Monday, March 4, 2013

Parks and Recreation (Season 4)

Leslie: Ron, for the last six months, my friends have worked so hard. Every five-minute coffee break at work, every night, every weekend, every spare moment of their lives they gave to me. If I lose, I'll never forgive myself. You deserve to win.

Ron: We didn't volunteer to help you because we wanted to wrap ourselves in personal glory. We did it because we care about you. You had a dream, and we wanted to support your dream. That's what you do when you care about someone. You support 'em, win, lose, or draw.

— Parks and Recreation Season 4, Episode 22 "Win, Lose, or Draw"

The fourth season of Parks and Recreation was perhaps the strongest yet, addressing most of my problems with season 3, while delivering a packed 22 episodes. Compared to season 3, which meandered inevitably in the direction of a Leslie-Ben romance, season 4 had a clearer, more confident focus on the overarching story of Leslie's bid for city council. There were a few throwaway episodes toward the beginning of the season, but still it was impressively dense, with a lot to offer those viewers interested in more than just seeing characters pair off romantically.

The mid-season arc of Ben making the rounds interviewing for jobs and subsequently reevaluating the direction of his life was so well-executed and left such an impression—probably the best "career hiatus" storyline I've come across on any TV show—that it's hard to believe that it only really lasted two episodes. In fact, if you watch an episode from the beginning of the season, one from the middle, and one from the end, Ben's character is in such different places at each point that it feels comparable to what might have taken three separate seasons of character arcs on a less tightly scripted drama, let alone a sitcom.

And that overarching campaign storyline, while written with humor and heart, also, as with the first season focusing on the park project, goes beyond merely entertaining and actually can serve as a legitimate primer on understanding the campaign process. My high school government teacher, Mr. Baldwin, always encouraged us to watch The West Wing for an accurate and informative portrayal of the workings of government, but I totally wasn't into that snoozefest. If only Parks and Rec had been on TV back then, I might actually have been motivated to pay attention in class and learn what it was all about.

One thing I've found amusing about this entire series, as well as many other post-Office comedies, has been the use of the mockumentary format sans any attempt at a mockumentary premise. When The Office first started, the idea, although it was never explained why, was that a documentary film crew was capturing the everyday activity of this one inconsequential office. The writers didn't worry too much about making sure the material allegedly being filmed actually made sense for a documentary. They didn't let the premise limit where the story could go, but the characters would still periodically acknowledge (often uncomfortably) that their lives were being filmed. In Parks and Rec, meanwhile, the characters will give interviews (or at least speak to the camera as though they are being interviewed), but these segments are never used to advance the plot. The rest of the time, they don't even acknowledge the camera. Other than the fact that they are clearly addressing the camera during those interview segments, there is no suggestion that there are any documentary film people around, and plenty enough to suggest that there aren't. It seems just to be a literary device, akin to breaking the fourth wall, with no explanation internal to the narrative. I have no difficulty with that, but I wonder what it would be like for someone coming to this show without having first seen The Office. Without any context, would they find this storytelling style baffling? Or is it sufficiently self-explanatory?

On that note, one of my favorite recurring gags on Parks and Rec is its rejection of the theatrical convention of stage whisper, as characters are often doing their interviews within visible earshot of other characters, who, sure enough, point out that they can hear themselves being talked about.

1 comment:

Parks and Recreation (Season 6) (2013-2014) | FRAGGIN' CIVIE said...

[…] opinion, the proper climax to the series—Leslie winning a seat on the city council at the end of Season 4. And it was necessary because the show would never have been able to progress further dramatically […]