In Roundtable Review, two or more contributors review, pick apart, and critique those nerd properties that are just too big for one person to tackle — a comic book series, a television season, a movie trilogy, etc.
In our latest Roundtable Review, Tek and Dwight take a look back at the 22-episodes of Parks & Recreation, season six, examining the evolution of the characters, the season’s surprises, and the future of our beoved Pawnee, Indiana.
I remember watching the first episode of Parks & Recreation when it aired in 2009. The humor was very dry, none of the characters felt likeable (*cough* Brendanawicz…), and it was trying too hard to be The Office. Fast forward to 2013, and thanks to the benevolent goddess that is Netflix, a binge of Parks seasons 3-5 occurred, restoring my interest, which eventually turned into a genuine love for the series. (Seasons 1 and 2 were eventually viewed, but mainly because I’m a completionist.) Naturally, I wanted more, but as season 6 approached, I caught wind of the impending departure of Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe, as well as the absence of Chris Pratt for several episodes. With this in mind, I still dove headlong into the latest season, hoping that my love affair with the civil servants of Pawnee was not coming to a premature end. Thankfully, that was not the case.
Even with an incomplete cast for most of the season, Parks maintained its own standard of quirkiness and utter hilarity. Right from the start, as the team ventures across the pond to England, even the British aren’t safe as Ben and Andy encounter Lord Edgar Covington (Peter Serafinowicz), in whom Andy finds a kindred spirit of ineptitude and obliviousness. This, of course, prompts Andy to stick around London for a time that perfectly coincides with Chris Pratt’s time shooting Guardians of the Galaxy (Serafinowicz also stars). The means of explaining away Andy’s sudden svelteness also falls right in line with what you’d expect from Parks. Evidently, cutting beer out of your diet allows you to drop 50 pounds and become an intergalactic outlaw all in the span of one month.
Other big changes explored this season included Ron’s relationship with Diane (Lucy Lawless), which promptly turned into a marriage, appropriately rushed through in classic Swanson fashion. After his return from England, Andy falls into the world of children’s entertainment as Johnny Karate, combining his musical experience with his child-like mentality, and providing a much more lucrative income than shoe-shining. The biggest shift in the show’s dynamic was, of course, the exit of Ann and Chris in episode 13, which probably affected the audience as much as it did the characters. If that had been the series finally, I would’ve been perfectly fine with it. Every member of the cast was present for the pair’s departure, and as the final shot panned up to the sky, everyone had a final line. Heartstrings were tugged, tears may or may not have been shed, and it was a real challenge to continue watching, knowing that Chris Traeger would no longer be constantly spouting the word “literally.”
Parks also went a little baby crazy this season as Diane gave birth to her and Ron’s son, John, off-screen, which prompted the hilarious “Suddenly…baby!” moment in Ron’s office, Ann and Chris’ child finally arrived just weeks after their departure, which allowed for an additional appearance by Rashida Jones, the beautiful land mermaid, and at the close of the season, Leslie received the surprise that she and Ben are now expecting triplets. Since Parks was in its 6 season, there were no qualms about throwing out some classic sitcom tropes (i.e. travel episodes, babies, etc.), the biggest of which was Leslie’s pregnancy. Even the doppelgänger storyline has been done before, but the way Parks pulled it off kept it from becoming a true cliché.
Speaking of doppelgängers, how great was Sam Elliott’s appearance as the anti-Ron Swanson? Any chance to see that man (and his mustache) in action is a treat. And, as it turns out, Sam was just one of many amazing guest actors to appear this season; Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany, Henry Winkler, Keegan-Michael Key, Heidi Klum, Kristen Bell, and even First Lady Michelle Obama added such great, amusing surprises to several of the episodes. The standout, however, was Billy Eichner’s loud and emotionally frazzled Craig, who, thankfully will be returning next season.
These are several of the standout moments of season 6, but that’s not to say there was a slump or two. Let’s be honest, it’s very difficult for every episode to be pure gold, especially for a show that’s in its sixth year. We have to remember that this is still a series about local government, so, naturally, the conflicts with Councilman Jamm and the awkwardly disastrous appearances on Pawnee Today will come back around every season (I really hope Jamm gets his ultimate comeuppance next year). Even the Pawnee/Eagleton merger slowed the season at certain points as well, but you take the bad with the good. It is all easily balanced out by such things as Leslie’s filibuster while A) dressed for Ben’s 90s-themed birthday, B) having to pee, and C) thinking about nothing but birthday cake, or the amazing Unity Concert and all of its hilarious side stories (tent shopping, the Little Sebastian hologram, Andy discovering Duke Silver, etc.).
At the end of the season 6 finale, we were left with a look into the future as Leslie has seemingly done the impossible by balancing her new job as National Parks Regional Director, maintaining the peace between Pawnee and Eagleton, and raising her family alongside Ben. Season 7 will take place after the time jump, with maybe a few episodes going back in time (to the present) to see how things got where they are, so we can look forward to seeing the connection between where we left everyone (Leslie is expecting, Ben in the new City Manager, Ron is a family man, Tom owns a successful restaurant) and where everyone will end up in three years. (How did Jon Hamm get a job in Pawnee anyway?)
I’ll let Dwight weigh in with his own take on Parks & Recreation season 6. I’m off to play a round of Cones of Dunshire.
Like my lovable cohort above, I was, erm, less-than-impressed when Parks and Recreation began. I had tried watching the first season when it aired, and gave up on it fairly quickly. When season 2 began to pick up about halfway through, I started watching again at the behest of my brother and I’ve been loving it ever since.
With Community’s departure (single tear), Parks and Rec stands alone in its quirk and its quality in a sea of otherwise mundane sitcoms. The stellar cast, the spot-on humor, and the unassailable way the writers let the characters dive head first into the wackiness of Pawnee are just a few of the many things that make Parks and Rec truly great. It shouldn’t be any surprise why we love the group of misfits in City Hall, but, if there were any question, all one needs to do is take a look at the final episode of the season: “Moving Up.”
The one-hour “Moving Up” could have easily been a series finale. The antics showed the ensemble at its best, the number of callbacks showcased the series at its funniest, and the events revealed the show’s surprisingly big heart. (Note: make sure to watch the extended Producer’s Cut on Hulu for 11 more minutes of awesomeness.)
Season 5 highlighted some of Leslie Knope’s greatest victories: her marriage to supernerd Ben Wyatt, her tenure on City Council, her thwarting of Jamm’s attempt to usurp Lot 48 for Paunch Burger, and Jerry retired. While there were a few bumps along the way, she had a mostly successful year. Right from the start of season 6, however, we knew that Leslie Knope was in store for a challenge. Leslie’s decisions had become increasingly unpopular — enough to recall our favorite, waffle-loving City Councilwoman. A few episodes later, her best friend Ann Perkins, the beautiful, naive, sophisticated newborn baby, left Pawnee. And for the remainder of the season, every attempt to bring about peace in the newly formed Pawnee after the Pawnee-Eagleton merger — a merger that literally saved both towns — was met with opposition.
And that’s why “Moving Up” was so damned satisfying. Every subplot was firing on all cylinders, allowing for Parks and Rec’s greatest strength — its ensemble cast — to shine at its funniest. In the first half-hour, Leslie’s lunch with the National Parks Service’s biggest names allowed for some classic Knope (oh, and she met Michelle Obama.) Ben and Andy visit tech collective Gryzzl to get free wi-fi for Pawnee, where Andy cuts random people’s hair and Cones of Dunshire is a company game. The rest of crew is working on Tom’s Bi (the sign for “Tom’s Bistro” isn’t done yet), where the menus have pictures of Jerry’s Gary’s Larry’s dog’s rectum and the resident sommelier Craig is congested from sawdust (“SMELL IS 90% OF TASTE! MAYBE 95!”)
The second half-hour, the Unity Concert, called back to some of the greatest times we had in Pawnee and its lovable oafs: Pawnee’s obesity (“I ordered a cheeseburger and both the buns were pizzas.”), Mouse Rat’s reunion featuring Duke Silver, Tammy II (who was trolling the concert for some daddy Dad “D”), Li’l Sebastian’s tribute song with hologram, Joan Callamezzo, Perd Hapley (“The story of these nuts is: they’re mixed.”), Jean Ralphio Saperstein, Ginuwine as Donna’s cousin (“Why you gotta bring the Quackson 5 into this?”), Freddy Spaghetti, Ben accepting and then declining the accounting job with Barney (“Wow, shortest one yet.”), and more.
The headlining Unity Concert went off without a hitch, and Leslie finally had her season 6 victory lap. The town, normally Leslie’s biggest opponent, put down their pitchforks to celebrate the fun. The entire Parks Department, notorious for screwing things up, played their parts perfectly: the Unity Concert itself was a sign that hard work and determination in government can bring out the best in our public servants, as long as you and your team rally together.
And that’s the key word for the close of season 6: triumphant. It put Leslie through the ringer this time around, but with the help of all of our friends, she succeeded. Season 6 as a whole had its ups and downs — I can’t be the only one utterly frustrated with the town of Pawnee, as amusing as they can be, when they continue to fight against the woman who does everything for them and, frankly, I’m far less tolerable of Billy Eichner’s Craig than Tek is — but Parks and Recreation continues to be one of the top comedies on network TV. The talented cast, the brilliant writing, and even the well-used guest stars all come together to create something pretty damn great, and that combination is best exemplified in that wonderful season finale.
When the seventh and final season starts this fall, Leslie will have everything she has ever really wanted: a foothold on the national stage, a full family, and her beloved Pawnee Parks and Recreation Department one floor below. No doubt she’ll be tackling everything head-on while navigating the ridiculousness of Pawnee, as only Leslie Knope can, all the way through to the series finale. Until then, let’s prepare for that (likely) tear-filled day and grab a 512 oz. child-size soda from Paunch Burger to tide us over (it’s called “child size” because it’s the approximate size of a two-year-old child, if that child were liquefied.)