Sunday, November 6, 2011

Parks and Recreation, Season 4 Episode 6 – "End of the World"

At its best, there may not be another show on television – hell, maybe not that many in the history of television – that does warm as well as Parks and Recreation. Not in some syrupy, studio-audience-goes-"aww," fuckin', like, Cosby Show / Full House sort of way, but in a truly genuine way that comes from sincere love for its characters. I don't know that I laughed harder at "End of the World" than I have at any number of other sitcom episodes this year, but in the warmness, it excelled. The ending montage set to "All Will Be Well" gave me tingles that I daresay hinted at the way I routinely felt at the end of Friday Night Lights episodes.

Another part of what made the episode work so well for me is how all its stories grew from the same starting point. I know other people may not mind it – in fact, the wildly enthusiastic reaction to last month's "Ron & Tammys" pretty well proves they don't – but I tend to be less of a fan of sitcom episodes where the assorted stories feel rigidly segmented, like they might as well be taking place in entirely different episodes.

Here, it all started with the Reasonableists and their end of the world cult. I kind of tensed up when that story was introduced, thinking that one of the office's dumber employees (i.e. Andy) would suddenly start to believe, but it turns out it's me who should have had faith... in the show, that is. As they played it, no one actually believed in Zorp or the dawning apocalypse, but the vague idea of what the end of the world would entail did indeed drive the action.

First off, Leslie and Ben and the return of Shauna Malwae-Tweep (not as funny a character as Joan Callamezzo, but always helpful in how she allows Leslie and other characters to bounce comedy off of her). Leslie and Ben have never necessarily been the TV couple I'm most invested in, but Amy Poehler and Adam Scott tore into the dramatic meat of this story with such gusto it's hard to complain. Leslie admitting that if it were the end of the world she'd want to be with Ben captured a perfect balance of the depressing and the heartwarming.

I just hope they stick with Leslie putting her city council run first, because that's flat-out more interesting from a character perspective, and a slightly miserable Ben is just more funny to watch. Chris Pratt can make happiness hilarious with Andy, but Adam Scott's comedic skillset tends a little more toward the put-upon side of life. (Also, by the way, this episode again keeps up the tradition of alternating election and non-election stories, with this of course being an off week.)

Also a bit miserable but trying to spin it Rumpelstiltskin-style into pure joy are Tom Haverford and Jean-Ralphio, finally (and, as I mentioned last week, thankfully) at the end of their Entertainment 720 journey. I was never an enormous fan of this story, but, like bad sex that nonetheless ends in orgasm, it went out with an enormous bang. Their end of the world party wasn't necessarily super-funny, but it was super-fun, every second of it completely and totally enjoyable. Around the time Jean-Ralphio did his drum line dance I'm pretty sure I had a nothing-short-of-moronic grin plastered across my face. The return of Lucy was also a nice surprise, and will hopefully continue into future episodes.

And this week in "Ann's Place In This Ensemble Is Awkward and Loosely Defined,"we have her... not really doing a whole hell of a lot of anything, which I guess fits the name of this paragraph-long mini-segment I've established in these reviews. She talks to Chris a little bit, I guess, and then goes to the party with him, but I have absolutely no investment in them as a couple whatsoever, so I can bring myself to do little more than shrug.

As it turns out, April and Andy (i.e. The Actually Funny Jim and Pam) going through Andy's apocalypse bucket list was the only truly and undilutedly funny story of the night. From Andy's quest to hold a thousand dollars to the return of Burt Macklin and Janet Snakehole, it was one solid laugh after another. But even this story turned quite sweet at the end as they tooled down the road toward the Grand Canyon together, while still sneaking in one last wonderfully unexpected laugh in its final seconds. See the next paragraph for further details.

Funniest Moment: If you're just going by pure laugh volume, it's a close call between Leslie bluntly and tactlessly telling Shauna Malwae-Tweep to keep it in her pants and then backpedalling and the very last moment where Andy asks April, "Where's all the faces? Like the presidents?" Specifically Aubrey Plaza's "What the fuck?" facial expression immediately after, a reaction that would make Arrested Development-era Jason Bateman nod in approval.

Final Grade: A-

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