PARKS AND RECREATION: Sister City - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote


October 21, 2009 by  

My college years were spent in Atlanta, Georgia. In addition to playing host to the 1996 Summer Olympics, the ATL is home to approximately six million Waffle House restaurants. If you have ever had the pleasure (and by pleasure, I mean the joy of punishing your internal organs with copious amounts of comfort food) of visiting the little diner with the big yellow sign, you may have learned a special phrase. Instead of ordering hash browns with specific toppings, longtime customers know to order them “Scattered, Covered, & Smothered.”

In breakfast terms, that expression indicates that your breakfast potatoes should be spread on the grill and topped with cheese and onions. In TV terms, it describes why my recap of this week’s Parks & Recreation took days to assemble. Despite a clever premise and a number of standout scenes, I cannot give this episode an enthusiastic thumbs up. Instead, I feel scattered, covered, and smothered by Fred Armisen’s overpowering presence as the leader of the Boraqua delegation.

As an admirer of the institution of Saturday Night Live, it pains me to direct any criticism at Fred Armisen, a genius at sketch comedy who has made me laugh out loud for years. His unique work during “Weekend Update” as Governor David Paterson, political comic Nicholas Fehn, and musician John Oates is the stuff of legend. Amy Poehler had the best seat in the house at the Update desk for those gems. The idea of reuniting the SNL veterans seemed like a no-brainer.

I’ll get the tough part out of the way. As the episode progressed, and Raul’s assaults on Pawnee and the United States multiplied, I grew tired. After being delighted by the rapid-fire joke assault featured in P&R this season, I was disappointed that the character of Raul could be so one-dimensional. Though the Venezuelan’s visit enabled the P&R team to bring the Pawnee staff together, I was hoping for more out of Armisen’s contributions. Case in point: though Raul’s talking head outlining the various causes for imprisoning Boraqua’s citizens started out strong, it lingered too long onscreen. If I had to make an uneducated guess, I would presume that the talented editors at P&R didn’t want to leave out any of Armisen’s gems, but forgot that he is not the star of the show. Less Raul would have provided more consistent laughs.

Despite my misgivings about the size of Fred Armisen’s role, I loved the idea of Leslie welcoming visitors from a sister city. From the start, the writers have been careful to craft Pawnee as a city that is simultaneously burdened by its history and emboldened by its folksiness. Sharing those unique values with foreign counterparts is right up Leslie Knope’s alley. I have always perceived Leslie as an amalgam of Hillary Clinton and Tracey Flick from the film “Election,” all in the style of Christopher Guest’s mockumentatries.

Season Two of P&R has been sinfully funny, and the devil has been in the details. Unlike so many network sitcoms, who have to please their studio audiences with broad based jokes and over the top body language, the folks in Pawnee work smarter. At the risk of proving how scattered my thoughts truly are, here are some of the moments that made me press rewind.

-April’s talking head regarding her heritage

-Raul introducing his Minister of Small Fountains

-Leslie taking great delight in referring to Tom as a “pathetic servant boy”

-“This is not personal. We just think that you are weak and your city is disgusting.”

-The entire Town Hall sequence, as the disgruntled citizens of Pawnee make Leslie’s case for a free and open democracy.

-“Viva America! Viva Pawnee! Viva Mayor Walter Gunderson!”

Though most of P&R’s running storylines were set aside for the week (Chris Pratt, you were sorely missed again), the script did address a running theme for Season Two. Aside from Jerry, who continues to take a brutal amount of verbal abuse, the Parks & Recreation department is embracing the concept of teamwork.

Last season, Leslie Knope was alone on an island by chasing the Pit project. Lately, it seems that her colleagues have begun to rally around their true leader. Ron Swanson set aside his anti-government philosophy in order to counsel and support his deputy. Tom Haverford selflessly donated his heaping pocket of Venezuelan tips for the greater good. Even Mark Brendanawicz has dropped the “what does it all mean” facade and appeared willing to do some actual government work.

I am excited to read your thoughts about this episode, particularly from those of you who disagree with my take on Fred Armisen’s performance. My criticism is based solely on personal preference, and I am certain that many of you were guffawing with laughter throughout the show. Parks & Recreation continues to be the little engine that drives my Thursday night viewing, and I am already looking forward to next week!

How would you have handled the Venezuelan delegation? What do you think about the increased screen time for P&R’s background players (Jerry & Donna)? Are we learning more or less about Leslie Knope’s leadership style this year? What storylines are you enjoying the most in Season Two? Viva GMMR!

Aside from writing about House and Parks & Recreation, Erik has become addicted to Top Chef, The Next Iron Chef, and most other shows with the word “Chef” in the title. Please forward any recipes for Chef Boyardee to his Twitter handle (@FreelanceErik).


6 Responses to “PARKS AND RECREATION: Sister City”

  1. CFO (not myinitials) on October 21st, 2009 10:59 am

    I LOVED the episode! I thought it was hilarious throughout. 😀 (I do, however, agree that Fred Armisen’s talking head was a bit long…) I thought that his overpowering personality fit the situation that Leslie couldn’t quite control, which overpowered her at first, until she found her way & could stand up to him.
    And, I loved Tom’s moment of humanity in donating his “earnings” to the pit project.

  2. Erik on October 21st, 2009 11:17 am

    CFO: Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I completely agree that Leslie’s reaction to Raul’s condescending tone was hilarious. Amy Poehler’s facial expressions during those scenes reminded me of her outbursts of “No, No, No” while trying to spring Tom from jail during “The Stakeout.” Every hero needs a foil, and Armisen’s character did provoke a strong, welcome response from Leslie and her team. VIVA POEHLER!

  3. Nicole on October 21st, 2009 12:07 pm

    I’m so loving P&R this year – I generally tend to watch shows in order of how much I think I’m going to enjoy them, saving the best for last. Because I recap Supernatural on Thursdays, most of the shows that night have to wait until the weekend, and I always save The Office for last because it’s my fave. However, last week I watched The Office BEFORE P&R!! (And I’m glad I did – P&R was way better than TO last week, imho).

    I do agree Erik, that Fred Armisen was a bit overused (I love him too – but his character was too over-the-top to have so much screen time). I just kept thinking, dude is completely rude – why are they letting him hang around? I also agree that Chris Pratt was missed – they really need to find a way to work him into the story every week – can’t he beg Leslie for a mailroom job or something? The tension that could open with him working with Brandanawicz could be really fun too. Overall though, the show was really funny and I liked Tom’s moment of redemption at the end.

    The more April, Ron Swanson (I always use first and last names for him for some reason – they cannot be separated), Andy and Tom the happier I am.

  4. Emily on October 21st, 2009 5:51 pm

    I enjoyed the episode…probably a little too much because I could relate. Right out of college I worked for a city and part of my job was the Sister City program. I had the privilege (?) of hosting/entertaining/babysitting a couple of delegations from our Sister City. It wasn’t quite as horrible as poor Pawnee’s experience, but a close second. 😉

  5. Heather on October 21st, 2009 8:49 pm

    I agree that this season is better than last season in large part because the other characters are no longer so mean and dismissive toward Leslie. I couldn’t really root for her last year because no one else seemed to respect her. It was getting exhausting watching her get dumped on every week. I’m so glad they lightened up the tone.

  6. Billiam on October 21st, 2009 9:45 pm

    While I laughed plenty of times at the episode, I admit that it was a bit overly silly and will be forgettable in the long run (which is pretty much the same sentiment about the latest Office ep).
    I think my favorite part was the closing credits sequence: “It’s better than my mom’s house, I guess.”