Thursday, January 15, 2015

Parks and Recreation 7x01 ("2017") & 7x02 ("Ron and Jammy") [Contributor: Jaime]

"2017" & "Ron and Jammy"
Original Airdate: January 13, 2015

After a long, long wait (seriously – like, three years have gone by), Parks and Recreation returned this week, with two back-to-back that kicked off its final season.  A lot has changed in the world of Pawnee: Leslie and Ben are parents now!  Ron has left the parks department!  Everyone has left the parks department!  And, oh yeah, it’s now 2017, whatever.

The time jump came at the end of the season six finale, and I think it’s safe to say that no one saw it coming.  After all, Leslie had just found out she was pregnant (with triplets, no less), and had just arranged for her new job at the National Parks Service to be housed in Pawnee’s city hall.  And then – boom.  Three years have gone by, literally in an instant, leaving the audience in completely unfamiliar territory.  Sure, these are all the same characters we’ve known and loved for years, but everything’s different.  Suddenly Jon Hamm’s here, and Leslie has bangs.  Bangs, you guys.


That was one of my biggest questions going into the season seven premiere (aptly titled “2017”).  How much catch-up were we going to get?  More importantly, would these characters still be the characters we knew and loved in 2014?

The short answer, of course, is yes, these characters still feel like who they always were.  Of course, being best friends with Jenn, I too am inclined to long, analytical discussions of characters, so, you know, I’m getting ahead of myself here.  So let’s get back to the episode itself.  "2017" starts where season six ended: with Ben and Leslie exiting the elevator, getting ready to face the group of people gathered downstairs (as Ben told her in the finale).  Turns out, those people are Jessica Wicks and her attorney, Trevor Nelson (of Fwar, Dips, Winshares, Gritt, Babip, Pecota, Vorp, & Eckstein, Attorneys at Law, LLP, obviously), confirming rumors that the Newport family is selling a 25 square mile area of land.  Leslie, as prepared as ever, immediately wants to make a bid for the land and turn it into a national park – but, of course, the room is filled with other potential bidders, including, as Ben warns Leslie, the most evil man in the world, someone so vile his name isn’t even allowed to be spoken around Leslie.  It turns out Leslie’s hair isn’t the only thing that’s changed in the last three years – her arch nemesis, the person Leslie’s trying so hard to avoid?  Why, it’s none other than her old friend and boss, Ron Swanson.

The fallout between Leslie and Ron, and the vitriol both of them spew at each other, is the first real glimpse we get of just how different things have become.  Sure, most things seem the same for the most part, but seeing how drastically different Leslie and Ron’s relationship is, after it was arguably one of the strongest on the show before the time jump, makes it clear just how much these characters have changed in the three years we don’t get to see.  More importantly, it points out just how many events we’ve missed, that we might not ever get to see or hear about.  Sure, a full explanation for the event that tore Leslie and Ron apart is probably coming, but things like how April decided to work for the National Parks Service, or when Donna decided to go into real estate full-time?  Maybe those answers will come, maybe not.  That’s the thing about this time jump: doing something that drastic demanded full commitment.  It’s just going to seem hokey and half-hearted if season seven had premiered and the first episode consisted entirely of flashbacks leading us up to the moment Ben and Leslie get in the elevator.  It would just be some cheap storytelling device – hey, look at this thing we did in the finale to get people talking, now let us rewind.  The show is very much living in 2017 now, and titling the episode that just proves it.  These characters are three years older, and have three additional years of interactions and growth behind them that are just as vital as the moments we did get to see for the last six years.  Ultimately, it’s this unwavering, bold commitment to the time jump that made this episode so solid, and that created such a strong and promising beginning to the season.

Here’s what we know about the rift between Leslie and Ron: it seems to have happened about two years ago, it involves the words Morning Star (a phrase that is just as verboten around Leslie as Ron’s name), and it may have resulted in Ron resigning from the parks department and opening his own building company, succinctly called Very Good Building and Development Company.  Good to know that in 2017, Ron Swanson is still Ron Swanson.

The most interesting clue we get about this war between the two of them is that Leslie considers herself to have been backstabbed by Ron.  And let’s face it – Ron walked Leslie down the aisle.  These two had a deep respect for each other, and Leslie Knope values friendship above everything (except maybe waffles).  And sure, she can be stubborn, but not to this point, right?  But then it seems just as unlikely to me that Ron would knowingly hurt Leslie to this extent.  I’m sure we’ll get answers soon, and it seems like their relationship was set up in this episode to be a recurring theme throughout the season.  Their ongoing battle over the Newports’ land will keep them near each other, and their mutual respect for each other has always blossomed through their sparring.  I’m sure these two will patch things up, but having this level of anger between them for the better part of two years?  There’s a lot to overcome there, and watching how it’s handled could reveal a lot about how much Leslie and Ron have changed since 2014.

Now, back to that business about Leslie and Ron battling over the Newports’ land.  Ron’s company has been hired by Gryzzl to help them design and build a compound for the company, which has moved its headquarters to Pawnee and given the town’s residents free tablets and wifi, which helped boost its economy and turned it into the thriving, successful town Leslie always knew it could be. Pawnee is cool now, guys!  It’s not something that we totally felt the effects of in the first two episodes, but the attention it received, in how often it was mentioned, makes me think it’s important, even if just thematically.  When Parks began, it was a show about a woman who remained optimistic even when everything was working against her.  And most of the time, the thing against her was the town itself.  But with Pawnee operating so smoothly, and its reputation changing so drastically, what’s in Leslie Knope’s way?  What’s going to be the big obstacle now between her and whatever dream she can come up with?  Whatever the answer to this question is, it’s going to be huge in establishing the end to this show and the emotional journey it’s taken.  And it’s going to say so much about Leslie’s character arc, and prove just how much she’s been able to accomplish.

Given the success of Gryzzl, they’re able to offer Jessica Wicks $90 million for the land.  Immediately, this puts Leslie at a huge disadvantage; she’s working for the federal government, after all.  Ain’t nobody in the government got $90 million.  So that night, at a gala honoring Ben for his role, as city manager, organizing Pawnee’s upcoming bicentennial, she enlists the help of her former coworkers to work the party and try and scrounge up some donations.  But it turns out Ron’s beaten Leslie to the punch: he’s already promised Tom space on the land to open up a restaurant, and Donna’s real estate company has been hired to broker the deal.  Terry offers his help, but, um, no thanks.

Unable to raise $90 million, and thus unable to compete financially with Gryzzl’s offer, Leslie heads into her proposal meeting with Jessica Wicks as she so often does: alone.  She looks at a piece of paper with her bid on it, $3.2 million, and heads into her meeting – where she offers Jessica no money.  Instead, she proposes that the Newport family donate the land – the Newports have been an integral part of Pawnee since the town was founded, after all, and donating the land and allowing it to become a national park will only help to strengthen the Newport name.  And, as Leslie points out, they could use a boost, ever since the Sweetums factory’s hot fudge pipe burst (which, frankly, sounds like the most delicious crisis ever).  All she asks, to conclude her pitch, is for Jessica to keep her in the running, even though her suggestion of a donation, rather than a payment, isn’t exactly what Jessica had in mind.  And, as so often happens, Leslie’s gamble pays off: the Newports announce they’ve finalized their candidates to Gryzzl and the National Parks Service.  This storyline clearly is going to play out throughout the season, and I imagine Ron and Leslie’s battle on the two opposing sides will be instrumental in them mending their friendship.  After all, what’s a better way for them to make up than over a park?  Or, rather, the battle to build a park – the very conflict Leslie faced way at the beginning of the show.  In fact, that park was the catalyst to the show.  Now the ability to build a park is the final conflict we’re going to see Leslie face – except this time, she’s not fighting for a pit in some low-scale neighborhood in Pawnee.  This is a multimillion-dollar federal deal.  Leslie isn’t the deputy director of the parks and recreation department in Pawnee, Indiana anymore; her responsibilities and her focus have grown.  Her capacity to fight has grown.  These are the highest stakes we’ve ever seen on this show, and Leslie’s inevitable victory is the perfect way to help bring the show to a close.

For as much as Ron and Leslie’s relationship has changed in the three-year time jump, this isn’t the biggest change we see.  The biggest change has to be Andy and April – now in their mid-to-late-thirties and late-twenties, respectively, both of them have stable jobs: April works under Leslie, and Andy helps them out part-time when he’s not filming his Johnny Karate TV show (with the occasional assistance of Terry the mailman, a frequent victim of ninja attacks).  They seem to babysit the Knope-Wyatt triplets regularly, and have settled into a surprisingly normal, domestic life.  Andy even dislocated his shoulder while cleaning the gutters.  April cooks dinner.  They’re purchasing renter’s insurance even though it’s not legally required.  Things are bleak.

April realizes how normal and domestic they’ve become and instantly panics that they’ve become boring.  They don’t even eat out of Frisbees anymore, okay?  That’s how bad things have gotten.  I’m glad this storyline was in this episode – it’s the perfect way to use the time jump, and, again, makes it clear just how much time the audience has actually missed.  We’re probably not going to be shown the steps along the way that led to Andy and April accepting so much normalcy and consistency in their lives.  Actually, that’s kind of key to the time jump as a whole: it only allows us to see the end of a character’s journey, not the steps that led them there.  But on a show that’s run seven seasons (and spanned something like eight or nine years), a character’s journey is never done.  A good show with good characterization is always ongoing; the characters are always wanting more, always reaching for the next step.  So then if that’s the goal, a good series finale’s job is to achieve a balance between resolution and a sense of forward motion.  The audience wants to know that the characters they love so much are happy, and that good things are coming for them, right?  It’s that idea that makes the time jump work.  All the characters were in good places in the season six finale, with, of course, some sense of a future for them, a future that served as uplifting conclusions to their arcs throughout the season and the show as a whole.  So to see them three years later, propelled by all of those factors that were in play in the season six finale, to see them actually having moved forward, establishes this final season as a sort of epilogue.  It can’t be a direct follow-up to the events of season six, which itself was a direct follow-up to season five, which was a direct follow-up to season four, and so on; three years is a long time, after all, and with all the threads introduced in this premiere episode, these characters are all obviously on yet another arc.  But TV shows are all about growth, right?  So while each season generally contains its own self-contained arc, it’s not as if a season premiere begins a story, a season finale ends a story, and then the following season builds from there.  It’s much more subtle than that.  Every season has elements that carry over to the next season.  Parks maybe did this more obviously than other shows; look at how many major storylines have been wrapped up in the middle of a season, rather than a season finale.  Ben and Leslie got engaged in a Halloween episode and got married in February.  Like, what is that?  The show has always had this weird timing – like the placement of the Harvest Festival – that makes it abundantly clear that the beginning of a new season does not create a clean slate.  The growth of these characters hasn’t been a staircase, stopping and starting and stalling every September and May.  It’s been a slow climb, one that began in the pilot and ended in the season six finale.  But any good ending needs to have some idea of what’s to come, so with the missing three years as a coda, this premiere episode serves as a conclusion of sorts to the story that began in the season six finale.  In that sense, the decision to jump forward was the perfect way to end the show.  Regardless of where the characters find themselves in the series finale eleven episodes from now, the very existence of this final season, most importantly the way it’s structured in comparison to the preceding six seasons, serves as a rare coda that possibly no other show on television has ever gotten.  It’s something more than knowing before starting pre-production that this is going to be the final season; the time jump both grants for stories that were absolutely impossible previously, and puts the characters in a place where we as audience members are okay saying goodbye.  We’ve already seen them get their happily ever after; anything after that is just an amazing bonus.

Anyway, all of this has been a very long way to say that April and Andy are grown-ups now, and they’re not happy about it.  April’s sudden realization that they’re old and boring and normal is another benefit granted by the time jump.  After all, when you’re changing, you don’t realize it.  You can’t see it until you’ve already gotten through and gotten to the other side.  The time jump, and seeing these characters at the end of certain journeys rather than smack dab in the middle of them, allows for them, and the audience, to be more reflective.  So April and Andy make a half-hearted attempt at Ben’s gala to liven up their lives.  But every idea they come up with gets foiled – by Andy’s heartburn, by Leslie and Ron knocking over Ben’s cake…They can’t be spontaneous in the way they once were because, as sad as it may be, the parts of them that were able to be spontaneous in that way are gone.  They’re still the same people, of course – April’s still as dour as ever, and Andy’s still as goofy and clueless as ever.  But the thing about being a grown-up is that it happens slowly, and it hits you without warning.  While I certainly still don’t feel like a grown-up, I have noticed that I haven’t exactly lost parts of myself.  I still have all the same traits I remember having in high school, or as a kid, but they manifest differently.  So allow me to correct myself: Andy and April’s spontaneity isn’t gone, it’s just no longer something that can be expressed through taking shots or streaking.  Now, as a 36-year-old and 28-year-old who have been married for six years, their idea of spontaneity is buying a house they happened to come across while journeying to drop off the forms for renter’s insurance.  Their reactions while looking at the house make it clear that they’re still April and Andy – but now, they’re stable adults, whose stability has ensured that they have enough money to buy a house.

Elsewhere in Pawnee, Ben, as mentioned above, is being celebrated at the gala.  His organization of the bicentennial is the largest public project he’s taken on since Ice Town when he was eighteen – so, like, there’s some pressure for him.  Tom, a self-proclaimed mogul, whose restaurant Tom’s Bistro is booming, introduces him at the gala, but naturally, Tom’s speech loses focus and becomes less about Ben and more about Tom himself.  So, you know, some things haven’t changed in the last three years.  But Tom goes to Ben’s office the next day to apologize and explain himself: he wrote a speech, wanting to thank Ben for always supporting him, but got too emotional while delivering the speech and had to veer off-course.  This storyline shows the third benefit of the time jump: this is three additional years, in addition to the preceding six years, that these characters spend with each other.  Suddenly these characters have known each other for the better part of a decade.  That’s a huge amount of baggage that colors every single interaction between every single combination of characters.  The things they say to each other, and what they do for each other, has weight.  Tom can only be a success in 2017 because he was a failure in 2012.  The richness and complexities of having years of such close relationships, coupled with the unique perspective granted by these final thirteen episodes, is what’s going to make this season so compelling.  I have no doubt that Parks will end on a high note, because it’s been designed to make the audience fall in love with it.  Every step to the finale is going to remind us exactly why we care about these characters, and fill us with hope for where they’re going to end up.

Some other notable moments throughout the episode:
  • The fact that this group has fallen out of touch with each other is so heartbreaking, but the genuine joy and shock Leslie felt when she found out Donna got engaged just speaks volumes to the nature of friendship, and to the kind of friendship these characters share.  Of course it’s okay if they put work and family over friends sometimes; they’re always going to be there for each other, and will never, ever stop caring about each other
  • “You have your same hair.”  “No, I don’t, I HAVE BANGS NOW.”  “I’VE NEVER KNOWN WHAT BANGS ARE AND I DON’T INTEND TO LEARN.”
  • Ben does look like a sexy orchestra conductor, you guys.  I never knew that was something I was into, but I’m totally into it.
  • Just how dumb is Andy’s wiener?  I have a lot of questions.  Mostly disbelief.
  • “My son sells them on Etsy.  He is a huge disappointment.”
  • Ed will be at Subway, if anyone wants to hang.
That’s it for "2017"!  NBC is airing two episodes of Parks and Rec a week, so I’ll be covering both episodes in one post.  So now onto episode 2: "Ron and Jammy."

"Ron and Jammy"

At its core, Ron and Jammy is about what happens when you realize you don’t like who you’ve become.  Much like the changes that occur over a three-year period, these aren’t things that you can see while they’re happening.  More often than not, you’re blind to what’s happening until you’re already deep in whatever new event is taking over.  For Councilman Jeremy Jamm, this upheaving event is his relationship with Tammy II.  Everybody’s least favorite councilman is, once again, key to one of Leslie’s plans – the city council is voting on whether or not to allow the Newports’ land to be zoned for commercial use.  If they vote against it, Gryzzl won’t be allowed to use it for their new compound, and Leslie’s proposal to turn it into a national park will be the Newports’ only option.  And, of course, Jamm is the deciding vote.  Leslie visits his office, where he promptly tells Leslie that he won’t know how which way he’s voting until his girlfriend tells him what to do.  And then, suddenly, just as quickly as she was once spawned from the fires of hell, Tammy II appears.  Leslie immediately knows how to appeal to her: she’s opposing Ron, and Tammy loves nothing more than to go against Ron.  But, as it turns out, Tammy hates Leslie more than she hates Ron, and when Leslie and Ron appear in front of the city council to plead their cases, Jamm immediately states his position: he’s voting for Ron.

Leslie’s upset, but more importantly, she sees the damage Tammy has wreaked upon Jamm.  She’s turned him into a clone of Ron, even down to making him mimic Ron’s diet, despite the fact that Jamm has IBS and cannot survive on his diet of steak and whiskey.  So Leslie does the only thing she can: she enlists Ron’s help to cure Jamm of Tammy.

At one point, Mike Schur commented that Amy Poehler, as endlessly talented as she is, has one area of comedy in which she fails spectacularly: impressions.  So, naturally, they make her do them on the show as often as possible.  But Amy Poehler’s dead-on impression of Tammy is nothing short of brilliant, and might be one of the funniest sequences ever on this show.  She called him a sex maggot, you guys.  I barely even know what that is and yet it’s still clear that it’s amazing.

Using Pavlovian techniques and some of Ron’s own inventions (including a chastity belt and a crotch blinder), they train Jamm in how to break free of Tammy, and in how to avoid her tricks.  And then, after running drills over and over, he’s ready to face her.  He tells Tammy he wants to break up, and she responds by taking off all her clothes in the middle of the library.  Those punk ass book jockeys who work at the library remain blissfully ignorant of the scene Tammy throws, and Jamm, Leslie, and Ron leave triumphant – after Tammy tells Jamm that Leslie’s selfishly motivated, and then offers to sway Jamm to vote for Leslie.  But our hero remains firm, proving that her concern for Jamm isn’t motivated in her own ambition.

Something I thought was brilliant about this episode was how it ended: right before the city council’s vote.  Ending the episode with the vote would have made it too directly a conclusion to the entire Ron-Leslie storyline, and would have gone against the small amount of progress they made in restoring their friendship.  They team up for an episode, but ultimately, one’s position is improved over the other.  It just doesn’t work or result in as touching a moment; this way, the focus remains on what they’ve been through, not where they’re going.  The closest we get to the vote is Jamm’s promise to abstain, given that he feels so indebted to the two of them, and couldn’t possibly choose between them.  But he was the deciding vote; otherwise, the council is 2-2, thus most likely delaying a resolution to this conflict.

April found herself in the same position as Jamm: unhappy, with no idea how she wound up there.  A speech from Joan Callamezzo (who’s apparently lost her mind in the last three years, and whose craziness has earned April’s undying love) makes April realize that she has zero passion for her job.  Randomly accepting an internship while she was in college just opened up a path that she followed without ever stopping to question if it was truly what she wanted to do.  So, enlisting Ben’s help and following a piece of advice from Joan, she investigates her passion when she was ten: becoming a mortician.  She’s overjoyed to learn that Lerpiss Mortuary has a cadaver chute, but loses interest when she hears that becoming a mortician requires three years of schooling.  It’s yet another job filled with paperwork, she realizes, and becomes discouraged that she’ll ever find anything she loves.  But Ben reminds her that it took him a while to find what he loved, too; he knows something is out there for her, and he’s going to help her discover what she should be doing.

Joan was the one who made April want to reevaluate what she wanted to do when she was ten.  After all, Joan followed her childhood passion, and because of that, has always been sure of what she wanted to do.  “It’s the key to a good life,” she says.  But April’s childhood dream of becoming a mortician isn’t what she imagined, and if Ben winds up being the one to help her discover her passion, then the key to her life wasn’t something from her childhood.  It’s from the path that she took, however dispassionately; taking the internship led her to working as Ron’s assistant, which led her to meeting Ben, which led to finding her dream job.  The key to a good life is to live it, not to hold on to old memories that you may have outgrown.

And then there’s Tom, who’s become lonely after witnessing four proposals in his restaurant in the past month.  He’s finally become successful, but he realizes that he wants to be in a relationship to make all of his success actually mean something.  So Andy decides to help him find his soulmate, pointing out that it could be someone he already knows; cue a GryzzlBook message from Lucy, Tom’s ex-girlfriend, who saw an article written about him and wants to catch up.  The only problem?  She lives in Chicago now.  Drunkenly, Tom and Andy decide to head to Chicago, but after an $800 cab ride, they sober up and Tom realizes what a terrible idea it was.  But almost as soon as they get out of the cab, which takes them directly to Lucy’s office building, she spots them – and, to everyone’s surprise, Andy’s the one who comes up with a believable story about why they’re in Chicago that isn’t, you know, super creepy.

They spend the day with Lucy and I’m reminded why I loved her and Tom together so much.  Um, I mean, and Tom’s reminded of why he liked her so much.  Andy pushes Tom to ask her out, but Tom points out that’s not an option, with Lucy living in Chicago.  Instead, he asks her to come work for him, as a manager at his bistro.  She’s thrilled – but she has to check with her boyfriend.  Ultimately, she decides to work for him, and their storyline in this episode ends on such a hopeful note, it seems inevitable that they’ll be back together incredibly soon.

Jamm, April, and Tom’s storylines, in addition to sharing the theme of not being happy with where you’ve ended up, also share this really sweet idea that sometimes, you can’t be the one to fix yourself.  At least, not alone.  You need people around you to help boost you up.  And that’s the idea that’s at the core of this show.  You can be strong and successful and independent, but what does that mean if you don’t have people to share it with?  It’s the people in your life who give it meaning, and sometimes, the people in your life are the only ones who can help you become who you want to be.  It especially feels poignant given the distance between some of the characters now; Ron and Leslie are the most obvious example, but she’s also grown from Tom and Donna, and Tom and Andy’s excited greeting of each other at the end of "2017" implies they’re not seeing each other regularly as they used to.  This group who once was so dependent on each other has stopped needing each other as much as they once did.  And in a lot of ways, that makes sense – they’re not working together anymore, so of course they’re not all seeing each other on a daily basis, and of course every project one of them takes on doesn’t require everyone’s assistance.  But there are still spaces for each other in everyone’s lives, and they’ve let those spaces go empty.  Part of this final season, I’m sure, will focus on everyone rediscovering just how much they need each other.

Some other fun moments:
  • Leslie’s immediate, horrified, branding of Jamm and Tammy’s relationship: “Jammy”.
  • Joan wrote a book called Game of Joans.  I live for puns, and I love Game of Thrones puns above all else.
  • “Commissioner Gordon.  People of Gotham.”  “Okay, she thinks she’s in Batman.”
  • “I’m afraid of death.”
  • Okay, I’m gonna come clean.  There’s part of me – a not insignificant part of me – that ships Ben/April, but like, in a universe without Leslie and Andy.  So their storyline absolutely thrilled me as it was, but April hugging him?  It was everything I’ve ever dreamed of (and yes, you can expect a mention of how much I ship them any time they have a storyline together this season.  I’ll try to keep cool).
  • “Tammy does not abide by the Geneva Convention.”
What did you all think of "2017" and "Ron and Jammy"?  Are you as excited by the time jump as I am?  Let me know what you guys thought of Parks’ return!  I’ll be back next week with a recap of both episodes.  See you all then!


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