May 23, 2011

season finale watch: the office and parks & rec

My reason for pairing these two together is more about wanting to talk about each season as a whole than drawing any parallels between the two finales. So, let's get to it.

Parks & Recreation
I really think this might be one of my favorite seasons of a show ever. As I'm sure I wrote here in the beginning, Parks & Rec started off on shaky ground for me. At first, Lesley Knope seemed too naive and annoying to watch every week, and it was hard to see the ensemble cast working cohesively. But, especially given the tricky production schedule and delayed start, season two really blew me away.

It seemed like the writers found the strongest points of each character and just kept bringing them out with more and more success. Some of my favorites this season: Tom Haverford's food nicknames, Leslie and Ann's friendship, everyone drunk on Snake Juice, Ben (Adam Scott) and his failed mayor back story, Lil' Sebastian, Rob Lowe's Chris Traeger as the boss, especially his scenes with Nick Offerman's Ron Swanson -- the burger competition comes to mind. Let's face it, pretty much anything Ron Swanson did this season.

I'd like to also thank the writers for bucking the drawn out romance tradition and putting both April and Andy and Leslie and Ben together by season's end. April and Andy's wedding in "Fancy Party" was one of my favorite episodes this season -- I did not see that coming, and I'm loving watching their weird little marriage. Leslie and Ben circling around each other during the latter half of the season was sweet when it wasn't completely awkward and uncomfortable -- traits that Amy Poehler and Adam Scott play brilliantly.

The finale set up some interesting possibilities for next season -- Leslie possibly running for public office and what they will mean for her secret relationship with Ben, Tom Haverford's high end entertainment empire, and the potential reveal of Ron's ex-wife Tammy the First? I really can't wait.

The Office
 It was a big season for the office. Michael Scott's swan song. I'm going to keep my thoughts retrospective and refrain for speculating on the fate of next season and the new boss -- for now. We'll save that for fall.

Any show that's been on for seven seasons is going to lose steam, especially with critics. For me, The Office writers have worked really well to bring creative revitalization through the years -- the branch merger (who remembers Scranton without Andy anymore?), a new receptionist, the Sabre takeover, Jim and Pam's saga. There has been some really adventurous evolution of characters like Ryan and Daryl as well as seamless incorporation of recurring roles like Amy Ryan's Holly (unfortunately, I can't really say the same for Gabe -- he bores me).

All of that is to say, The Office is still one of my favorite comedies, and I was happy to sit back and watch Steve Carell's victory lap this season. Long time fans know that we initially met a very different Michael Scott -- one very similar to the UK's David Brent. While certainly entertaining, something was not quite gelling. By the second season -- probably with thanks to Carell's performance in 40-Year-Old Virgin -- the writers starting playing more to the actor's strengths and appealing more to the tastes of the American audience. Sure, Michael was still a self-centered buffoon, but all of that masked a childlike quality that craved friends and a sense of belonging -- he believed he found that at Dunder-Mifflin, and by the end, his staff and the audience realized he had.

The best part about watching Michael's progression over the years has been the subtly -- The Office of course never being a show to hit us over the head with a sappy music montage (I'm looking at you, How I Met Your Mother). Moments like encouraging Jim not to give up on Pam on the booze cruise, becoming a paternal mentor to Erin, refusing to throw the company under the bus when Jan tried to sue, and finally, his relationship with Holly. In probably my favorite proposal scene ever on television, we saw the fully grown-up Michael Scott propose to Holly. Yup, I cried.

Admittedly, I could have done without the stunt casting at the end of the season, for the same reasons that I'm not upset with NBC for keeping the show going post-Carrell. I have faith that these writers and this cast will bring us more fun next season -- now don't make a liar out of me.


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