Treat yo self to, literally, the entire Pawnee saga
The Story So Far...
It didn't start off great, as the six-episode first season was uneven, as deputy Parks and Recreation director Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) didn't emerge fully-formed. In fact, she wasn't much like the character she would become many years later, seeming less capable and more silly. If the comparisons to The Office weren't helping, the fact that, like that show, Parks and Rec struggled to find its voice at first, could have been deadly. No one from that first season is very recognizable, be it suit-wearing Libertarian Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), shiftless layabout Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) or apathetic nurse Ann Perkins (Jones.) The relationship triangle/quadrangle that was attempted between Leslie, Ann, Andy and city planner Mark Brandanawicz (Paul Schneider) just didn't work either, with Mark leaving the show in the second season.
Park of the problem was the tone of the show, and how Mark, a complete and utter cynic played well by Schneider, didn't fit it. The residents of Pawnee can be opportunistic like Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), self-absorbed like Donna Meagle (Retta) or just dopey like Garry (Jim O'Heir), but they always care, even if they hide it as well as dark college intern April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza.) The show was one of several at the time, including Community, which wore their earnest nature like a badge, defying a world that laughs at people rather than with them. The characters can certainly be mean and they can be vindictive, but if they are, it's out of care for another. Parks and Rec is a comedy about good people trying to do the right thing, particularly Leslie, who struggles to fight her way through the corrupt world of small-town government.
In the second season however, the governmental storylines take a bit of a backseat in favor of developing the characters. Their positions are still important and they are still actively working, but the show is more focused on finding out who the people in those jobs are, whether it's looking at Tom's marriage, Leslie's attempts to date a police officer named Dave (Louis CK) or the burgeoning relationship between April and Andy. The personal storyline that takes home the prize however takes place in "Ron and Tammy," which introduces Ron's hellcat ex-wife Tammy 2, played with sexual gusto by Offerman's real wife Megan Mullally. Mullally is one of many engaging guest stars to appear in the second season, as Will Arnett plays another failed love interest for Leslie, Fred Armisen plays a militaristic parks director from Venezuela, John Larroquette appears as an old flame of Leslie's mom (Pamela Reed), Andy Samberg steps in as a park ranger and Paul Scheer is an overly-enthusiastic charity worker.
The last two episodes of season two would set the stage for the show as its fans truly know it, as Mark steps aside, and a pair of fixers come to town to settle Pawnee's terrible finances. Riding into the show to save the day, to Leslie's chagrin, Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) and Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) brought new outsider energy to the show, as well as offering challenges to the two female leads. Over time they would become romantic partners to Ann and Leslie, but their unique characters, with Chris being completely positive, yet utterly paranoid about his health, and Ben being smart and sensible, while also neurotic and afraid of his past catching up with him, are what quickly made them integral members of the cast.
The effects of Ben and Chris's arrival stretched into season three, where their budget-driven shutdown of the government drives Leslie to put on a Harvest Festival to get the department back on its feet. During the course of this story arc, feelings start to percolate between Ben and Leslie (while things get serious between April and Andy.) The growth of the relationship is incredibly natural, as they battle through hard times together, and come out bonded on the other side. But despite Ben and Leslie's connection, no couple is as amazing to behold as the re-emergence of Ron and Tammy (as well as the introduction of Tom and Tammy) in "Ron & Tammy 2". Their tempestuous pairing results in one of the most memorable episodes of the season (and series), as should be the case when Ron Swanson ends up in cornrows and a kimono.
In a mirror of the Ben and Leslie thing, the show increasingly blended the characters' work and personal lives in season three, as when Ben became more of a part of the team (with "Media Blitz," and the follow-up "Indianapolis" a turning point.) We also discover Eagleton, the rich neighbor town that views Leslie's town as "a dirty little nightmare you can never wake up from." This bizarro-world version of Pawnee is an example of the comedic heights this season reaches, likely the best of the show's run, as it consistently draws big laughs, all thanks to the characters it's developed over the years. It also hit new heights of emotion, with the finale, featuring the death of a Pawnee icon, and the touching end of "Eagleton"'s representation of the Ron/Leslie dynamic.
Season four got back down to the business of government, as Leslie ran for city council. The campaign dominates the season, allowing plenty of political commentary (mostly in the form of veiled references to the [still-relevant] politics of the time), which reaches its apex when the son of the town's biggest employer, goofy Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd) enters the race. Completely incompetent and uninterested in politics, Newport stands a good chance at winning, which infuriates Leslie. Meanwhile, Chris becomes aware of the secret relationship between Ben and Leslie, leading to a hearing that is one of the season's most memorable moments. This also shakes things up a bit around the office, which, after four years, is not a bad idea.
Season four brings a second (or technically first) Tammy from Ron's past into our lives, and though Patricia Clarkson is good at dominating Ron, she's no Tammy 2, who is thankfully still around to deliver her special brand of fun. The fabulously funny Kathryn Hahn also comes aboard as a political campaign specialist working for Bobby Newport, but with eyes on Ben. The main cast isn't forgotten however, as Tom gets plenty of spotlight teaming up with others, forming his terrible company Entertainment 720 with the equally terrible Jean-Ralphio (the far-from-terrible Ben Schwartz), and introducing the world to the concept of Treat Yo Self, with the aid of Donna. Despite getting dominated by Leslie's campaign, the show didn't remain static, and spread the focus around.
Ben and Leslie don't have the smoothest ride heading into season five, as Ben heads to Washington for a new job, taking April with him. With the two leads separated and no big storyline to service, the show headed out in many directions at once, telling smaller character-driven tales. While Leslie is hard at work, combating giant sodas, sexism and a suffering economy, she runs into a new foe, the devious councilman Jeremy Jamm, played perfectly by Jon Glaser. Jamm is everything that's wrong with small-town government, and he is the kind of foe that forces Leslie to be at the top of her game if she wants to accomplish anything. That she has to do this while dealing with her relationship with Ben doesn't help. And she's not the only one working out a relationship, as Ron has become interested in Diane (Lucy Lawless) (though Tammy 2 still poses a lingering threat), Ann struggles with her connection to Chris and Tom is stuck in a terrible relationship with Jean-Ralphio's even-worse sister Mona-Lisa (Jenny Slate.)
The sixth season started with a quick jaunt to London, before Leslie got down to work on merging the town of Pawnee with their bankrupt rivals in upper-middle-class Eagleton, a good deed that got her targeted for recall from the city council, which led her to consider leaving the parks department and her ungrateful constituents for a better opportunity. This season saw the show grab the political commentary football and run with it, targeting broad concepts like filibusters, manufactured scandals or health policy. This season is both sharp in its criticism and hugely funny, with the cast, specifically Offerman and Pratt, in peak form. That said, two major players left the series in Lowe and Jones, in what could have been a major blow (and their last episode felt like a series finale.) However, the show responded by finding new pairings to enjoy, particularly April and Donna and Andy and Ron, while the merger of Pawnee and Eagleton also brought some new characters into the show, including Sam Shepard as a hippie analog of Ron and a new team member with a short fuse named Craig, played with trademark bombast by Billy Eichner (Billy on the Street.) An assortment of great guest stars round out the season's roster, including Henry Winkler, Ben Schwartz and Jenny Slate (as the worst family in Pawnee), Peter Serafinowicz, Kristen Bell, June Diane Raphael, Erinn Hayes, Kathryn Hahn, Dan Castellaneta, John Hodgman, Rob Huebel and Bo Burnham.
The final season, which was entered knowing that fate, was able to work toward an ending, aided by a rather brilliant idea teased in the sixth-season finale. The year is now 2017, a three-year leap forward, which leaves most of the main characters in much different situations, especially since Ben and Leslie now have triplets, with Leslie working for the Federal government and her friendship with Ron having fallen into a bitter rivalry. In this near future, Gryzzl, a Facebook-like social network, has come to dominate society and is looking to build a headquarters in a Pawnee park. This pits Leslie and her allies against Ron (who is working for Gryzzl, alongside Donna and Tom.) This tack, separating friends in order to bring them back together, powered Season Five, with Ben in Washington before proposing to Leslie, but with so little time to play in these 13 episodes, making Ron and Leslie enemies for the first four episodes risked leaving not enough time to spend with the P&R family.
That's particularly problematic when half the season is spent dealing with Gryzzl's threat to Pawnee. However, once that plotline was settled, the show got down to work at tying up the loose threads, and gave characters that the show's viewers love a proper send-off. Though Brendanawicz did not return for the last go-round, pretty much everyone else did, culminating in a heartfelt finale that used Leslie's relationship with a person as a visual cue to jump into the future of all of Pawnee's favorite people, giving each one, be it leads like Leslie and Andy or side characters like Ron's hair stylist Typhoon, the happy ending they deserved. Is it overly sentimental? Absolutely. But if it wasn't, it wouldn't have been Parks and Rec, where caring about the characters is as important as the laughs (though the laughs are huge.)
Every episode is presented with Dolby Digital 5.1 track, but considering what the show is (namely a faux documentary/network sitcom) the sound isn't exactly summer-blockbuster level in terms of complexity or power, but it's consistently clear and free of any problems. The surrounds picks up some work in terms of atmospheric effects and some music boosting, but overall, this show is all about the dialogue, and these tracks deliver the goods. Once in a blue moon a scene will offer some bass to play with, usually a scene set in a nightclub, and the low-end steps up to bat without concern.
Another big hallmark of the show is the amount of material created for each episode, a by-product of the documentary concept. In this set, there's nearly an entire episode's worth of deleted scenes (22:51), with over 30 moments included. There's nothing super memorable, outside of a broken-legged Pratt falling down, but most of it would have fit into the show that aired.
This season also boasts the most commentaries of any of the show's seven, offering a track for each episode. Though Poehler, Jones, Offerman, Schneider and Pratt all are on board for a track of two, the overall lack of participation on the acting side is evident in the energy level. However, there's a lot of good production info shared by the crew members in attendance, pointing out details and trivia (including the definition of a "Nakamura" and the effort that went into mimicking a documentary.) A few moments definitely stand out, like Pratt possibly hallucinating during "Boys Club" and the solo "Poop Fight" commentary.
Here's the commentary roster:
Deleted scenes only grew in this longer second season, checking in with over 200 scenes in all, running nearly 160 minutes in total. There are a number of fantastically funny moments that didn't make it to air this time around, including various TV call-in penguin jokes, a list of April's talents, drunk Leslie (and her curious attempts at a Larry Bird imitation), a hysterical Halloween PSA, more Ron and Tammy insanity, Tom in dresses, custom handshakes between Tom and Jean-Ralphio, a bit about boating safety, Tom trying to pick up women both in and out of a coonskin cap, Andy discussing his motorcycle and Ron sleep-fighting. You're basically getting more than five additional episodes, not to mention Schwartz singing. And if that's not enough, Producer Cuts return, with longer versions of "The Set-Up", "The Master Plan" and "Freddy Spaghetti".
New to the show at this point was the wonderfully funny blooper reel (15:17), which features a great deal of breaking, particularly during one scene between Schwartz and Retta, which is just delightful. An assortment of promos and behind the scenes material is also available, starting with "Pratt on Parks" (9:02), a five-part look behind the scenes, shot by Pratt using the then-ubiquitous FlipCam. Besides talking to people who work on the show, discussing things like boob sweat and getting wired and portraying Santa Pratt, he also predicts the future, joking about getting a text from Steven Spielberg about starring in Jurassic Park 4. It all started here.
There's more Pratt to enjoy in "Mouse Rat Rocks the Wrap Party," as the show's official band, lead by Pratt, performs "Sex Hair" and "Menaceball" (though Pratt has some trouble with the latter), before a special sax-singing guest stops by to entertain the cast and crew following the season's production. The fun is not done though, as "?uestlove on Parks" (3:05) sees the The Roots drummer compare Parks and Rec to the Wu Tang Clan, with footage of The RZA's screentest for the part of Leslie Knope. Poehler is absolutely hysterical here. Music remains the theme as Gabby Moreno, one of the creators of the show's wonderful theme song, performs it acoustically (:48).
Some promos wrap up the extras, with five Winter Olympics-themed ads (1:57). Pratt in a speed-skating uniform is funny on it's own, but add in Ansari getting his by his slapshot or a ridiculous group photo, and these commercials are on another level. And while it may not be too valuable now, there's a sneak peek at the then-upcoming season three of Parks and Recreation (3:17), which includes a bit about getting the team back together.
The gag reel (23:26) is back, and it's especially funny, with Lowe losing it, Retta taking off her wig, jokes about performing oral on Perd Hapley and Andy molesting fruit (amongst other sexual goofs) and a great deal of on-set dancing. The only downside to it, if it even is a downside, is the inclusion of commercials, making it more of a structured thing. This is only an issue because those elements, an ad for the "Crazy Ira and the Douche" radio show (:26), an excellent horror-style "Ron and Tammy 2" trailer (2:04), an ad for Tom's liquor Snake Juice, an Entertainment 720 promo and ads for Perd Hapley's shows (3:05), are repeated elsewhere in the set.
An emotional tribute to miniature horse Li'l Sebastian by Tom (2:01)doesn't quite work (due to a lack of jokes), but a set of three great promos for the show (6:24) certainly does. Where these aired would be nice to know, because it certainly wasn't on TV, thanks to their length and, in the case of one featuring Low going off on his castmates, the pure filthiness. It's a must-watch (while the new Aziz-centric opening titles and "3D" trailer shouldn't be missed either.)
What does return is the deleted scenes collection, with over 100 moments running 94:53 in all. As usual, these were cut for time, not content, as most could have easily made air, but among the highlights are Ann breaking up with Leslie, Ron punching Andy, Andy discussing women's history, Ben talking with Dennis Feinstein, Andy at the doctor, April working a telethon, a scene involving Gerry's feet and an attack ad against Leslie centered around dog-killing.
Also back is the gag reel (17:03) and it's as funny as ever, hosted by Perd Hapley and loaded with poop and fart jokes, as well as several very funny fake ads. More fake ads are available in the "Campaign Ads" reel (4:40), which are as dumb as the real ones out there. For some reason "Leslie Video Tribute from Tom" (1:09) is a separate item, but it's a campaign ad as well, with that special Haverford touch.
This season's extras have a heavy Andy bent to them, including the four-part "Webisodes: Road Trip" (8:48), which sees April and Andy driving to the Grand Canyon. As one might expect with these two involved, it's a goofy trip. Goofy also describes "Andy's Testimony" (4:17), in which he breaks into (inappropriate) song while talking about Ben and Leslie's relationship during a hearing. Andy is also featured in a video for Leslie's campaign theme "Catch Your Dream", as performed by Mouse Rat (4:30), which mixes studio footage with a montage of the Knope campaign.
Ron gets some spotlight in the three-part "The Swanson Zone" (5:05), a collection of manly moments. First, Ron disbelievingly narrates footage of himself canoeing, then Offerman (out of character) is seen cutting a large piece of wood with a chainsaw, before he "makes" a bobblehead doll. All amusing, all very Ron.
The appropriately-named "Odds and Ends" has several remainders to enjoy, including a 1:46 clip congratulating Poehler on her "Power of Comedy" award, as the lab-coat wearing cast cracks science jokes (while Ansari uses his real accent.) Then, in a great promo for NBC's The Voice, Cee-Lo Green visits Pawnee, and Ron comes to appreciate the power of the show's iconic chair. A "Happy New Year's" message (:24) quickly becomes a pitch for Breakin' 3, before The Big Bang Theory's Kaley Cuoco joins the gang for a People's Choice Awards segment (2:11), as the group shows off their unique talents (including a beard-off between Offerman and Jones.) Good stuff.
Andy is back in more webisodes (4:52), as he tours Washington, D.C., offering information no other guide could provide. DC is also the setting of a few quick (:47) promos for the show. More promos (4:42) are available, built around the Summer Olympic Games, award shows and, once again, The Voice. One must see Ron and Tom wrestle, however the clip in which Usher comes to Pawnee is quite fun as well.
As is often the case with these sets, there's a Mouse Rat video, this time for "Menaceball" (2:32), which is not the group's best song, but there's also a gag reel (21:20), and this time it's hosted by Councilman Jamm, so it's extra smarmy. It's a generally enjoyable piece, with fake commercials, and plenty of positive vibes, however you'll never forget Pratt and his ice-cream vagina.
The extras wrap up with two enjoyable clips, one a PSA about bacon from Ron (1:16), while the other offers up Patton Oswalt's epic, improvised filibuster speech from the episode "Article Two", in which he lays out his vision for Star Wars episode seven, which features, amongst other things, the Greek gods, the X-Men and the Avengers.
There are three extended producer's cuts, for "Second Chunce," "Flu Season 2" and the season finale "Moving Up." The inclusion of the extended finale, which runs a full 10 minutes longer than the one that aired, is especially appreciated, since the original cut left one of the more interesting plotlines unfinished.
As part of NBC's unusual scheduling of the show, webisodes were released to keep fans interested between episodes. "Parks and Recreation in Europe" (9:04) has five entries shot on location during the show's season-opening two-parter. There's some good stuff in here, like Leslie, Ron and April sightseeing in London (with a Jack the Ripper focus) and Andy at Stonehenge, trying to list the seven wonders of the world. They are followed by "The Hapley Group" (5:06), a parody of Sunday-morning discussion shows hosted by Pawnee TV personality Perd Hapley. Bringing together some of the show's side characters, Joan Callamezzo (Mo Collins), Mike Patterson (Seth Morris) and radio hosts Crazy Ira (Matt Besser) and the Douche (Nick Kroll.) They chat about local issues in their usual wacked-out manner, with Crazy Ira and the Douche dominating the show. There's even a commercial break with an ad for a local farmer's market.
More hiatus content is available in the form of three Winter Games promos (1:02), which NBC ran to promote the show and their Olympics coverage. These are fun and silly. You've also got some content partially seen in the show, with the full T-Dazzle commercial, starring Tom, and the full Chipp McCapp music video for "Beautiful Like My Mom (Support the Troops)" with Bo Burnham. Unfortunately, this video shows that the song was limited in scope, with lots of repetition in the lyrics. It is however a great parody of dumb, condescending country songs.
This season, the show celebrated its 100th episode, a moment commemorated in a 20:33 featurette that starts with creator Mike Schur and Poehler addressing the media, before spending time with the cast as they share their favorite moments and characters, including their love of Pratt. Plus, Perd Hapley sings! And, naturally, Plaza acts like the weirdo she is. It's followed by a brief (1:52) tribute to Jones and Lowe, "Rashida and Rob Goodbyes," which shows the cast and crew celebrating the last scenes they shot for the season.
Wrapping up the extras is a mammoth 19:29 gag reel that's more than a gag reel, which includes a remake of the opening credits starring Lil' Sebastian, plenty of funny flubs, commercials for Tom's Bistro and Chipp McCapp, and some bonus ewok action.
The series' annual gag reel also looks back, with a best-of from the first six seasons in its 27:52 runtime, followed by season seven's breaks and silliness. Putting it all together results in an epically funny piece, while the new material features some new nuggets of joy, including the opportunity to see Plaza laugh, hear Poehler's guffaws, see Pratt and Offerman let rip, and, in a sweet bonus, get to see audition footage from the main cast. However, nothing will top Ansari and Scott attempting to discuss what Joan is going to do in the bathroom.
Like previous seasons, extended versions of several episodes are available, with producer's cuts of "Ron & Jammy", "Pie-Mary" and "One Last Ride." There's also the usual stockpile of deleted scenes, with 52 cut moments (running 32:55). There are a few list runs, including jobs for April and Ron and Leslie imitations, a number of Perd moments and several short throwaway jokes (like Ben rewinding himself), but the best scenes feature Ron and Craig and Johnny Karate and Dennis Feinstein, both of which are as ridiculous as the pairings would suggest.
"The Story of Mouse Rat" (3:18), a history of the band narrated by Leslie and featuring interviews with Donna, Garry, Ben and April, is something of a straightfaced Behind the Music parody, though the run of alternate names for the band delivered by Pratt (which I'm certain came up elsewhere in the collection) makes it all worth it. It's followed by a set of four fake ads (2:31), three of which appear in the gag reel, while the fourth is the full (and sadly, fully realistic) Verizon/Chipotle/Exxon merger promo.
Wrapping things up is the 2:54 "The Wisdom of Mayor Gunderson." In the series' penultimate episode, "Two Funerals," the audience finally got to meet the oft-mentioned, never-seen mayor of the town, though it came after he died. He lived on though, in a video message from beyond the grave, and alternate versions are available here. It's all very silly, and very apropos considering who got the part, including his list of words that sound real.
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