Posted October 26, 2012 by Chris Vanjonack in Movies & Video

Parks and Recreation Review: "Halloween Surprise"

“It’s nice to see that Parks and Recreation can still be genuinely moving and surprising with the relationship stuff when it wants to be.”


Alright, let’s start this out by talking about that last scene. Everything about that final moment where Ben proposes to Leslie was just about perfect. For one thing, it was completely unexpected, (making good on the “Halloween Surprise” promised by title) which is always appreciated. Despite how much I sometimes gripe about some of the relationship plot tumors on this show, it’s nice to see that Parks and Recreation can still be genuinely moving and surprising with the relationship stuff when it wants to be. Any and all business regarding Ann and Chris’s romantic lives might cause me to roll my eyes, but I’m glad that the big moments, like this one here between Leslie and Ben, still work like gangbusters. It didn’t hurt that Amy Poehler and Adam Scott acted the hell out of it. In fact, just about everything in this scene hit the exact right notes, from the acting to the directing to the writing.

Unfortunately, the rest of the episode leading up to that moment wasn’t nearly as satisfying. After accidentally giving Jerry a heart attack, Leslie overcompensates for her guilt and attempts to take her mind off her anxiety by throwing an auction to help Jerry pay for his medical bills. While giving Jerry a heart attack isn’t a necessarily a bad writing decision in theory, in practice his major health crisis comes off as crass and cheap. This is due in no small to his incessant farting that leads up to, and continues during, his heart attack. And yes, the show goes right ahead and calls it a “fart attack.” The jokes here were surprisingly crass and immature for a show like Parks and Recreation. While Jerry has always been the sad sack of the cast, turning his heart attack into a joke was uninspired, unnecessarily cruel, and most damming of all, not all that funny.


Also in the unnecessarily cruel and really not all that funny category: Leslie briefly attempting to auction off Ann at the fundraiser. Though the joke itself was decent, (The heavily tattooed man in a tank-top bidding on her just wants her to watch him mud-wrestle) the insinuations of prostitution and sexual molestation felt weirdly out of place. The kind of dark comedy associated with a woman attempting to prostitute her best friend might work on another show, but here it just felt tonally off.

“As has been the case since the show came back last month, the scenes in D.C. were sharply written and well directed.”

Luckily, Jerry’s heart attack did yield a few good moments. When Leslie comes to visit him towards the end of the episode, he gives her a talk about how unpredictable life is, and how you can’t expect to go through it according to a plan or script. “As long as the people I love are around, I’ll be alright.” He tells her, in a rare moment of poignancy for the character. In retrospect, their conversation does a great job of setting up Ben’s proposal a few scenes later. Even if the scene did end with another, “Jerry is pathetic joke” I appreciated the sincerity to which the situation and the character was played. If only the rest of the Jerry’s heart attack plotline had been handled with the same amount of humor and poignancy, the episode as a whole might have been a winner.

Sparking Leslie’s anxiety is the news that Ben might be gone for another several months managing a campaign in Florida. As has been the case since the show came back last month, the scenes in D.C. were sharply written and well directed. It was a pleasant surprise to see Kathryn Hahn as Jennifer Barkley pop up again, and although the episode left Ben’s future as a campaign manager in question, I hope the writers can find another excuse or two to bring her character back a few more times. Seeing Ben, normally shedding his painfully awkward skin and being confident and charismatic in his meeting with the Florida lawyer was delightful. It’s easy to see why the life of a campaign manager is so appealing to him. The storyline dovetails very nicely with Leslie’s, finishing finally in the aforementioned touching and well-executed proposal scene. Parks and Recreation can pull off the big moments just fine, I just wish it would try a little harder on the smaller stuff.


Other Thoughts:

Tom, accidentally starting a small sized suit rental business: “For teens, tweens and everything inbetweens!”

Perd Hapley’s autobiography is titled: “The Thing About me Is, I’m Perd Hapely.”

Interesting that Ann’s boxes of things from old relationships included Tom, Chris and Andy, but not Mark. Come to think of it, when was the last time the show mentioned him, let alone acknowledged that he was a main character during the first two seasons?

“Like all houses in the world, this is no trampoline room.”

I for one, would love to see “Death Canoe IV”

Andy, training in the art of observation. “Tree. Leaves. Night. Sky. Hand. Andy’s hand.”

What did you all think of “Halloween Surprise”?

By Chris Vanjonack

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Chris Vanjonack