Long time no see, Pawnee. While I was out it seems that our Indiana government buds made a lot of personal progress. Ann and Leslie had their first fight. Chris grew into his role as city manager. We learned of Pawnee’s sister town. But most importantly, Ben and Leslie finally overcame their obstacles and got together! Yay!
Parks and Recreation ends its third season with a double dose of episodes, and finds itself with a challenge the show has laid out weeks before. How can you top the Harvest Festival?
These episodes since then have been hilariously funny (especially last week’s “The Fight”) but they haven’t really had much impact. Could the writers find something with which to go out with a bang?
The answer, it turns out, lies in the Harvest Festival itself. Introduced in that episode was the cultural hero of Pawnee, miniature stallion Li’l Sebastian. Able to bring an entire town to its knees in fawning, the pint-sized pony was a major coup for Leslie’s Festival and part of the reason of its success. We open the second episode of the night by learning that poor Sebastian has gone to the great stable in the sky. After observing a moment of silence, the gang gets to planning his funeral, an event even more extravagant than his introduction to viewers. Opportunity is a’knocking.
I read an interview recently between New York magazine and Parks executive producer Mike Scherr. Scherr stated that his goal with the show was to create the sitcom equivalent of The Wire. That is to say, a universe where any one of a hundred characters— from bit players to main leads— were able to grow on the audience and become fully fleshed out. It was part of the reason Scherr chose the government as a setting. Episodes like this, where a horse cameo gets his own dedicated episode or “The Bubble” just before it, where the evil grannies of the fourth floor get time to develop a personality, are living proof of this strategy. Jean Ralphio, sidelined goofball compadre of Tom, has started to seep into the show more and more and likely won’t be going away anytime soon. (Personally, I think that’s a brilliant move as he and Tom have excellent chemistry.)
Sitcoms aren’t usually ones to embrace full-fledged cliffhangers. By their nature they’re “one and done” in terms of ideas. Sure, there are serialized story lines, but for the most part, season finales don’t leave you glued to your seat waiting four months for the next season. Even Community had trouble with that this year; Pierce leaving the study group was really more a development than hook. But Parks and Rec is different. Last year everyone’s jobs were on the line, both in and off the show. This year multiplies the plot threads by 5,000…candles.
Needless to say, Li’l Sebastian’s funeral is a resounding success in spite of itself. Tom and Jean Ralphio have decided to set up their own “multimedia production conglomerate”, Entertainment 720. (“We’re willing to go around the world twice for our clients.”) Tom convinces Ron, who cried for the second time in his life at the passing of Sebastian, to let the entrepreneurial pair take a stab at creating the funeral proceedings. Everything but the kitchen sink is thrown into the plan: moving tribute video (available online at NBC.com if you’re curious), recitation of a Dante poem, rocking farewell song by Andy’s band, and a ceremonial wreath laying at the eternal flame.
Just one problem: sneaky little lovebirds Leslie and Ben get caught by not only Ron this episode, but a production crew member who they convince to take the rest of the day off for fear of snitching. This throws everything awry and Ron ends up being stuck with lighting the ceremonial flame. Jerry had to go get propane, but gets a bunch of lighter fluid instead, causing a huge fireball to melt Ron’s face (er, hair) in a spectacular show of pyrotechnics. Speaking of fire, how about that awesome ballad by Mouse Rat, “5,000 Candles in Wind” (also online)? Andy was so impressed with how April handled selling the single CD’s that he asked her to become his band manager.
You know who else was impressed by the goodbye ceremony? An unknown band of politicos. In the episode’s biggest cliffhanger, three suits approach Leslie complimenting her work on both the Sebastian funeral and the Harvest Festival. They’re a group that recruits candidates for higher office, and it looks like the mayor’s term is ending next year. Since the beginning of the series, we’ve known that Leslie’s political ambitions supersede all personal matters. The only catch: any personal scandals, from relationships to misappropriated stamps, could derail this train at the station. The crushing look between Leslie and Ben after the talk means that those two worlds are about to collide. Now we have the chance to see that all play out.
That’s not the only tease of cliffhangers. Tom quits the Parks department to work at Entertainment 720. Tammy II is back to fool with Ron, but not before we learn that Tammy *one* is back to wreak havoc and strike fear in the hearts of slutty ex-wives the world over. Finally, Chris and Ann seem to be back on each other’s good sides as the human microchip faces his own mortality. (Don’t worry, it’s just tendonitis.)
All that and more in September. I can’t wait!