The AV Club:
Right around the time Parks & Recreation returned for its stellar second season, I started thinking about the episode grading happening over here. Every episode was so much better than the one before it, so I was beginning to wonder what the show would have to do for an A. I figured I'd just have to be confident that I'd know it when I saw it.
Then I saw Chris Pratt show up to Anne's house completely naked, run around for a while, then put on an apron covering only the front part of his buff-ness. And I knew I had to see no more.
That scene was by far the highlight of the series, and demonstrates something key about season two of P&R: The characters have to keep us guessing. Season one mostly laid the groundwork, and found each character except Ron Swanson returning to stock, flat jokes every week—which says something, given the show hadn't even been on for very long. But now the characters have been winding up, bouncing off each other in unexpected ways, and the results are fresh, like a cereal box you realize you haven't read yet.
Of course, it helps that this ensemble-focused show isn't shying away from outrageousness, and this was one of the more outrageous episodes of them all. The parks department volunteers with a charity called Kaboom, that builds playgrounds in one day, and the sudden spark of motion gets Leslie thinking about ways she can jump start the pit beautification project. Only one person has anything resembling a reasonable idea, and it's Mark with the crazy notion that Leslie should just fill in the pit herself. Take action now, ask for forgiveness later. And because of her Kaboom experience and Anne's neverending support, she thinks the idea's just crazy enough to work. She goes out and rents a truck, starts putting dirt down, and realizes Andy is being covered—and he intends to sue the city for this.
While last week's episode suffered from being too Leslie-focused, this episode shined by once again sharing the limelight. Leslie got to plunge into the depths of her own patheticness by going through credit card purchases over the phone ("man pillow: the pillow shaped like a man; something called 'bucket o cake' "); Tom, always eager for more Leslie gossip, gets to listen in and giggle. Ron's grumpy attitude at the Kaboom site, followed by his angry outpouring towards Leslie ("What the ka-fuck were you thinking?") demonstrates once again that the character's a delight when he couldn't care less about anything that's going on. Even Anne got a few jokes in, though her moments were strongest when she played off other characters, like clearly opting for the "kick" hat and leaving Leslie to wear the "ass" one.
And Andy, oh boy. Over the last few weeks, we've watched Andy's steady decline. In season one, he was content knowing things with Anne were good, that she'd never dump him, but obviously he was delusional; these season two Andy-centric episodes have continued the delusional streak, this time about whether or not Andy's going to get back together with her. And we see much of that in the first half of the episode. Andy shows up unannounced to the Kaboom site, proudly proclaiming that he's living now with his drummer—in a house with a roof, he doesn't mean to brag—and trying to get his life together. He's even quick to cover up the pit dump in the hopes that he remain in good standing with Anne over at the hospital; after all, she's been waiting on him hand-and-foot, and Andy's too enamored to realize it's just her job. So he puts himself out there, and she rejects him. Not like the other rejections: she makes it very clear that Mark has everything Andy does not. Everything. A job, financial security, an apartment, his life together, everything. For the first time, we see Andy in the kind of pain that might have him doing something sensible, like sue the city for money so he can get himself together (that's sensible to him).
Which leads me back to the nakedness moment. He's clearly in a sorry state, so hearing from Anne puts him so outrageously over the top, he's willing to bound over to her place, naked as the day he was born, with such glee and optimism it's impossible not to laugh. I feel that way about this show at its best; when its bits are surprising and completely committed—Leslie trying to erase the marker, realizing it's permanent; "I can't really do her voice"—they soar. Let's go Parks & Rec, one of the funniest shows on TV right now.
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"I like saying no."
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