A review of tonight's two “Parks and Recreation” episodes coming up just as soon as James Woods follows my niece on Twitter…
In part because we're getting two episodes a week, this final season sure doesn't seem like it's wasting time, does it? Leslie and Ron's personal feud ended by the fourth episode, he joined her in the fight against Gryzzyl by the end of the fifth, and the matter of the Newport land and the national park was resolved by the end of the sixth, less than halfway to go into the season.
It's a pretty abrupt narrative shift from the show that took nearly six seasons to break ground on the park Leslie proposed in the first episode, but I appreciate this newfound speed for a couple of reasons. First, it helps illustrate the bigger stakes and the greater power Leslie has as a high-ranking federal official (though, certainly, federal projects can be just as slow-moving as local ones, if not slower). And second, I think it reflects Mike Schur and company realizing that we don't really care all that much about the park itself, but about seeing the stories of these characters wrap up nicely – and that nobody wanted to see Leslie and Ron stay mad at each other for 13 episodes.
“Gryzzylbox” has a lot of fun with hipster dotcom culture – the company's motto, “Wouldn't it be tight if everyone was chill to each other?” is among the more perfect sentences (comedy or otherwise) ever written – and with contemporary privacy concerns in the age of data-mining and draconian user agreements that nobody ever bothers to read before clicking on. (For all I know, Apple owns the soul of my firstborn.) And if “The Perdples Court” was perhaps not quite as multi-layered a judge show satire as “Mock Trial with J. Reinhold,” it was still an amusing new role for America's favorite newsman (“I've also misplaced my judge hammer”), and neatly folded some of Ben's old Ice Town panic into the larger issue. I also really enjoyed seeing the townspeople chant “We're not against you on this!” at their frequent punching bag Leslie.
My only real issue with the way the two episodes went together is that the dramatic conclusion of “Gryzzlbox” – a superheroic Ron standing in the rain, holding his shotgun and the Gryzzl drone he shot down with it out of outrage over the invasion of his son's privacy – suggested Ron wanted to get Gryzzl the hell out of Pawnee, and in the end all the wind up doing is getting them to revitalize Councilman Dexhart's crummy part of town in exchange for the park. Given how the odds were stacked against them, I suppose I can see that as the best compromise Ron could live with (especially since he also loves the outdoors), but I keep thinking of him standing outside Leslie and Ben's house and imagining him taking far more drastic measures against Roscoe and his ilk.
In addition to Leslie's victory over Gryzzl, “Save JJs” was highlighted by the returns of both Dennis Feinstein and Donna and Tom's beloved Treat Yo Self tradition(*). Feinstein's a good villain the show hasn't overused, odious in every way (the shell company he used to buy JJ's is called Thigh Gap LLC), and therefore immune to both Leslie's decency and Andy's childlike charms, but someone who's ultimately irrelevant because JJ will get to rebuild in what is about to become a far more lucrative part of town.
(*) At the “Parks” farewell panel at press tour, Retta talked about the enduring popularity of “Treat Yo Self,” noting, “If it”s been more than eight minutes that somebody has tweeted 'treat yo self,' I”d be surprised. That”s how crazy it was. I”ve gotten so many free lunches because I would tell people, I”d be, 'If it”s more than six minutes, you buy lunch.” I”ve been eating free for two years.” A reporter then did a Twitter search and found it had been less than two minutes since the most recent tweet. (I got the same results when I searched the hashtag while writing this paragraph.)
Treat Yo Self 2017 didn't have anything as funny as Ben Wyatt: Sad Batman, and given the show's recent trip to Chicago, seeing Retta and Aziz wander around Rodeo Drive (about a 30-minute trip from the “Parks” set) was less exciting. But at the same time, I just enjoy watching those two overindulge themselves, particularly when it's incorporating various ridiculous predictions about culture and technology in 2017. And it's always endearing when Donna gets sincere for a moment and offers somebody advice, in this case inspiring Tom to state his feelings to Lucy.
And since Tom and Lucy are on the road to getting back together, and Leslie and Ron are best friends again, and the national park problem has been resolved… well, it doesn't feel quite like we're at one of those faux-finale points “Parks” has had to give us so many times before. But it also feels, to paraphrase Homer Simpson, like everything's wrapped up nicely, and much quicker than usual. We still have Donna and Joe's wedding, and April still has to pick out a career, but there's such a neat bow on everything else that I wonder what exactly Schur and company have planned for the season's concluding half. Will things now go to hell? Will it just be four hours (including the one-hour series finale) of everyone smiling? Besides Ann and Chris, what notable characters could still make curtain calls?
Some other thoughts:
* Though they are often mentioned, and occasionally glimpsed in photos, we've gone nearly half the season without seeing Leslie and Ben's triplets in actual human form. Given how tough it is for most sitcoms – let alone an overpopulated one like this – to incorporate little kids, I don't know that it's a bad decision, but it's still surprising we haven't really gotten to glimpse either of them actively parenting.
* How soon before “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” incorporates a clip of Ron effing Swanson saying “keep it 100”?
* Add Dax Shepard to the “better late than never” list of this season's guest stars, having himself some fun as station manager Hank Muntak, who boasts of his six Lower Great Lakes Emmy Awards and having discovered (a different) Selena Gomez.
* Former “Parks” producer (and one-time “Simpsons” showrunner) Mike Scully is the latest minor Pawneean to take a farewell bow, with the revelation that his character is obsessed with toy pigs dressed as movie stars, like Hamuel L. Jackson and Tom Sell-oink. Meanwhile, Herman Lerpiss (aka the creepy tattooed guy from the pawn shop) makes his second hilarious appearance of the season, randomly emerging from “the floor hole” in the potential new JJ's location. That guy is very close to Al from “Cheers,” in terms of appearing very infrequently but being funny every time he opens his mouth. (Also, this Mike Schur explanation of the extended Lerpiss family makes me wish for a “Mayberry RFD”-style spin-off set in Pawnee, but focusing on mostly minor and/or new characters.)
* Turns out I was wrong about “Leslie and Ron” being the last hurrah for the parks department office set, as “Gryzzylbox” has a whole subplot set there, continuing April's quest for professional fulfillment. I did appreciate, particularly given the usual response Craig engenders, that he is now attempting – with the guidance of Chris Traeger's former therapist, Dr. Richard Nygard – to find ways to manage his anger by reciting things that make him happy.
* News from 2017: Elbow art is a thing, Nicki Minaj and Jesse Eisenberg have beef, Ben was very distracted on the day the new “Star Wars” film came out (Ron: “Is 'Star Wars' the one with the little wizard boy?”), LeBron James has gone back to the Miami Heat, Bruce Willis is living with Christina Aguilera, Jaden Smith starred in “Hitch 2,” and tablets (at least the Gryzzl ones) can now convert into skateboards.
* Leslie and Ron don't have a long and storied history of high fives, but I was still amused by their many failed attempts in “Save JJs,” particularly Leslie rubbing his tummy after the latest screw-up. Some basic but well-executed slapstick from Poehler and Offerman.
* I love everything about Jonathan Karate, from the fact that he has basically the same name as his little brother, to the fact that the “real issues” he covers include bullying, peer pressure, and “holding in farts.”
* Nice to see Keegan-Michael Key stop by for the “Save JJs” teaser. I'm assuming he'll be more present whenever we get to Donna and Joe's wedding. And while I wait for that, I will just think about him in the super-grim aerobics video parody.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com