up.

vmarshmellow said...

I'm enjoying this season so far, but I laughed more last season. It feels as though in making Leslie more sympathetic they're taking away a lot of her funny lines and actions. I understand that they're still trying to find a balance with her character, but I hope they don't make her too soft. I think I actually related to her much more when she would have brief moments of being more human and sympathetic and more oblivious rudeness. She had much more to learn and farther to go as a character.

AndyW said...

Funny episode, but this show has the same problem for me that "Community" does: Yeah, funny, but I still don't care about the characters or the plots, so I have no reason to tune in every week. Right off the bat, both "Modern Family" and "Cougar Town" connected with me more than these two have.

Matt said...

Check out Louis CK's stand up comedy. Hilarious

LA said...

I'm really bummed the ratings are tanking right when this show is taking off creatively. Aziz is epic.

Tobey said...

Great episode for the whole cast. Alan, I too loved the April/Ron interaction. Her steering (or, rather, careening) him through the hall in the office chair was a great bit of physical comedy.

I cracked up at Mark's herpes joke after kissing Ann on the cheek goodnight, and thought it was cute that she laughed. I think this relationship will be around for a while.

Loved Tom's pissed-off speech to Ann and Mark. I think he's so cool. @LA, Aziz is epic, indeed.

vic said...

Loved the episode, loved the addition of Louis CK (that said, I was, one of the few, fans of Lucky Louie. Is this a brief stint, or will he juggle P&R with his new FX show?). And like some of the other commenters, this topped The Office (which itself had a great episode).

Oh, and because like everyone, I can't get enough of the burger toss...

Parks & Recreation: Burger Toss

Girl Detective said...

I thought this one was hilarious, and appreciated that I think I laughed at every single character at least once. I really enjoyed Leslie at the beginning: hos before bros, and "You make really good coffee!"

Chris S. said...

I had to watch this episode twice because I was laughing so hard I missed half the jokes. My favorite moment by far (and this was mentioned before but it bears repeating) was that quick cut when Leslie says I can get Ron Swanson here in minutes ... and it cuts to him sitting motionless, in the dark, alone in his office.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The opening gag with plant/rap names is the one that's oddly stuck with me the longest. I'm still laughing at the idea of Leslie enjoying some nice, juicy Souljaboy Tellems.

Bryan Murray said...

I know I'm a week late but:
"I'm Ron f--king Swanson."

Ditto everyone else's comments about Louis CK's standup; it's off the charts funny. I haven't seen him act much but his monologue was classic.