April 17, 2014

Parks and Recreation rocks #ThrowbackThursday: Review of "Prom" and "Flu Season 2"

The last two episodes of Parks and Recreation deserve a "#ThrowbackThursday" hashtag.

"Prom" let the audience reminisce in a lot of wonderful ways. Not the least of which was the tone of the episode - enthusiastic with a hint of awkward - which harkened back to the show's glory days in the second through fourth seasons. Season 6 has felt somewhat uneven, so I was glad to watch as my favorite show delivered a solid episode and hoped this was a harbinger of good ones to come.

April and Andy prove opposites attract.
Source: nbc.com 
As the students at Pawnee Central High enjoyed a prom thrown by the staff of the Parks and Rec Department, the characters gave us throwback stories of their own proms through confessionals and conversations. Not only did this offer some the audience some great lines that will no doubt soon be turned to gifs to be pinned and tumblr'd everywhere, but it also offered an interesting subplot for April and Andy. I loved this chance to see the Parks Department's first married couple in conflict, and more importantly, the chance to see them resolve conflict. April and Andy work well together because they are opposites, but to ignore the friction her gloom and his glee would inevitably cause would have been a betrayal of their characters. April's concern that she and Andy never would have gotten together had they met in high school was both adorable and easily remedied by some kind words from her ever-happy hubby.

Allison Gliffert and Greg Pikitis return in "Prom."
Source: nbc.com 
In another sort of throwback, two high school students from episodes gone by reappeared in this episode. Prom coordinator - and the subject of a Leslie/Ron squabble - Allison Gliffert, appeared in the Season 4 mock UN episode "The Treaty," in which she was known only as "France" for the majority of the half hour. (Yes, she eventually introduced herself as "Cassidy," but I'm going to call that a continuity error, because the same unmistakable young actress portrayed them both.) Then, in the surprise ending, Leslie's greatest nemesis - other than the City of Eagleton - returned, reprising the role of Greg Pikitis from the Season 2 episode of the same name. Despite his limited screen time, Pikitis delivered his trademark blend of cute and conniving, no small feat for the young actor.

By its title, "Flu Season 2" was billed as a sequel, but it was a sequel in name only, as the flu had very little to do with the plot of the episode. As it turned out, the apparent misnomer was actually some effective misdirection, and the payoff was worth the deceit. The episode didn't have any lines as amazing as Chris Pratt's improvised joke from the original "Flu Season," but new(er) character Craig, played by Billy Eichner, continues to crack me up with his loud, uninhibited one-liners.

Ben may be running, but it's Ron who wants to
escape the conversation.
Source: nbc.com
A throwback in this episode was Ron's reluctance to participate in the personal lives of those around him. It's usually been Leslie asking Ron for guidance, but this time, the person coming to him for advice was a very drunken Ben. The interference of the Eagleton Ron may have been the low point in a still very good episode, but Swanson's parting words to Ben were sweet, and, in true Ron Swanson style, they were much more poignant than they seemed at first.

Another aspect of the episode that hearkened to earlier seasons was the character combination swapping. One of the best things a sitcom with a large - or even moderate sized - cast can do is pair characters in new or interesting ways. "Flu Season 2" accomplished this not only with the Ron/Ben storyline, but with Craig's vying to impress Tom, Leslie and Andy's efforts to get a Unity Concert headliner, and a nice continuation of the Donna/April relationship as the former bankrolled the latter's wine country connoisseur contrivance.

Congratulations, Ben and Leslie!
Source: nbc.com 
In the end, the best part of these two episodes, particularly "Flu Season 2," was not the #throwbacks but the indications of things to come. Tom's new business is sending the character on his way without sending him far away. April and Andy are growing closer through little moments of friction in their marriage.

After the departures of Chris and Ann, the characters I worried most about were Leslie and Ben. Leslie's job offer, if it meant she left Pawnee, could mean the end Parks and Rec, and I'm not ready for that. On the other hand, I want to see these characters grow. And while Leslie's exciting news alone wasn't enough to convince me that her destiny remains in the Greatest Town in America, her almost involuntary blurt that her hometown is a good place to raise a family gives me hope. Growing the characters of Ben and Leslie by growing their family is a way to keep them in Pawnee without holding them back.

Tonight's episode is the last one before Season 6's two part finale. While I never thought that a season that began (by very nearly jumping the shark) in London would end on a strong note, these past two episodes have me feeling confident that it will.

April 1, 2014

How I Met Your Mother: "Last Forever" - A Review in Gifs

[This will contain SPOILERS. Did I really have to say that?]

So, obviously, despite the angry reviews I've given the show in the past, I had to watch the How I Met Your Mother series finale. And when I watched it, I knew I had to write something about it here on Rabbit Ear Reviews.

Barney: "This is totally going in my blog."

And yet, less than 48 hours after the episode's airing, it seems almost everything that could be said about "Last Forever" has been said. So I decided to express my thoughts on the show through the words of the McLaren's gang themselves. 

Has there been outrage from fans? Clearly. Unless you avoid social media like the plague, which clearly you don't because you're reading this, you've seen the outrage. As for me:
Ted: "I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed."

For so much of the episode, I just craved for something - anything of significance - to happen. Instead, I was like:
Barney: "I'm bored."

Other than a passive settling of Lily and Marshall's bet (and by the way - she better give him that money back) there were so few homages to the journey the characters have taken together. And no, the hanging chad costume wasn't enough for me.

 I didn't even cry. And I cry at everything. As I watched I was thinking:
Ted: "Something is seriously wrong with me."

But then we got that surprise ending. Well, half of it was a surprise. The fans had figured out that the Mother was dead awhile ago. But the Robin twist did fool us all. But fooling your audience? Do you really count that as a win, writers? Honestly, here's what I want. I want one - just a single member - of the cast, or crew, or creative team to admit that the finale wasn't the right way for HIMYM to end. They need to stop claiming it was. To them, I say this: 
Robin: "Because as a friend, I have to tell you: You're full of crap."

And when they admitted that, I would want them to say: 
Lily: "Somewhere along the line, I forgot to pursue my dream."

And here's why.  The ending, planned from the beginning, could have been great. The blue French horn, the very fact that Ted might just wind up with Robin after all, could have been a fantastic bookend to the pilot episode. Could have been. But somewhere along the line, they lost track of their endgame. Maybe because the show dragged on for too many seasons. Maybe because Robin got sidetracked by Barney. Or maybe just because Robin and Barney had more chemistry than anyone could have expected. Instead, the audience became invested in a different story. We longed for a different ending. 

Which brings me to my next point. Is it bad planning to begin writing a show and have no idea where the story will end up? Of course. (I'm looking at you, LOST.) But I think the writers of HIMYM just taught us a valuable lesson. It's just as bad to plan the ending from the beginning. Don't pretend you know everything that's going to happen to your characters because:
Marshall: "Like you could possibly know that."

Television series are not novels. As they are written, they grow. They change. They're dynamic. And the creators don't get a rewrite of the first chapter after it's aired. So I think writers have to be willing to let the story go a new way that wasn't planned if that's where the story goes. HIMYM forced an ending that didn't fit, and that's why the audience walked away confused, uncomfortable, and grieving the death of a character who was only present for 11% of the series.

Listen, sitcoms don't have to have some deep philosophical meaning. It's comedy. Some of them, like The Office, didn't start out claiming to have some meaning, and they ended up with one anyway. And that's beautiful. You know what's not beautiful? Claiming to have meaning and then discrediting it in your finale.

Robin: "The future is scary, but you can just run back to the past because it's familiar. Yes, it's tempting, but it's a mistake."

Robin was Ted's past. Tracy was his future. The writers gave into temptation. They ran back to the past. And that was a mistake.