Someone on the internet is about to argue that a television program is not as good as it used to be. It’s going to be quite a ride.
Parks and Recreation Episode Review
Parks and Recreation is not as good as it used to be. In fact, it used to be very good and now it is terrible. For the second time, I tried to watch an episode from this season. After 15 minutes, I committed suicide.
Part of this is the natural forces of decay that work against TV shows and especially sitcoms. Characters on TV are facades created with the hope of getting a pilot made or, at best, a second season. Isn’t it funny how Ron Swanson is a libertarian who is also a glutton for animal fats? It was funny for years. But, after awhile, you’re like, “I GET IT! Ron Swanson is a libertarian who is also a glutton for animal fats!”
So one measure of a show’s quality is how well it can stave off that process. The best way to do this is partially by filling out the characters, but mostly by exploring and elaborating upon the traits presented in the facade. Like how they keep building on Charlie’s alienation, weirdness and mental and psychological problems as It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia goes on.
(After I wrote ‘stave off,’ I realized that I did not know the meaning of the word ‘stave.’ As my greatest fear is using a word I don’t know the meaning of and having someone go, “oh, by the way, do you even know what that word means?!!!” I looked it up. For your information, a stave is a long piece of wood, like a rung in a ladder, the pieces used in the sides of a barrel or a staff. As a verb, stave can mean several different things you would use a staff for, like poking holes in something or smashing it. I’m not sure if this includes casting spells. It can also mean ‘to furnish with staves.’)
I’m not going to check, but I think Charlie’s borderline illiteracy /dyslexia was introduced about half way through Sunny’s 9 season run. It was one of many layers that was built upon what was initially just stupidity and weirdness. The corpse of Parks is being rolled into its 5th season and it is relying on basically the same jokes about the characters. It’s made the mistake of trying to fill out the characters into people we care about without making them any funnier. Like, how Tom actually has real feelings for Ann and he is getting serious about his stupid business ventures. This is done to the exclusion of really digging into the mindset and absurdities of a bling head. Same thing with Ron. I guess there’s just not much humor to be found in overzealous, libertarian ideologues who believe that Ayn Rand is a great philosopher.
But that is just the normal decline of a TV show into self-parody. The decline of Parks is sharper more frustrating than a normal decline. One reason for this is the whole drama about how NBC considered canceling a group of shows that were marketed to more intelligent people, including Parks and Community. The underlying issue was that these shows relied on mechanisms like satire and cultural allusion, which maybe half of the population has the capacity to understand. Ratings poison.
So, as millions of African babies died of mosquito bites, the people who liked these shows organized to convey their view that the cancellation of Community and Parks would be a tragedy. NBC renewed the shows, but they also issued a statement in which they more or less came out and said that they were dumbing down their programming.
I don’t really know if Parks was ordered to join Project Dumb Down, or if it volunteered. Nor was I part of the “Parks isn’t about television, Marge. It is about rebellion, about political and social upheaval!” movement.
But the end result, is that a show I used to like has quickly become one of the worst shows on TV by embracing all the stuff it used to make fun of. That’s not unusual either. Punk rock bands become major label pop idols. SNL is SNL. But the severity and abruptness of the turn is pretty jarring.
If you took the town of Pawnee as a stand in for the United States and its culture, Parks used to be a pretty sharp satire, particularly of political corruption and American political culture. Now, suddenly the show is fawning over political guest stars. It treats people up to and including Newt Gingrich, with reverence. It presents them to viewers as figures on a pedestal for us to revere too.
Now, I’m a bit of a radical, insofar as I honestly think the vast majority of the politicians in Washington are murderous crooks who belong in prison and I hope they all get the plague, or at least irritable bowel syndrome. And even if they were honest, I wouldn’t want them to be presented to me with reverence because this isn’t some goofball European country with cobblestone roads in our downtowns and we don’t have royalty.
But, even if you think politicians are just pieces of shit, rather than criminals, it is a hell of a turn around to go from subtly but sharply digging at the failures of our system, to presenting the engineers and exploiters of those failures so that we might bask in their celebrity. And this is not just a gimmick to grab viewers. The overall tone and message of the show has also changed as the naive and futile do gooding of Ben and Leslie has morphed into honest competence. Now the show says, “our representatives might not be perfect and they might not get everything they work for, but they are deeply honest and compassionate people and, more often than not, they get a positive result that benefits us all.” Well that’s just great. I’m going to put this gun in my mouth now.
Lastly, the show has become womanly. I guess that’s OK if you are a woman. Especially if you are part of the 127% of women who like being condescended too. So, when Ben and Leslie get engaged, we have the “don’t you hurt her” scene. I think, maybe this is supposed to be taken to the extreme as a joke, since every single character warns Ben not to hurt Leslie but the sentiment beneath it is clearly earnest. Don’t you hurt this woman treasure because everybody who knows her cares about her so, so much. And they are all going to form a group to protect her because she is so valuable and precious.
What bullshit. Give me a good, honest story that I can identify with about how everybody underestimates a quiet man and they all think they can dominate him, and they get away with it to a point, but only because he allows it. And when they finally push him too far, his belief that he could dominate all of them if he really wanted to is confirmed in a blood storm of violence.
Anyway, it is also somewhat inevitable, as a show like this progresses that the relationships between the characters become too close. The need for stories and character development forces them to interact a lot, and all of the sudden everybody in an office has a deep and meaningful relationship with each of their coworkers. But this is another thing that should be staved off, rather than hastened. Because it is stupid for male characters to flail their arms around, shrieking and tearing up because a co-worker is getting engaged.
Right before I pulled the trigger, there was a scene in which Chris, played by Rob Lowe who is widely regarded as one of the most attractive men ever to live, has his own crying fit at a party. The reason? Though he is not in love with anyone at the moment, he has a general fear that he will never be married. Even pretending that a guy who looks like Rob Lowe and has a high ranking job could not chose a wife the way most men chose pizza toppings, why would he behave exactly like woman who does not have much of a handle on herself?
It’s sort of an interesting question. When stories made for and/or by women impose patently female behavior on male characters, are they doing it do even the score? Is the idea that it is gratifying to see a man struggle with the tumult of specifically female insecurities and emotional issues? Is it the counterpart to mud wrestling or foxy boxing? Or is it that women believe that men have the same issues that they do, but they always maintain a macho veneer and suppress or hide these feelings? Men really want to have public emotional outbursts and make spectacles of themselves. They want to draw half a dozen of their friends away from a party so that they can be attended to in a privileged drama that unfolds in the guest bedroom. But they are too afraid to remove their macho veneer, so you don’t see it happen. So by allowing the real emotions and desired behaviors out, the story is telling the truth.
But that only makes the episode interesting as a cultural artifact. I recently watched a couple episodes of the GI Joe cartoon because it is interesting as a cultural artifact. Which was the better show? At this point, I lean to GI Joe.
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latest season of Parks and Recreation.