Saturday, October 8, 2011

"Parks and Recreation" - "Born and Raised"

Spoilers for this week's "Parks and Recreation" after the jump:

Now here's the "Parks and Rec" I know and love. After last week's episode (which many felt was an instant classic but which I just moderately liked), "Born and Raised" pretty much marks a return to form for this fine series. Last week featured three major storylines, only one of which really delivered consistent laughs. This week... the same, except for the fact that all three did deliver plenty of hilarity: albeit in different degrees and with some minor reservations.

Let's start with the major focus of the episode as well as the plot that drives the B and C stories, which is of course Leslie mistakenly claiming she was born in Pawnee in her new book "Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America" (a recently released tie-in product that I'm looking forward to reading). This is obviously a nod to the recent "birther" movement claiming that Barack Obama wasn't born in the U.S., which helps the plot feel extremely believable. If a show had tried this a few years ago I probably would have scoffed at the notion of citizens claiming outrage over Leslie's erroneous claim, since it's such a minor issue. But after witnessing what's gone on in real life, what happens here isn't a stretch at all. Especially since, unlike Obama, Leslie actually did lie about where she was born. Unknowingly, but still... not a good thing.

The return of Andy's FBI agent alter ego didn't really do too much for me, but besides that I loved just about everything about Leslie's attempts to clear her name, which failed when she discovered that she was born in Eagleton, the town she (somewhat irrationally) despises with every fiber of her being. It's a neat twist, and forces Leslie to confront the fact that where you're from is what matters, not where you're born. The final scene is vintage "Parks", managing to be both funny and moving: complete with a heartfelt voiceover montage by Leslie that sends us out on a high note as well as a splendidly funny tag scene in which she sends poor Jerry back out to continue checking for mistakes because "he just looked so happy".

The B and C stories are also very effective. Of the two I probably liked Tom and Ben's attempts to persuade Joan to choose Leslie's book for her book club a bit less. Parts of it are simply a little too over-the-top to be truly effective. Other parts, though, are just fantastically funny (most notably an extended use of the bleep that would make "Arrested Development" proud). It's certainly an improvement over last week's rather aimless trip to Entertainment 720 headquarters.

And finally we come to Ann, Ron, and April. I've saved the best for last, as this subplot delivers just an incredible number of laughs. The general idea is that Ann wants to get them to talk to her for a single minute. That's no easy feat given everything we know about April and Ron. Their extremely concise responses to Ann's conversation starters are just outstanding (my favorite had to be Ron saying "silence" in response to Ann's question about what he'd want on a desert island), as is Ann's eventual victory by enthralling them with story about a horrific injury she witnessed at the hospital: a story I strongly suspect she just made up. Funny stuff.

I won't go so far as to say this was quite a top-tier episode of "Parks". There were a few moments here and there that didn't really work, and overall it just didn't make me laugh quite as much as the season premiere. But it was solid from a storytelling perspective and very funny. In short... a very strong installment of TV's top comedy. Fine by me.

Other Thoughts

- The reason Leslie was born in Eagleton? Raccoons. Love it when shows don't forget their history. "Parks and Rec" almost never does.

- "Leslie Knope: Author, Liar." I thought the Gotcha Girls were a bit much, but that brief bit of text on the screen made up for it big-time. So funny.

- Also very funny: Tom asking Ben to say boring things in an attempt to distract Joan.

- I said Andy wasn't all that funny in this episode. That's true, but his break-in at the records department was the exception, mainly because it ditched the rather annoying Secret Service parody in favor of Andy's usual well-intentioned buffoonery.

- The opening scene of Leslie going on public radio was great. Sweetums "putting umbrella hats on the homeless when it rains" was even greater. No other comedy show on TV right now has built a world as complex and inspired as the one in "Parks and Rec".

- Haven't even mentioned Ron's belief in occasionally using wrong names in order to keep people from "getting too chummy". Love his slight grin when April uses the technique on him. The mentor-protege relationship between these two is priceless. I fully expect April to take over the department when Ron steps down, and run it just like he does. 

Grade: A-

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