Thursday, November 05, 2009

Parks and Recreation, "Ron and Tammy": Amour fou

Spoilers for tonight's hilarious episode of "Parks and Recreation" - and if you're not watching what may be the best comedy on TV right now, you really should - coming up just as soon as I use political savvy and shushing...
"I'm a simple man. I like pretty, dark-haired women and breakfast food. But this stock photo I bought at a framing store isn't real. Today, I got the real thing. A naked Tammy made me breakfast this morning. I should've taken a picture of it." -Ron
There have been over 100 episodes of "The Office," and now 14 episodes of "Parks and Recreation," and I'm not sure a talking head segment on either show has made me laugh as maniacally as that one did. I had to pause it at one point to catch my breath, then rewind and start over, only to begin cackling all over again. (Eventually, several co-workers wandered over to see if I was okay.)

What made that monologue work - really, what made all of "Ron and Tammy" work so well - was that Nick Offerman and the "Parks and Rec" writers have combined to turn Ron F'ing Swanson into a man who can say completely demented things with absolute certainty, as if they were the most natural thing in the world. Dwight Schrute carries himself similarly, but with Dwight there's never any doubt that he's insane. Whereas when Ron goes on about his love of breakfast foods(*), or his absolute hatred of the town library system, he sounds reasonable - even admirable.

(*) "Parks and Rec" co-creator Mike Schur says the poster, and the talking head about it, were came from a happy accident of sorts. In season one, Ron had a poster of Bobby Knight up in his office, which they had to remove for legal reasons, so the production team spent a long time combing through the Corbis image library, "just typing in things we thought Ron would like. I saw that picture of the woman holding breakfast food and thought: perfect." And then it came in handy for this episode.

All throughout "Ron and Tammy," Offerman says these completely ridiculous and/or surreal things - saying of his ex-wife "I honestly believe that she was programmed by someone in the future to come back and destroy all happiness," or describing sex with Tammy as "like doing peyote and sneezing slowly for six hours" - but there's this incredible conviction to it all that makes it seem both rational and incredibly funny. (I swear, I'm having trouble going back over my notes for this one without laughing. If this show should ever become a big enough success for someone to publish "The Quotable Ron Swanson," they need to devote a whole chapter to this episode.)

Or maybe it's just the mustache that gives him the credibility.

And where some real-life spouses can have problems connecting on camera, there were no issues between Offerman and wife Megan Mullally as Tammy. Mullally won a couple of Emmys for playing way over the top on "Will & Grace," but she shows here that she's perfectly capable of coming down to a more realistic level (as in her first scene with Leslie), then getting ridiculous in a way that still matched the tone of this show. (Mike Scully's script also gave her a few awesome lines of dialogue, like Tammy telling Ron that Leslie is "jealous of me - and the things I got to do to your body and face.")

Though Ron and Tammy dominated the episode, Leslie played an important role in the story, getting played by Tammy at first - because Leslie takes people at face value until they give her a reason not to - and then triumphing because her innate selflessness woke Ron from his stupor. (And I love that we didn't actually see what happened during the couple's final confrontation, but just saw Ron running from the building missing part of his 'stache.)

Much like last week's vendetta against Greg Pikitis, Leslie and Ron's shared hatred of the library was a funny reminder of just how small-scale this world is - Leslie's two big enemies are a 16-year-old kid and the head librarian. The Ron/Tammy ring of fire relationship overtook the library hatred for a while, but Leslie's suspicious glance at the camera crew while Tammy was trying to make nice was a perfect moment from Amy Poehler in the middle of an episode where she was largely in support of Offerman.

A great episode for an increasingly-great comedy.

Some other thoughts:

• Chris Pratt is too funny for the show to abandon just because he and Ann aren't together and he no longer lives in the (non-existent) pit, so the writers are smartly bouncing him around different jobs in and around the parks department. My favorite joke of the Andy subplot had nothing to do with the shoeshine job, or his obsession with getting Ann back, but the gag of Ann explaining that Andy used to film lots of audition tapes for "Survivor" and "Deal or No Deal," followed by a video of a shirtless Andy gutting a fish and declaring that he'd be a great contestant on "Deal or No Deal." Structurally, that's an ancient joke, but very nicely-executed.

• Speaking of the pit (or lack thereof), it seems to me that filling it in has taken a lot of urgency away from the committee. Ann, after all, never really care about a park; she just wanted the dangerous hole in the ground taken care of. It's not a big problem for the series (we've seen this season that there are tons of stories to tell that don't involve the pit), but it does open up some story possibilities - like Ann trying to back away from the sub-committee now that the problem is solved to her satisfaction. I did like her confession that she'd prefer a library branch in the neighborhood to a park, followed by her trying to play along with everyone else's raging library hatred.

• One other nice Poehler moment: the loud indignation in Leslie's voice as she asks, "What kind of lunatic would rather be Cleopatra than Eleanor Roosevelt?"

• Just as "The Office" slowly started giving personalities to people like Stanley and Kevin and Oscar, we're seeing minor characters like Jerry and Donna start to develop. Donna had a nice moment where she slowly affixed the "Told ya so" post-it to the window of Ron's office while Leslie watched. And, like Ann's nursing buddies, she clearly prefers Andy to Mark.

What did everybody else think?


Unknown said...

Agreed. Best comedy on TV.

Jesse said...

100% agree with you. Nick OFferman ran away with this episode, and it was a beautiful thing. I don't think there was a line that came out of his mouth that didn't have me laughing. And coming off the lackluster episode of "Community" that preceded it made it all the better. That's too bad, because I want to like it more, but "Parks" just fires on all cylinders way more often.

Also: Megan Mullaly is Offerman's wife? That probably explains how well the characters worked together in this episode. One part of me wants her back as a recurring character (like they did with Andy), but another part thinks this might be great in small doses. Either way, they have to bring her back at some point.

Cee said...

I am such a huge P&R fan, and usually it's the best show on Thursday nights, but 30 Rock tonight is killing me.

Josh said...

Easily the funniest episode of the season, and in terms of growth, as impressive to watch as The Office was in its second season. If Offerman doesn't submit this for a Best Supporting Actor Emmy nod, he's nuts. Brilliant performance, brilliant showcase.

Favorite line: "I swear...on a grave."

Greg said...

NBC was on tonight. We need some comedy TV savant to come out with a ranking of top all-time single night 2 hour comedy blocks.

ej said...

It was a really good episode. This show really seems to be coming together. Amy Poehler also moved effortlessly from her usual zaniness to serving as a straight man for Nick Offerman.

I also loved her tragic little stare as she reflected briefly on all her exes' weddings she'd attended ....

Anonymous said...

This episode was way too farcical. Nothing we have learned about Ron's character before tonight would lead us to beieve he was capable of reacting the way he did in tonight's episode. It reminded me of the worst episodes of The Office when they have Michael do things that are completely insane and out of character just so it can fit into the story/joke they want to tell. This show had avoided that type of contrived humor prior to tonight. Hope they will get back to what made the show so good next week. Humor based in reality with grounded characters.

ej said...

Speaking of NBC being "on" tonight ... I know we can kvetch about 30 Rock not being as character-driven as in the past, but really, you have got to forgive any show that comes up with a gag as screamingly funny as Kathy Geiss singing like Susan Boyle ....

Jack said...

This episode is 30 minutes and 13 seconds long. How is that possible? Was it in a special 45 minute timeslot or something?

Jack said...

Never mind, the... version I had was just messed up.

Kathleen Taylor said...

It was the pushpin in the forehead that got me.

Abe said...

Hilarious episode. Agree with the comment of this show being just as impressive as The Office 2nd season. This Curb and Modern Family have given me the biggest laughs this season.

BTW Alan, I don't know if you stopped getting interested in Curb, or if you don't have enough time, but I think this season has been the best one since the 4th. They had an off episode last week with The Black Swan, but the Bare Midriff was one of the funniest 30 minutes of comedy that I have seen this season.

Anonymous said...

That picture was perfect. I'm a little disappointed it was replaced so soon. I'm glad to see that the old Mark isn't completely gone. And I don't know what it is, but Ann makes Andy funnier.

Tyler said...

This show is slowly becoming my favorite comedy on television. While last year it was so over the top, this year it is the first show I watch on my DVR.

Was a little surprised they missed the golden opportunity to make the November elections an annual show staple. Something like Leslie paying way too much attention to uncontested races or something.

Also, I'm starting to really like the Jay Leno Show. I saw it live last week which was a thrill, but I also think he's starting to get into a rhythm similar to the Tonight Show and starting to make some of his new signature segments work better. The alternate comedians have improved tenfold. I DVR the show nightly now and use it as my 'variety talk show of the night.' I think that with all the quality dramas off the networks, in the long run NBC's move won't seem as horrible.

matty said...

I can't believe nobody has pointed out the momentary bit of Ron singing the theme song to "Have Gun, Will Travel".

Jordan said...

Best comedy on tv right now. Agree 1000%. Seeing as how all the internet people around these parts love to pit comedies against each other is weird sort of death matches, I guess I'm siding with P&R. Modern Family and Community can SUCK IT! lol.

But seriously, great episode. And yes, this show is FAR FUNNIER than The Office right now. And thank god for that.

One question for Alan real quick. Do the writer's intend for Mark Brandanowitz (aka Jim Halpert 2.0) to come off incredibly unlikeable? He was already by far the weakest and least funny character on the show. Probably the only one I actually dislike. But now that he is paired with Andy so much, he's coming off incredibly douchey and even more unlikeable. I used to just think it was poor writing for the character, and more so just bad acting from whateverhisnameis and him watching too many John Krazinski tapes. But with the pairing of him and Andy, and where the story seems to be going with everyone besides Anne liking Andy better than Mark, I'm not so sure anymore.

Robert said...

Alan, I can only imagine what your list of "as soon as I..." looked like tonight.

By far the funniest episode of the season, one that I will have to re-watch multiple times just so I can properly take in all of the hilarity.

Anonymous said...

Offerman reprises his role from Deadwood. Kinda.

Brad Dourif said...

"We need some comedy TV savant to come out with a ranking of top all-time single night 2 hour comedy blocks."

+1! We know you're out there, Abed.

Sophietje said...

I gave up on P&R last year, and have only slowly been coming back to it. But I am so thankful that I did. For my money, that was the funniest episode of any series so far this season. I might be that I am an unabashed library lover, but every single time they mentioned that the library was the evilest place on earth, I just about died laughing.
I also adored Amy Poehler's delivery of "What kind of lunatic would rather be Cleopatra than Eleanor Roosevelt?" I watched that several times because it was too perfect.

CEK said...

Was I the only one to notice the bookshelf in Tammy's offine in her first scene with Leslie? The top
shelf was APPROVED books with titles like "Sperm Suicide" and "Woman War III," while the lower shelf was UNAPPROVED, but the only title I could make out was a supposed guy power manifesto, "The Power in the Pants."

Jen said...

Hilarious episode. I watched this immediately after watching Modern Family and really just can't decide which one made me laugh more. As Cam would say, it's like Sophie's Choice!

That said, Ron F'ing Swanson is a genius comedy creation. His talking heads are typically great, but in this episode they were top notch. And Amy Poehler got a lot of great things to do. I loved the Cleopatra/Eleanor Roosevelt line too, and watching her struggle to call him "Ron F'ing Swanson" in order to buck him up was just precious.

I don't want to have to choose my favorite between two completely awesome comedies. But there are worse dilemmas out there to have I guess.

Susan said...

Yeah, it is the best comedy on TV. It has become better than "The Office," which I have loved from its inception.

Loved the line about never taking the high road, just telling other people to take it so there would be more room on the low road.

Schmoker said...

I just want to thank you, Alan. I would never have given P & R another shot if you had not been so adamant that it was now the best show on Thursdays. Only because you rarely steer us wrong did I try, and, boy, am I glad I did. It has been hands down the funniest show on television this season. The last two weeks have been flat out hysterical.

belinda said...

Good week for NBC's thursday comedies, all pretty good, and this one was the best of the bunch.

I choked myself with my laughs during that monologue, so, AGREED. And I don't think I'd ever look at breakfast foods the same ever again. I also love Ron's replacement poster, just the breakfast sans brunette.

And while Mark and Ann isn't the funniest thing to watch, I do think it is a good balance to have some relatively tame characters amidst people like Ron and Leslie. Now, Rashida Jones nailed that earlier episode where Ann does the practice dates with Leslie - so, I think it's only a matter of time when Mark gets to 'shine'(since right now, he does resemble Jim's sometimes assholery side, but Jim makes up for it in his sweetness.)

Great episode. I'm going to watch it again.

Anonymous said...

Can I join the echo chamber.
-Greatest comedy on TV.
-Better than The Office
-Most improved show ever
-Best of the Thurday comedies

Too bad nobody outside this blog believes any of this.

Dapper D said...

its always sunny was better.

who doesn't want to own some kitten mittons ?

Anonymous said...

Other great talking head: During Ann's saying how she would like a library by her house April is in the background in the meeting saying "burn the library down."

Also, the genius of Swanson in this one: "that woman knows her way around a penis"

"so you talked to Tammy. What's it like to stare into the eye of Satan;s butthole?"

"It is definitely due to...the economy...I've been hearing a lot of people say that...about a lot of stuff"

Excellent episode all around.

Teev said...

Another great episode. They're really knocking them out of the park (bah-dump-dump...crickets).

You probably know this already, but there is a Duke Silver webpage: Where the hell has Offerman been hiding? He's awesome.

NotTheMomma said...

I remember Nick Offerman from a couple of episodes of Gilmore Girls, playing essentially the same character as Ron Swanson, only failing miserably at the "cool". Picture Ron Swanson with a roll of quarters in his pants, or licking a hotel room key to seduce Lorelai Gilmore. Ewwww, but haha funny.

I agree this is the best comedy on Thursday night. I included it in my DVR schedule only because I didn't want to miss the begining of The Office but it ended up being my favorite show.

More Lewis CK as Dave!

Anonymous said...

This was a good show--let's hope it keeps its momentum--however, it made the current deficiencies of "The Office" more apparent

Gob's Tear-Away Pants said...

"Loved the line about never taking the high road, just telling other people to take it so there would be more room on the low road."

I cracked up self-consciously at that, because just last weekend I gave advice to a fiend to take the high road, then the next day when a similar thing happened to me, I was completely aware I was taking the low road. Well, more room for me.

OK, I took "Community" off my DVR after the first 2 eps (did not even chortle once), and I still don't get "Modern Family" although I am hanging in there, but...P&R has VASTLY improved since it started. New writers?

Love Ron F'ing Swanson's Superman hair (and his half a moustache). And I agree with whoever said that Jim Halpert 2.0 is pretty much Blandsville Station.

dez said...

I've enjoyed this show since the beginning. Besides everything that came out of Ron's mouth last night, the whole bit about the inter-department rivalry killed. I love this show!

Unknown said...

Anthony Strand said...

Since no one else has taken a stab at "Best All-Time Comedy Block", I'll put forth two contenders -

For just one season (1973-74), CBS had a Saturday Night lineup consisting of:

8:00 - All in the Family
8:30 - M*A*S*H
9:00 - The Mary Tyler Moore Show
9:30 - The Bob Newhart Show

From 1984-1987, NBC's Thursday Night lineup was made up of:

8:00 - The Cosby Show
8:30 - Family Ties
9:00 - Cheers
9:30 - Night Court

And they've coasted on that lineup's reputation ever since.