Monday Morning Critic: The Five Best Episodes of ‘Parks and Rec’ Ever
Welcome back to another installment of the Monday Morning Critic. In this space each week, I’ll be looking at the week that was in addition to the week ahead in television. The format will shift each week, as the world of TV will dictate the form and content of each piece.
In this week’s installment: a review of a new FXX show and five episodes of ‘Parks And Recreation’ you should watch before its final season premiere.
In the past, I’ve taken an approach towards pilots that I will occasionally deploy here in the ‘MMC’: The 5 Questions And 500 Words approach. The title pretty much serves as a descriptor: Instead of overloading both you the reader and I the critic with an avalanche of words about all major pilots about to premiere, I’ll cut to the chase as quickly as possible in order to save you time and me some sanity. It’s hopefully a win-win situation. With that in mind, here is another such review.
‘Man Seeking Woman’ premieres on FXX on January 14 at 10:30 pm EST
Why do I want to watch a show about a guy who dates a literal troll?
If you’re asking that question, you’ve probably seen one of the confusing promos for this new comedy, which stars Jay Baruchel as a man in his late twenties navigating the dating world after a painful breakup. Think of this show less as a serialized narrative and more surreal riffs on a central theme.
Surrealism? Are you trying to make me not watch?
Absolutely not! But you should know what you’re in for. And while that aforementioned troll is in the first half of the pilot episode, it doesn’t return in any of the other episodes made available for review. The troll is important, however, in establishing the show’s central conceit: Josh (Baruchel) sees the world around him as metaphor made reality, which means the shows dips into unreliable (albeit very funny) scenarios at the drop of a hat.
So it’s actually funny?
I laughed a LOT at the three episodes I watched, which tells you very little other than the fact that I personally laughed a lot. Creator Simon Rich cut his comedic teeth as a writer for ‘Saturday Night Live’ (and Lorne Michaels serves as executive producer on this show), so I think it’s useful to think of ‘Man Seeking Woman’ as a series of “Ten To One” sketches with longer running times and often surprisingly great production values. The “Ten To One” sketches are often absurdist comedic pieces that ‘SNL’ airs right before the closing credits, and this show is full of those scenarios.
Can you provide an example?
Providing an example would ruin the comedic surprise, and thus ruin the impact. But the scenarios in which these surreal scenarios unfold occur within well-worn tropes: being set up on a blind date, attending a party hosted by your ex, the perils of texting, and the vagaries of cheating. Nothing here is groundbreaking in terms of content, but that’s not the point: Rich is coming at this established landscape and coming at it with a mostly fresh perspective. The sheer length of these scenarios sometimes unveils the limits of the premise, but primarily serves to deepen a seemingly obvious metaphor and reveal increasingly fertile rewards.
Is this show for everybody?
No, nor is any show worth watching. More people will dislike this show than not, simply because its surrealism will be off-putting. I totally locked into this show’s narrative world, and those that do will find a lot to love here. Here’s a good litmus test: If the second half of the pilot doesn’t appeal to you, it’s probably fair to jump ship. And that’s fine! ‘Man Seeking Woman’ isn’t designed for mass appeal. One of the great things about the “Too Much Good TV” era means there’s something for almost everyone. Even if the pockets of people enjoying each individual show may be dwindling, we now have the chance for a show like this to sneak on the air. That’s a feature, not a flaw, of TV in 2015.
With ‘Parks And Recreation’ starting its final season this week (Tuesday, NBC, 8 pm EST), I thought it apt to try and introduce people to this show one last time. Sure, it doesn’t remotely matter at this point in terms of the program’s future. But it’s one of the most criminally underwatched programs of the last decade, and if NBC were anybody other than NBC, it probably wouldn’t have lasted past its second season. But here we are about to start its seventh, so thanks for having such low ratings across the board that you couldn’t help but renew known commodities rather than risk bleeding even more eyeballs, NBC!
With well over one hundred episodes to choose, it’s somewhat ridiculous to simply pick five. Think of these less as the “best” five episodes so much as five excellent representations of the various things this show did well. If you’re already a fan, these are worth rewatching. If you’re not, let these be a primer. All are available for streaming on most major services. Treat yo’self to these episodes!
Hunting Trip (season 2, episode 10)
Everything about the show’s overall leap in quality from its first to second season is in this episode, which features many of the mainstay character interactions that last to this day. From the wonderful bonding moments between Leslie and Ron to the very start of the April/Andy romance, this is a great episode to see how just letting these different characters bounce off each other provided years of seriously good comedy.
Flu Season (season 3, episode 2)
Pound for pound the series’ funniest episode, this installment came in the middle of an epic run of quality episodes stretching from season two well into the third season’s midpoint. If you only know Rob Lowe’s comedic acting from those recent DirecTV ads, do yourself a favor and watch him utter one of the greatest two-word jokes in the show’s history.
Andy And April’s Fancy Wedding (season 3, episode 9)
The show’s heart is both its secret weapon and, ironically, probably one of the reasons it didn’t have more mass appeal. It’s simply not cool to be this earnest, and yet ‘Parks and Recreation’ wore its heart on its sleeve at every opportunity. These aren’t just people that like each other, but love each other. (Leslie Knope might phrase that a different way come season five, but you get the picture.)
The Comeback Kid (season 4, episode 11)
Did I put this here simply because of this scene? Possibly. Very possibly. But any episode that produces a physical gag that good gets special recognition. ‘Parks’ is one of the smartest shows on the air, but also is far from afraid to get extremely silly whenever possible. There’s a timelessness to this show’s humor that will sustain it in the years and decades to come. And who knows? Maybe someday that clip will stand aside Lucille Ball crushing grapes with her feet as a standard-bearer for this type of televised humor.
Ann And Chris (season 6, episode 13)
It’s hard for any show to keep things fresh after the first few seasons, but with this episode, ‘Parks’ showed it still had the ability to tug at the heartstrings while also committing to consistently changing the show’s narrative paradigms. Very little ever truly stays the same on this show, even if its shifts seem imperceptible on a week-to-week basis. An episode like this reminds us (and the characters) just how far they have come thanks to the time spent with each other.
Five more if you enjoy those: Practice Date (season 2, episode 4); The Fight (season 3, episode 13); Lil’ Sebastian (season 3, episode 16); Win, Lose, Or Draw (episode 4, season 22); Halloween Surprise (season 5, episode 5)