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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
wo quotes drenched in seeming hyperbole grace the front and back cover of the Season Three DVD of “Parks and Recreation,” from Entertainment Weekly and Time respectively: “The Smartest Comedy on Television” and “The Best Comedy on Television.” Everything is the “Best” something, right? But hang on a minute, what if the blurbs on the box are right, and you’re not watching?
That was kind-of-sort-of the case for me with the show’s first two seasons. I saw the pilot, decreed it an “Office” clone (which in many ways it was), and didn’t tune in again until later in the second season, and even then only sporadically. By that point, the show appeared to have come somewhat more into its own, but I still wasn’t completely sold. I’ve no serious dislike for “The Office,” but the idea of incorporating another “Office” into my viewing schedule, even if only infrequently, wasn’t high on the list of priorities.
But all of that somehow changed with the third season of “Parks and Rec,” and I say “somehow” because I don’t recall how it became appointment viewing, and yet it did. To steal some verbiage from the show’s earnestly lovable lunkhead Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt), “Parks and Rec” is awesomesauce, and its third season was most definitely the best something on TV. It’s got that kind of uniqueness about it. Here’s a show where anything can seemingly happen, and usually does.
The trick is in convincing the uninitiated that the show is so much more than just “The Office: Part Deux,” even though the two series have elements in common, such as the hand-held, documentary-style approach to shooting; the fact that much of it’s set in, well, an office; and of course, “Office” vets Greg Daniels and Michael Schur are steering the boat. Yet one gets the feeling the two men are chiseling out a completely different kind of show, as aside from those rather surface similarities, the two series are almost polar opposites. (Or should that be Poehler opposites?)
“Parks and Rec” is warm and inviting, and the characters all genuinely like each other, whereas on “The Office” they mostly seem to be putting up with one another in order to collect a paycheck. Further, “The Office” is primarily about Michael Scott and three or four other characters, with another dozen, second-tier characters wandering through the background. “Parks and Rec,” on the other hand, is a true ensemble of eight characters with only two more relegated to the second tier. Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) is a mere rallying point around which everyone else gathers to achieve (or fail to achieve) a goal, but she doesn’t necessarily get any more screen time than the rest. It may all sound like a bunch of hair-splitting, but this sort of stuff makes a huge difference in the dynamic of a show.
In a recent interview, Schur confessed his mad love for “Cheers,” and the whole thing came into focus: “Parks and Rec” is a modern sitcom with old school sensibilities. By comparing it to the inspired, lunatic perfection of “WKRP in Cincinnati,” I can give it no higher praise. That was another workplace-based comedy featuring an ensemble cast effortlessly bouncing off of one another, creating comedic – and occasionally even dramatic – perfection. It’s not exaggeration to say that each of the 16 episodes of the third season of “Parks and Rec” is a keeper; there isn’t a dud in the bunch.
Early on in the season, Leslie Knope delves into the past as a means to unite the city of Pawnee and gain the Parks and Rec department some cred by reviving the Harvest Festival, the last of which was held in the early ‘80s. The first six episodes build up to the event, all while having plots and subplots of their own. “Time Capsule” is what you think it is, and Will Forte guest stars as a rabid “Twilight” fan desperate to get copies of the books placed into the capsule. “Ron and Tammy 2” is also what you think it is, assuming you saw “Ron and Tammy” in the second season. Megan Mullally returns as Tammy Two to make life hell for Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) once again. “Media Blitz” sees the sordid details of Ben Wyatt’s (Adam Scott) past spill out into the media via a morning radio show hosted by Crazy Ira and the Douche (played by Matt Besser and Nick Kroll, respectively), a gag which reminded me heavily of an old David Cross routine, but remains side-splittingly hilarious regardless.
By the time “Harvest Festival” – guest-starring Jonathan ‘John Redcorn’ Joss in a priceless turn – rolls around, the show has found a perfect stride, and it’s one outstanding episode after the next. “Soulmates” sees Leslie inexplicably finding online love with Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), of all people, while “Jerry’s Painting,” which follows “Soulmates,” reverses the humiliation of the same two characters. And so it goes until the end of the season, as every episode features moments and material worth singling out. If you’ve not yet seen this season, by alls means procure and burn through it before the show’s fourth season debut on September 22nd. Yes, it’s that good.
Special Features: There are six episodes that feature cast and crew commentaries, a 24-minute(!) gag reel, and deleted scenes for nearly every episode, while three installments are given extended producer’s cuts (“Harvest Festival,” “The Fight” and “Li’l Sebastian”). There’s also a movie-styled trailer for “Ron and Tammy 2,” a promotional bit for Crazy Ira and the Douche, a tribute to Li’l Sebastian, and commercials for Snake Juice, Entertainment 720, and “Ya’ Herd? With Perd.” There are also some hugely entertaining promos titled “Rob Goes Nuts,” “Aziz New Main Title” and “Parks and Recreation 3-D.” Most of this stuff, assuming you like the show, is loads of fun.