Pawnee’s Harvest Festival Brings On The Fun –And The Curse!

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Parks and Recreation [NBC, Thursdays, 9:30/8:30C] is one of those shows that I found remarkably unfunny when it premiered and consistently managed to not amuse me on those rare occasions when I’d check to see if it had a pulse – so I was surprised when a screener of the show’s next episodes arrived and I found myself laughing. Frequently.

I’m not sure why, but in a series format, I’ve never really enjoyed mockumentaries. It always seems like we’re getting all the raw footage that will, at some point, be edited into a coherent film. In a sitcom, where the characters have to both establish a continuity and remain, essentially, the same, this can be vexing in the extreme [which is why I really never enjoyed The Office, for example].

Somehow, though, this week’s episode of Parks and Recreation completely worked for me [as did next week’s ep, which is totally dependent on see this week’s to enjoy fully]. The situation is this: Leslie Knope [Amy Poehler] and her department put on Pawnee’s Harvest Fair. If it’s a bust, the department will be eliminated so all that’s resting on the fair is everyone’s jobs. Oh, and there’s a mini-horse!

Offsetting the acquisition of a very special guest is the fact that the carnival portion of the fair is located on Wamapoke burial grounds – and a Wamapoke tribal leader suggests the possibility of a curse. Then things start to go wrong – and the press latched onto the idea of the curse with its usual subtlety and nuance…

I think what makes Harvest Festival work so well is the mockumentary format. The editing – jumping from situation to situation – connects events in odd ways and underscores the triumphs and failures of Leslie’s employees and the fair in general. The writing [uncredited on the screener] is smart, sneaky and witty.

The network’s tag for the ep – ‘with the fate of her entire department hinging on the success of the Harvest Festival, Leslie deals with last-minute problems with a Wamapoke tribal leader, who threatens to put a curse on the event; meanwhile April [Aubrey Plaza] is upset with Andy [Chris Pratt], while Ann [Rashida Jones] gets romantic advice from an unlikely source – doesn’t even begin to enumerate the problems and possible solutions that abound in the ep. Consider the possibilities of a Ferris wheel, a corn maze and a gate left open and you’re about a quarter of the way into the labyrinthine mess of this ep.

Next week’s ep, Camping, is just as funny – and smart – as Harvest Festival, but anything I could say about would be a spoiler [outside of noting that, yes, the Parks and Recreation Department goes camping – and not everyone is sanguine with the idea]. And, oh, yes, Rob Lowe’s Chris is back from Indianapolis.

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Photo by Paul Drinkwater/Courtesy of NBC.