Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pawnee's Finest

One of the better aspects of taking a holiday vacation is that I have free time where I get to do things like binge on the entire second season of Parks and Recreation on Netflix. The show finally makes it back for Season 3 on January 20th, and revisiting Season 2 has only made me more psyched for that.

More interestingly, revisiting the second season has allowed me to appreciate it without some of the things that were hanging over my head during its original run. Remember, after a shaky season 1, there was a definite "prove it to me" mandate placed on this show, and especially in the early part of the season the show was under a whole lot of scrutiny as to its long-term viability. Watching the season now -- with the show a critical darling (if not a commercial smash) -- I can appreciate the episodes on their own merits, and BOY do they make for a fantastic collection.

They're such a uniformly strong collection of episodes, in fact, that I think the series as a whole may have suffered some by not having that one episode for everyone to hang their hat on. Community had "Modern Warfare," Modern Family had "Fizbo," The Office had the Niagara Falls wedding. There doesn't seem to be anything in the way of consensus around which P&R episode was the standout, but in many ways that only underlines what a strong season it was. Myles McNutt, for example, named "Sweetums" his favorite P&R episode on his blog Cultural Learnings. It says an awful lot that I can love "Sweetums" as much as I did and it still didn't crack my own top 10. What episodes did make my list? I'M SO GLAD YOU ASKED!

1) "The Camel" (Episode 9; aired 11/12/09)
The master plot, which saw the P&R department (plus Ann, minus Ron) designing murals to replace the offensive (but historically accurate) ones currently on display, showcased an ensemble firing on all cylinders. It's that ensemble that puts this show head-and-shoulders above the rest of the shows on TV (save Cougar Town, but that's an argument for another day). Some of my favorite beats of the season are here. Jerry getting mocked for his "murinal." Donna's obsession with celebrities from Indiana. Tom becoming entranced by a piece of abstract art (a brilliant and essential tweak to Tom's character). Plus another reminder of the Parks department's adversarial relationship with the other areas of city government. It's the B-plot that puts this at #1, as Ron Swanson gets a shoeshine/accidental foot massage from Andy and emits a moan that freaks everybody out.

2) "Greg Pikitis" (Episdoe 7; aired 10/29/09)
The subplot in this one -- Ann's loser of a Halloween party that gets brought to life by Tom "T-Pain" Haverford -- isn't quite as hysterical in "Greg," but the main plot, with Leslie taking on the local no-good teen of the episode's title is a defining story, capitalizing on Leslie's obsession, local pride, and overestimation of her own standing in the community.

3) "Hunting Trip" (Episode 10; aired 11/19/09)
Another superb "the whole gang comes together" outing, as Ron's guys-only hunting trip gets crashed by Leslie, Ann, Tom, and Donna. This one's a crucial step in the "Leslie earns Ron's respect" arc that really defined the season, plus we get Donna's maniacal concern over her car (a recurring theme), plus back in Pawnee, the sweet beginnings of the Andy/April romance.

4) "The Master Plan" (Episode 23; aired 5/13/10)
Because I'm a worrier, I had started to grow concerned about Parks season 3, with new cast members Adam Scott and Rob Lowe and newly raised expectations. Then I watched "The Master Plan" again, and I was reminded how much fresh material Scott and Lowe are bringing to the table, with the latter's hookup with Ann, and the former's already well-defined character (his past as a failed teen mayor gives him all sorts of angles at which to bounce off Leslie). This episode also featured April's 21st birthday, at which Leslie and Ann get remarkably, hilariously drunk.

5) "94 Meetings" (Episode 21; aired 4/29/10)
Another great season-long thread -- April as Ron's assistant -- got the focus here, with April's mistaken belief that March 31st doesn't exist leading her to schedule all of Ron's blown-off meetings on the same all-too-real day. Along with Andy, Ron and April are the breakout characters of the show, and giving their oddly perfect professional relationship a trial by fire really paid off.

6) "Pawnee Zoo" (Episode 1; aired 9/17/09)
The second season premiere suffered a lot for having to prove itself in the wake of the ambivalent reactions to Season 1. The gift of hindsight just allows us to revel in Leslie reveling in her newfound gay icon-dom, one of the most purely joyful sequences of the series. Plus: "Parents Just Don't Understand"!

7) "Woman of the Year" (Episode 17; aired 3/4/10)
The subplot, with Tom looking for co-investors in the club he wants to co-own, offers my favorite Donna moments of the whole year (her assessment of Jean Ralphio!). The main plot, with Ron putting Leslie through hell after being named the first male "Woman of the Year," is yet another fantastic series of moments for their adversarial friendship.

8) "Beauty Pageant" (Episode 3; aired 10/1/09)
This seemed to be the epsidoe that kick-started the "Is Parks and Rec suddenly one of the best comedies on TV?" narrative that would come to dominate critical discussion. And for good reason, with Leslie's character coming into very sharp focus (Tom's recitation of Leslie's rubric for evaluating the pageant contestants -- "the Naomi Wolf factor"! -- is the best shorthand for a major sitcom character I've ever heard), plus the simple hilarity of April's pageant speech ("I love people, places, and thiiiiings!").

9) "Telethon" (Episode 22; aired 5/6/10)
Kind of just an excuse for Amy Poehler to go all-out, but what makes this episode for me is the visual gag of Ron's sleep-fighting disorder.

10) "Ron and Tammy" (Episode 8; aired 11/5/09)
Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally got to show off their married-in-real-life chemistry as Ron's evil ex-wife Tammy comes back into the picture and totally effs up his life. Notable for introducing Ron's affinity for dark-haired woman and breakfast foods, as well as advancing the rivalry between the Parks department and the hated, vile Library department.

What'd I miss? What'd I get right? Comment, fools!


Sarah said...

The Master Plan: Ann's drunken speech about Andy to the camera, and then taking approximately 11 minutes to find the straw in her margarita is possibly my favorite TV moment of 2010.
Cuz I'm just weird that way.

Kirk Hamilton said...

I could not even BEGIN to choose a favorite but yeah, "The Camel" is certainly up there. And as much as I didn't love the main plot of "Sweetums," it had two of my favorite gags - Shoelace the dog (I just love how Amy Poehler kinda shakes her head, smiles and says "aw, Shoelace"), and DJ Roomba. Well really, the ghost of DJ Roomba, playing BlackEyedPeas on an infinite loooooooppp!

"What's hot, DJ Roomba?" HA

Joe Reid said...

That's true, "The Ghost of DJ Roomba" can definitely claim the title of Best Tag in Season 2.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I'm practically salivating waiting for this to come back, and you make a pretty good list. The consistency is what I love that show, among the cast especially. I could make a case for why each of the supporting players would be worthy of awards', all so different and all so hilarious.

"94 Meetings" is one I forgot, but is always funny - and I did love "Freddy Spaghetti" a lot, but I don't know which of your ten I'd replace for it.

Phil W said...

I would have to assemble a list of my 23 favorite Season 2 episodes (leaving off "Sister City," because I firmly believe Fred Armisen is comedy poison), were I to do a variation on this. But I was sad to see not a word of praise for Louis CK as Dave the policeman (whose return I hope for with, frankly, an unhealthy passion)...

Joe Reid said...

If you're looking for praise for Louis CK, might I interest you in something called "the entire internet"?

Kidding, I liked CK quite a bit as Dave. People really freak out about him, huh?

fleegan said...

Oh man it was a solid season. I cannot improve on your list, but I have to bring up that the episode about Leslie's house? With the hoarding? So good!

Karen said...

Oh man, how could I have forgotten about Ron's sleep-fighting disorder?

Erin W said...

"Telethon" was my favorite for Amy Poehler-worshipping reasons. Agreed on "Leslie's House" also, and "Practice Date," which was the first episode that made me appreciate Ann and Leslie's friendship.

par3182 said...

is there any possible way to shoehorn all 24 episodes into a top 10? because the season really was that good

if not, i'd find room to squeeze in 'christmas scandal' - partly for the journalistic endeavours of joan callamezzo but mainly for the sweetness of the ending when they wait for leslie to light the tree. awwww.....

man, i love this show

Sarah said...

Thanks for the inspiration Joe - I wish I could link back to your blog, but the MSN overlords are a bit wary. I will win them over yet!

Joe Reid said...

Hey, happy to be an inspiration any way I can. Great post!

Steph B said...

After listening to you guys talk about Parks and Recreation on your excellent Podcast, I've been meaning to watch it on Netflix. So, I've been sick for 4 days, and watched every episode while my sick kids watched Dora.

Not necessarily my favorite episode, but my favorite moments of the season were in "Christmas Scandal" when it becomes clear to everyone exactly how much work Leslie actually does. Especially the very last scene when she walks back into the office and Ron hands her back her notebook. The little looks everyone gave her were great. A little cheesy, but I like a little cheese.