‘Parks and Recreation’ – ‘Freddy Spaghetti’: The show must go wrong?

A review of the “Parks and Recreation” season two finale coming up just as soon as I advance medical science 30 years…

“Freddy Spaghetti,” like last week’s “The Master Plan,” had to serve two masters at once. It closed out this triumphant second season of “Parks and Rec” and brought either closure or major new developments to the stories of the season: Mark becomes Brendana-quits, Andy and April take one step forward and two steps back, Tom basks in a new relationship and then gets sucker punched by seeing Ron wearing his post-coital Tiger Woods outfit with Tom’s ex-wife. But with the introduction of Chris and Ben and the budget crisis storyline (and even the start of the Tom/Lucy coupling), these last two episodes have felt very much like the start of season three(*).

(*) As many of you know, the show has stayed in production, despite Amy Poehler’s (very visible) pregnancy, so there could be new episodes on in the fall even after the leading lady goes on maternity leave. Instead, NBC decided to bump “Parks and Rec” to mid-season, and the only thing that will make me less irked about it is if it returns at 9:30 after “The Office.” But the weird production schedule, and the timing of Rob Lowe and Adam Scott’s availability, no doubt contributed to the sense of overlap between the seasons.

But “Freddy Spaghetti” did a fine, funny job of straddling the two seasons and making almost all of the stories work.

I like the battle of wills between realist Ben and optimist Leslie, both for comedy and the nice chemistry between Poehler and Scott, but also for the show’s unswerving belief in the idea of government, which Mark makes plain at the end by saying if there were more Leslie Knopes working in public service, he might not be quitting.

I knew going into his stint on the show that Rob Lowe can be funny, but this may be the most I’ve ever enjoyed him. They’ve moved Chris right up to the edge of cartoon and Lowe is embracing that with his goofy running style and his shameless pandering whenever Chris has to pass the baton to bad cop Ben.

We knew from last week that putting Ron the libertarian in the middle of a story about government cuts would be comedy gold, but here we also got to see the noble side of Ron in his attempt to sacrifice his own job to save Leslie’s. (And we saw that Nick Offerman can do slapstick with that awesome slide on the grass.) But he still got to be Ron Effing Swanson, as we saw with the giant, bacon-wrapped turkey leg known, of course, as “The Swanson.”

I love the addition of Natalie Morales to the cast, both because I’m a fan of hers going back to “The Middleman,” but also because I think Tom as unsuccessful hound dog was starting to feel one-note. Tom with a girlfriend provides the opportunity for all kinds of new skeeviness (“I just took four Benadryls to dull my sensitivity”), and of course he could only make it work with a girlfriend who just accepts his inappropriateness and doesn’t care.

Both Tom’s story and the Andy/April plot featured characters getting the rug pulled out from under them just as they find happiness (Tom in seeing Ron with Wendy, April in hearing about Andy and Ann’s kiss), but I think it worked better with Tom than with April.

“Parks and Rec” has been out-“Office”-ing “The Office” all season in terms of its humor and mix of silly comedy and genuine emotion, but the attempt to make Andy and April into the show’s version of Jim and Pam has been a mixed bag. Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza are wonderful, both apart and together, and I appreciated the low-key nature of it, as well as the idea that the only real obstacle was Andy being oblivious as usual and April being too guarded to do anything about it. But pushing Ann into the middle of things (and making Rashida Jones again the villain in a Greg Daniels romantic comedy arc) feels like an obstacle for the sake of one.

It would be one thing if the Andy/April tension had been written on the same emotional scale of Jim and Pam, where we saw that Jim viewed Pam as the one great thing in the middle of his otherwise mediocre and depressing life (and that Pam felt similarly about Jim, even if she couldn’t admit it to herself). There were major stakes there, and so while it was frustrating to see Pam (briefly) choose Roy, and to see Jim move on to Stamford and Karen, it fit with the drama that had come before. With Andy and April, there’s been some suggestion that April is making Andy a better man (though I’d credit Leslie with the transformation more) and that Andy is making April less cynical (though, again, Leslie’s presence in her life is a factor, too), and so there’s something at stake here – just not as strong or as prominent as how much Jim and Pam clearly needed each other. So because the story has been lighter, I don’t know that it works to try to turn it into a full-on soap opera with impulsive kisses, misunderstandings and whatnot. PB&J were built to handle that (for a few seasons, anyway); Andy and April don’t seem to want or need that level of drama.

Overall, though, a fine, appropriate end to a terrific sophomore surge.

What did everybody else think?