Friday, March 26, 2010

Parks and Recreation, 'Summer Catalog': You're in the picture

A review of last night's "Parks and Recreation" coming up just as soon as I do a photo shoot about the dangers of undercooked chicken...

When "Parks and Recreation" started, one of the show's big problems was that Leslie's exuberance for her job made her come off as sad and delusional (and/or like a female Michael Scott). Season two has very smartly recalibrated things (less in the way Leslie herself is written than in the way other characters respond to her) so that her enthusiasm becomes something to be admired, not pitied.

"Summer Catalog" told us a story about the world not matching up to one of Leslie's beliefs, but it was one about an illusion, not a delusion. Leslie assumes that all the previous heads of the Parks Department view the job as the same noble calling she does (even though she has ample evidence in Ron F'ing Swanson that not all holders of the job share her worldview), and is disappointed to learn that Ron's three predecessors are a stoner(*), a smug careerist and a sexist jerk. But Leslie recognizes how wrong she was almost immediately with each man, and it's clear by the end that this is another one of those instances where Leslie's right and the world is wrong: the Parks Department should be run by someone with as much passion for the parks and can-do spirit as Leslie Knope, not by any of these jerks (or even by Ron, who lets Leslie do all the work for him).

(*) Played by classic '80s sitcom dad Michael Gross, kind of taking the Steven Keaton character to his natural conclusion.

And what also made the picnic disaster story work was that it came in the middle of an episode where all the characters got a new look at the picture of their lives. When Ann and Mark pose as a happy couple for the summer catalog cover, Mark looks believable and Ann looks miserable. Andy and April's flirting becomes so blatant and fun (playing with food, sweater-swapping) that even Andy finally recognizes what's going on here. And though he's briefly scared off by realizing the age difference (April's still 20, Andy's somewhere in his late 20s), when he sees the catalog cover photo of them as an actual happy couple, even he can't seem to resist the inevitable.

So "Summer Catalog" was a nice character piece for most of the ensemble, but it also had a lot of good jokes, from the easy (Ron's hunger and famous obsession with breakfast foods) to the strange (Clarence's sexist ramblings) to the silly (Tom as demanding fashion photographer). All in all, a very satisfying episode.

What did everybody else think?

51 comments:

HarrySTruman2 said...

Great Episode. Parks and Recreation is my go to show for Thursday Night Comedy..
The characters have evolved nicely without becoming too cartoonish as they have on other Thursday night comedies.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed it. I just wish they didn't sometimes borrow jokes from their old show The Office, such as the photoshopping of smiles onto the group gathering which was lifted from The Office's Conflict Resolution episode. They do this frequently on Parks, especially with the Andy/April storyline.

But overall it was a pleasant, fun episode. They sure are trying to make Ron more likable, aren't they? If I could change one thing, I wish they had not over explained the Mark/Ann disconnect and just let us notice it.

Myles said...

l legitimately smile every time I think about that catalog cover. Every. Time.

Also, like Fienberg, I'm choosing to take the cold open as a Fess Parker tribute - I wonder if it might have been moved up from a future episode.

Kristi said...

I can't decide which line made me laugh harder- Donna's "It's hunting season and the prey is you" or April's "Why am I holding such a tiny cup?" answer to Tom's "I wonder what that guy is thinking?"

Oh, and off-topic, but I want to shank Ann on behalf of April. Stay away from her man, Ann!!!

Anonymous said...

I particularly liked the back-to-back talking heads of Ron and Leslie where they share polar opposite views on where their careers will head and both acknowledge they'll probably fight over it.

And it's totally believable that Andy would get freaked out because, as we know, guys in their 20s are turned off by 18,19, and 20 year old women?

Anonymous said...

Thought it was great. They are really turning this show into something special. Loved Andy's shout out "Apartment!" to Leslie's "When I say Parks, you say Department!".

Anonymous said...

Thought it was great. They are really turning this show into something special. Loved Andy's shout out "Apartment!" to Leslie's "When I say Parks, you say Department!".

Anonymous said...

That picture of Andy and April was just plain adorable.

I liked hearing about Leslie's ambition to become city manager -- that makes her ambitions of higher, elected office far more plausible.

olucy said...

"Can you Photoshop your life with better decisions, Jerry?"

Favorite line of the ep. And there were some good ones to choose from.

Dan said...

I'm very happy how far this show has come in under a year. Who knew it would become one of the best sitcoms on TV?

There's something fantastic about Leslie teasing (even if jokingly) about getting the City Manager position over Ron. Could be a fun plot line with great tension for the next year.

Michael said...

my one complaint is that the minute Leslie said she was getting the ex-directors together you knew exactly how that story would play out. Still Enjoyed Ron and Leslie's mutual admiration for breakfast food as the only food.

lil d said...

I liked a lot about this episode.
And I was particularly impressed with the revelation that Michael Gross's character was the one who planted the marijuana in Lesley's community garden from "Stakeout."

Anonymous said...

Was Michael Schur the pedophile in the cover photo suggested by Jerry?

Anonymous said...

I used to hate Andy when he was Ann's boyfriend but he's been hilarious this season as the shoe shine guy. What great way to keep him in the show and close to the characters.

Great call on Leslie by Adam. She was too Michael Scott-like last season but her character is much better this season.

"Apartment" and "Tiny cup" were both hilarious from Andy and April as well as the sweater swap. Their story-line has been comedic gold.

srpad said...

I submit they must show Ron running in every episode now. That was too funny!

par3182 said...

the eventual cover photo was a surprise to me and completely satisfying; i really want things to work out for those crazy kids

Steve said...

this was the first episode where Aziz Ansari didn't have me bursting with laughter... he's normally pitch perfect (although the Precious line was very funny).

And Andy has turned into an amazing character. No wonder Anna Faris married a schlub like him.

Zack Smith said...

Andy's freak-out was refreshing; too many shows just pair a younger woman with a slightly older guy without acknowledging the implications of the age difference. Andy has grown up from the selfish guy we met last year, but here's a situation where he realizes HE has to be the mature, responsible one. I've had a female friends date older guys while they were in college, and a few even got married, so I can see them working out -- but it's good that they're letting this develop organically.

I liked Ann more this ep, but after a year, it'd be nice if the show had her more integrated into the department. She and Mark are not long for this world.

Jerry has some genuine artistic talent that keeps getting overshadowed by bad luck. In geek-terms, he sort of reminds me of Strong Sad from the Homestar Runner cartoons -- some gifts, but overshadowed by his dumpiness and inability to fit in.

No one has mentioned the following:

-Tom's inept attempt at channeling Don Draper's mannerisms during his pitch (complete with drink in hand);

-And this exhange between Leslie and Ron:

"Why would anyone ever order anything other than breakfast foods?"

"People are stupid, Leslie."

She's so made for his job.

Ian C. said...

So much Ron Effin' Swanson goodness. The frowns alone made my Thursday night. (His near-orgasmic look when he put the bacon in his mouth was up there, too.)

And really, I just wanted to give April a hug. Aubrey Plaza sells so much with just her expression (both when Andy cuts the evening short and she sees the catalog cover).

I've only had one breakfast today. I'm getting hungry.

Andrew said...

There is that one shot of Leslie with the bright red flannel in the park that had me wondering how far along she was because she looked ridiculously pregnant. Not even into season 3, will be interesting to see how P&R is able to hide/avoid/explain the belly considering it was that big at that point in season 2 shooting.

olucy said...

Wasn't it explained somewhere that they will accelerate the shooting schedule to get as many eps in the can as possible before Amy "balloons", then take a short hiatus and run those eps into summer, leading up to S3. By which time, Amy will have had the baby.

That's what I remember, anyway.se

Kristi said...

I forgot to mention the hilarity of Ron Fing Swanson being able to smell Leslie's bacon snack in her purse from the moment he stepped out of his car.

Andrew said...

"Wasn't it explained somewhere that they will accelerate the shooting schedule to get as many eps in the can as possible before Amy "balloons", then take a short hiatus and run those eps into summer, leading up to S3. By which time, Amy will have had the baby."

Yeah, I mean, just saying, if she looks that far along when shooting episode 20 of the season 2, seems that it will be pretty hard to shoot any episodes of season 3 regardless of how fast they go.

brokenbottle said...

"Season two has very smartly recalibrated things (less in the way Leslie herself is written than in the way other characters respond to her)"

I couldn't disagree with you more about this. Leslie literally was a female Michael Scott for the first 4 or so eps in season one but they've changed her A LOT this season. The first few episodes they played around with her, alternating between being a FMS and being a competent government functionary frustrated by red tape. Now she's no longer an idiot (a FMS). She's smart, positive, and enthusiastic in her personal and professional lives, she's just much better at her professional life. They've also toned down the other characters some but Leslie is miles away from what she started out as.

iamnoahjames.com said...

They are shooting a bunch of episodes ASAP for season 3, NOT to run this summer. That way, they can get in the episodes before she gets big, take a break until after baby, and finish up the rest of the next season.

Anonymous said...

How does Parks keep winning? I started laughing as soon as I saw the drink in Tom's hands. "I love ads" set it up perfectly.

Bees and sunflowers? April has got it bad.

Anonymous said...

The catalog is pretty entertaining in its own right. I loved the bios.

barefootjim said...

Ron looking at the obscene doctored photograph and saying "Good God, I don't remember this" was easily his best moment since he was shot in the head. Maybe ever. We had to watch it three times to get past it.

tribalism said...

This wasn’t the strongest offering, but it was definitely one of the most important ones when it comes to mapping out the future of the relationships on the show. Not that I put much stock in awards shows, but Chris Pratt definitely deserved some recognition for his performance as Andy. I think that the scene outside of the bar was the first time that he thought that romance with April may be a possibility and it freaked him out a little bit.

I can’t believe no one didn’t go for Tom after this pick-up line:

“I have a raccoon hat. I’m an interesting person.”

I love that Leslie finds bacon to be a perfect trail snack for Ron. Totally makes sense for a guy who gets grouchy when he’s only had one breakfast to eat.

If anyone is interested, you can find more of my thoughts on this episode on my blog where I go into detail about why Andy’s new feelings for April freaked him out. Click my username for the link.

pbrl said...

I liked the episode, but I think P&R has a Mark/Ann problem. But I actually think its the opposite problem.

Mark and Ann work together. They just really do. And when they are together, they genuinely seem to enjoy each other. They both actually like each other and they get good gifts and we've never really seen them have a big argument or any big problems.

But the show seems to want to drive them apart anyway. It keeps dropping these weird little grace notes about how the relationship isn't working...but the relationship sure does seem to be working pretty well. So while the show is sort of telling us that Anne isn't happy, it doesn't really explain why. I just don't think this storyline is working that well - just let them be a normal couple. There's no need to create weird tension.

And Alan you are spot on about Leslie. What a refreshing character she has become. They have somehow managed to take a character that would be pitiable and pathetic if she were in The Office and make her really admirable and still funny. Leslie really is someone you would love to work with and be friends with. Kudos to Poehler and the writing staff for really figuring her out.

stephen said...

@anonymous 10:33am
I was thinking the exact same thing. Morgan the Pedophile looked a lot like Mr. Tremendous to me.

jeffrey said...

'right in his ancient junk' was the best line of the night.

Stacey said...

The catalog is online:

http://www.pawneeindiana.com/parks-and-recreation/summer-catalog/

hat tip to twitter nation

Anonymous said...

And it's totally believable that Andy would get freaked out because, as we know, guys in their 20s are turned off by 18,19, and 20 year old women?

Do we know for sure that Andy is in his late twenties? I mean, Leslie is in her 30s, and I get the impression that Ann is too, and Mark is definitely in his 30s. (And Justin too, since he dated Leslie and Ann wanted to date him) Why not Andy too? (but as a 30 something year old who acts like a child) It'll make more sense why Andy was a little freaked out.

Rob said...

Stacey, thank you for that link. It's great. I'm still laughing.

I know that they did the Mark/Ann b-plot as a way to advance that story line but I could have done without it. It was the only weak part of an otherwise great episode. Very little humor and a waste of Aziz.

I thought the photoshop line was the funniest in an episode full of great lines.

The chemistry between Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza is leaping off the screen. I'll admit, on paper I never would have guessed they'd be a good pairing, but now they're the best part of the show. I don't mind a little tension and delay to the relationship but I hope it doesn't continue too long. Unlike Jim and Pam, this relationship would actually be as or more entertaining with them together.

Anonymous said...

Another great episode. The best part for me came near the end, when Ron and Leslie happily stated that they fully inteded to screw over the other one if they got a promotion, but added that they'd have a great debate/fight over the issues.

Robin said...

I totally want to visit Circle Park.

"Please. Quit leaving tires in Circle Park!"

Hatfield said...

@barefootjim, totally! I rewound that part too.

Charlotte K said...

Haven't seen it yet, can't wait. This is the only show on TV that makes me laugh out loud consistently, several times per episode, in fact. Amy Poehler is a genius.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I couldn't disagree with you more about this. Leslie literally was a female Michael Scott for the first 4 or so eps in season one but they've changed her A LOT this season. The first few episodes they played around with her, alternating between being a FMS and being a competent government functionary frustrated by red tape. Now she's no longer an idiot (a FMS). She's smart, positive, and enthusiastic in her personal and professional lives, she's just much better at her professional life. They've also toned down the other characters some but Leslie is miles away from what she started out as.

I would say they've changed Leslie some, but really a lot of it is in the other characters' reactions to her. The same behavior last spring that would have earned eye-rolls and quiet mockery from Tom and April instead earns their grudging respect. And as Ron has become more prominent this season, we've also seen how much he likes Leslie, often for the same things that puzzled or annoyed him in the first batch.

Anonymous said...

... right after I wizz on a butterfly.

cadfile said...

Jerry isn't mentioned in the staff bios in the catalog... *tear*

Good episode and I liked how they had to walk what seemed like a mile to the picnic site - reminded me of the times our family did that by mistake.

Chalmers said...

I love how Tom is always hitting on Ann in the most crass manner, but can't bring himself to compliment her modeling. He even showers praise on his "rival," Mark, and the little kid.

He reacted the same way to April's mural submission in "The Camel," with one of my favorite lines:

"It’s OK, sweetheart. You can’t make art because you ARE art. You’re beautiful. But that sucks."

Does the actor who plays Jean-Ralphio get paid for his split-second appearance in Tom's picture?

Danger Boy said...

Regarding the evolution in the other characters' reactions to Leslie, I think maybe they've pushed that a little too far this season. It's definitely a vast improvement over last season, but I think the pendulum has swung too far.

I'm speaking mainly about the Ron/Leslie dynamic. They're practically friends now, and I feel like they could have parceled out Ron's moments of respect/affection a little more judiciously. Like on the Office when you see Dwight have an occasional moment of humanity toward Pam, or Jim toward Dwight, for instance -- because they're fewer and farther between, it makes them all the more powerful and fun to watch.

It makes me wonder where they could go from here without it getting stale. Though I guess they pointed to that with their competing ambitions for higher office. I hope that happens sooner than later, because on their current trajectory Leslie and Ron could start dating or something.

Halli said...

Methinks that Tom was trying to channel Don Draper (a la "Carousel") and failing miserably.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who finds tribalism's repeated shilling for his blog annoying? It's spam dude.

Anonymous said...

I gave this show another shot just five minutes ago on Hulu. It's very charming and approaches the vibe that I used to get from The Office, but in every episode I've seen there's always one plot that's so much weaker than the rest that it's distracting.

Come to think of it, all four of NBC's Thursday night comedies are suffering from that problem this season.

Anonymous said...

I really liked the naturalness of the dialogue in this episode. It used things like "mo-fo", "turds", "dude", and "shut up" without making them into quirks.

I also enjoyed the sly reference to Aubrey Plaza's real age.

Anonymous said...

"Can you Photoshop your life with better decisions, Jerry?"

That quote alone made me love the episode.

Tyler said...

As you have disliked the lack of reality in Leslie's ambitions in the past, I thought the segment where she discussed her future plans as a good illustration of how she views her political path. Cleared up for me what I thought was one of the only flaws in the show.

Thong said...

I was eating while watching this episode. I cracked up and spit out food when I saw the sweater swap.