Episode Title: "The Bubble"
Writers: Greg Levine & Brian Rowe
Director: Matt Sohn
Episode Title: "Lil' Sebastian"
Writer: Dan Goor
Director: Dean Holland
There's something wrong when a network jams two unrelated episodes of a series together and then pretends that they're a two part episode, as NBC did last night with "Parks and Recreation."
It's not that I don't like "Parks and Rec," but the overall effect of playing these episodes back-to-back was that the first one was almost completely overshadowed by the actual finale.
And "The Bubble" deserves more than just being an afterthought. It wasn't the funniest episode of the season, but there were definitely good bits as Chris (Rob Lowe) once again tried to transform the parks department into his own image by placing Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) in a circular desk in the middle of the office, giving Jerry (Jim O'Heir) actual power, exiling Tom (Aziz Ansari) and Andy (Chris Pratt) to the fourth floor and giving Donna (Retta) the ergonomic keyboard from hell. And Chris did it all with a smile on his face, further cementing his status as perhaps the most well-intentioned villain in TV history.
Ron's been one of the more hilarious characters since the beginning of this series, but I think this season has done a lot to humanize him even further. Sure, we still get classic Ron scenes like his attempts to swirl his chair away from angry residents and his eagerness to watch Chris' experiment fall apart. But Ron actually makes a sacrifice to stay in the dreaded circular desk for a few more weeks to spare his co-workers from the rest of their ordeal. If Ron didn't care about them, he wouldn't have done that.
It was also amusing to see Andy regard his exile as a promotion, while Tom treated it as if he was sent to hell. To be fair, the fourth floor residents did seem as unhinged as advertised even if we never saw a vending machine with crack cocaine.
In the main story, Leslie (Amy Poehler) tried to keep Ben (Adam Scott) from meeting her mom, Marlene (Pamela Reed). Marlene's initial scenes with Ben didn't play very well, but her seduction of a newly assertive Ben was hilarious. The look of horror on Ben's face made it the best moment of the night.
But the central conflict is still based around Chris' "no inter-office dating rule," which still seems like an extremely contrived way to inject some tension into Leslie and Ben's new relationship. It hasn't really worked and it's had the side effect of making Chris into the show's defacto bad guy. I don't think Chris is being a dick for any other reason than the demands of the plot and it just doesn't suit him.
Even the second episode, Lil' Sebastian" is consumed with more of the same Leslie and Ben secret relationship nonsense. The one truly interesting moment to come out of that is the suggestion that Leslie will either hide or end the affair to seek higher office or she'll risk everything to have it all before things inevitably blow up in her face. However, as a season finale, "Lil' Sebastian" was definitely lacking in terms of impact. I was hoping for some more forward progression between Ben and Leslie, or at least the resolution of this year's storyline between them. But instead, it looks like that story is just going to meander into the next season.
I don't even care that Tom quit his job to work with Jean-Ralphio, one of the most annoying characters on the show. Tom himself can be pretty grating too, so I'm not looking forward to next season's episodes following him around without the rest of the cast before he eventually rejoins the team. Making Detlef Schrempf the lone voice of reason in Tom's new company was a nice touch, but even that can probably get old really fast.
As a last side note for this episode, Chris' "5,000 Candles In The Wind" song was really funny and the show might have a hit on its hands if the producers ever decide to make an official full length "MouseRat" album. April (Aubrey Plaza) as Andy's new music manager also has a lot comedic promise.
"Parks and Rec's" biggest strengths are its cast and its extremely likable characters. For the most part, everyone got their chance to shine in these last two episodes. The season finale could have used some more punch, but this show still really works even when it doesn't quite deliver a knock-out blow.
Crave Online Rating: 8 out of 10.