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RECAP: Parks & Recreation: ‘The Bubble’ & ‘Li’l Sebastian’

May 23, 2011
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You didn’t think I’d let the season finale of Parks & Rec go by without a writeup (however late), did you? Well, given my inability to balance it among The Office recaps and the usual movie reviews and whatever else is kicking around in my head and just oozing to be ignored, I can’t blame you. I did, in fact, have a recap of the season’s best episode “Ron and Tammy II,” but it ran to over a 1,000+ words, and I still hadn’t scratched the surface of its brilliance (“Real piece of work…”), so sometimes quality overtakes quantity regarding something or other that probably likely also begins with “q.”

But that’s not to say that recapping the final two episodes is a mild attempt to do them justice, it’s just a shorter, briefer form of justice. A McJustice. Plus both of them were awesome enders to an equally awesome season.

First on the list is “The Bubble,” referring to the early stage of a relationship (in this case Ben and Leslie’s) where each partner basically eats thunder and defecates liberty. And given the gladly-not-so-milked-but-still-kind-of-milked tension between the two, I’m glad to see them have some fun together, that is, until Ben gets drawn into a meeting with Leslie’s mom (a somewhat overdue return from Pamela Reed), which Leslie worries will be the pin that bursts the bubble. As expected, Ben crumbles under the pressure and the negotiation over some school buses goes almost as horribly as his ill-fated appearance on Ya Heard? With Perd! earlier in the season.

Leslie takes it upon herself to put Ben on a crash-course for dealing with her mother (which, beautifully, includes a Calvin & Hobbes reference [I don’t know; is Calvin & Hobbes required reading for schools yet?]), and it works, deliciously, too well when Mrs. Knope starts putting the moves on Ben. Though it makes me wonder if Leslie’s father (when we finally meet him?) is a carbon-copy of Ben. It’s the kind of disturbing joke I’d expect.

Meanwhile, Chris ruffles things up (he’s grown on me, and I like the subtle joke of slowly revealing just how bad he is at his job) by making Ron more accessible to the Pawnee public by evicting him from his office and into a Scandanavian circular desk and swivel chair that allows him to take questions from all sides. Damn that’s cold. Chris also makes Jerry do all the presentations, gives Donna an Escher-esque keyboard, makes April take on a slew of duties despite her incompetence at the normal tasks, and moves Tom and Andy up to the fourth floor. To put it succinctly, everything takes the number 12 to Satan’s butthole.

Naturally it’s up to Ron to save the day, an occurrence I’m really starting to enjoy, and he does, by bluntly detailing the strengths and weaknesses of everyone in the department and revealing that the obligations of everyone in it are much more carefully chosen than you’d think.

And “The Bubble” is good, very good, but compared to the finale “Li’l Sebastian,” well, it’s like comparing the ferocity surrounding Tammy II to Tammy I (who, apparently, can make TII flee in terror). Mrs. Knope seductively stroking Ben’s leg is nothing compared to Leslie’s diplomatic approach to love-making (“Eleanor likes the tongue”; “Oh, President Reagan, my blazer popped open!” “Well, Maggie Thatcher, let me help you with that, our countries have had a very special relationship…”) or, for that matter, Ron’s pronunciation of “butt-dialed.”

And in case you hadn’t figured it out (or seen the episode) Ron now knows (because of said butt-dialing) that Leslie and Ben are dating and warns them to stop otherwise Chris will find out and fire them.

In lesser dealings, Tom’s sleaze-oozing friend Jean-Raphio has recently come into cash thanks to his recent collision with a Prius (or some such wimpy car) and wants to use the cash to start up his own production/PR company, which Tom aptly names “720 Productions,” because they’ll go around the world twice for you. That seems oddly clever of Tom, and I’ll bet the writers were surprised that it hadn’t already been taken.

But all these are plots, sub or otherwise, are set against the backdrop of Li’l Sebastian’s funeral, a sequence so grand and expensive-looking that the joke of it all being for a miniature horse is almost lost. Of course the event itself—the presentation of Li’l Sebastian’s co-horse-ts; Tom’s pretentiously British narration over the eulogizing video; Leslie’s pronunciation of “Li’l” where it is and isn’t appropriate; “Piss tears”; and, of course, Ron’s mishap with the eternal flame and its consequences—is the highlight, Pawnee really loved that horse, but I think the even greater triumph is how deftly season four was set up.

Despite having seen only a handful of the other comedies everyone seems to be butt-dialing about, I think it’s safe to say Parks & Recreation is rather easily among the best of not the. That’s a platitudinal statement, but I think it’s nevertheless accurate in its I’m-trying-to-think-of-something-better-to-write-tivity. To see how far the show’s come since its first season, much less its initial marketing as an Office spin-off (people still think Rashida Jones is playing her character Karen from The Office), it’s astounding. I like Archer, and Community is something I’d like to get into more, but while those shows have their own unique strengths and take their own risks, I think Parks & Rec is more impressive in that it had a lot of obstacles to overcome and yet did so so well that the accomplishment tends to go unnoticed.

Granted it’s had its share of go-nowhere characters, but at least it recognized and either corrected them or dropped them altogether. It also has an extraordinary cast, not just in the triumphant breakout of Nick Offerman, but in Chris Pratt, Aziz Ansari, Aubrey Plaza, Renna, Jim O’Heir…and thanks for finding a place for Adam Scott. And, yes, Rob Lowe.

It’s going to be a long wait for season four.

 

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