5.19- "Article Two"
Because I review Parks and Rec every week, I try to plan ahead. In addition to my duties as a writer for Comics Bulletin, I am a full-time student, so I have to be able to manage my time effectively. But it’s really hard to do that, because NBC changes their Thursday night comedy lineup more often than Rick Reilly uses this exact joke structure in his writing. This week, they showed two episodes, in contrast with the entire month of March, during which they aired just one new episode. I’m not saying the show draws low viewership numbers because of an inconsistent schedule, but it can’t help.
“Article Two” will probably be remembered for the video that circulated in the days before the episode aired in which guest star Patton Oswalt improvises an eight-minute filibuster about his ideas for the new Star Wars movie and suggests that it should be a crossover between the franchise (with robot Chewbacca), the Marvel universe with surprise appearances by the X-Men, and the entire pantheon of Greek gods.
My unreasonably high expectations for Oswalt’s appearance on the show were met. He’s one of my favorite standup comedians and I was blown away by his performance in Young Adult. I did think he played his character well, and I admired how the episode allowed Garth Blunden an opportunity for some real characterization. Generally, townspeople – even those played by famous or semi-famous or marginally famous guest stars – are only explored on the surface, because there’s only so much time in a 22-minute episode. Additionally, most townspeople are just there to be laughed at, because if you’ve ever been to a small town council meeting (I have), the people that show up are really just there to argue.
But we learned there was more to Garth than what we initially saw on the surface. He’s a lonely man that feels rejected, and even people that share his interests aren’t willing to give him the opportunity to take part in things that are important to him. While the storyline between Leslie and Garth made me laugh less than either of the other two, it was an interesting change of pace. Even guest actors earlier this season, like Jason Schwartzman in “Bailout,” for instance, got minimal screen time and were mostly used as a function of the story. I think as I look back at my initial experience with the episode, I wanted to laugh at Garth, who has been branded a loser by the community that we usually see as welcoming, but I’m glad the episode allowed him a chance to be included.
I am always interested in the way that Parks and Rec infuses real-world social and political issues. If you’re the single person that reads my reviews regularly, you’ll know that I try to decode the sometimes subtle politically-charged storylines. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the questionable part of the town charter was Article Two, or that Ted argues “that’s the way it’s always been done is not a good reason to be doing something,” or that the Pawn Shop Guy (quickly rising on my weekly Parks and Rec townspeople power rankings list) hands Ben a box of guns to solve his problem, or that Garth fears that if the outdated laws are removed from the town charter, stormtroopers will bust down his door.
By balancing silly details with mostly inoffensive subject matter, the show can comment on political issues while still maintaining the lighthearted, welcoming tone that viewers expect. Still, though, it has the capacity to be deeply satirical – while it isn’t as easy in real life to obtain handguns as it is in the Pawnee pawn shop, they are clearly making a point about firearm regulations. So the show isn’t a vehicle for cutting satire that attempts to cultivate social change like Glee’s weird recent school shooting storyline, but that’s okay, because those types of storylines fall flat on their faces more often than they succeed. Instead, they write a funny show that doesn’t deviate from their successful weekly formula that also relates to national or small-town politics.
Ben Wachtel likes baseball, the Boston Celtics, pancakes, tacos, and swam collegiately at Purdue University. You can follow him on Twitter at @benwachtel24.