Monday, March 2, 2015

Bye Bye Lil' Show That Could: A Farewell to Parks and Recreation

NBC, are you trying to kill me, or just drown me in a pool of my own tears? In just under a month, both Parenthood and Parks and Recreation have ended their respective six and seven year runs. What are we supposed to do now? Watch shows that aren't honest and beautiful depictions of human relationships? It's almost too sad to talk about.



Alright, alright. I should probably take a page out of the Parks book and focus on the positive. For a series frequently on the brink of cancellation, we were beyond lucky to have it on the air for nearly a decade. Plus, it got to go out on top, still bringing the laughs in its incredibly well crafted and inventive final season. Sure, the show had some stumbles along the way, but I think its high points (The Harvest Festival! Leslie's campaign! Ben's wedding proposal! Hang on while I go watch the whole series again real quick...) put it in the company of some of the greatest sitcoms in television history.

If Parenthood's defining theme was "family", Parks and Recreation's was most certainly "friendship". The series was a master class on the subject, giving all of us viewers something to aspire to. Because while the Parks crew didn't always agree on everything, they were people first and political ideologies second. The characters actually listened to and learned from each other, shared what they were passionate about, and collaborated to make other people's lives better (even those frustrating townies who always found something to complain about). Throughout its run, Parks was a model for how good we could really be; a stealth public service announcement for the benefits of civility and respect. And it did all of this while being supremely and utterly silly! It takes a special show to pull off a combination like that, and Parks and Rec did it masterfully.

**Warning: Spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn't watched last week's finale, "One Last Ride"**

In the final episode, Leslie, Ben, Ron, April, Andy, Tom, Donna, and Garry/Terry/Jerry/Larry meet up one more time in their old office before everyone scatters to follow their dreams*. Before they say their goodbyes, Leslie convinces everyone to go on one last mission: helping a Pawnee citizen by fixing a broken swing in his local park. As Leslie leads the team, we visit each member of the ensemble in the future, experiencing success, change, and the many surprises that life brings. We get to see Donna and Joe start the non-profit "Teach Yo' Self", a wedding for Craig and Typhoon, and a new baby for April and Andy. Tom becomes a successful writer on the subject of failure, Ron gets to start a new adventure as head of the Pawnee National Park, and Garry remains the city's most beloved mayor until his 100th birthday (yay, Garry!).

*Check out the extended producers cut on for a few more cast flash forwards including Jeremy Jamm, Shauna Malwae-Tweep, and Bobby Newport!

In another time-jump to 2025, after Ben and Leslie are both approached to run for Governor of Indiana, Ben gathers everyone (including Ann and Chris!) together again in Pawnee to help them decide who should run. Even though we know it's going to be Leslie's race to lose, this last reunion is a sweet one. We get the satisfaction of seeing these friends back together again in the future, certainly changed, but in many ways the same as they were all those years ago. In 2035, Leslie makes a commencement speech at IU, inspiring the graduates to "find your team, and get to work". And therein lies the thesis statement of Parks and Rec (well, it's either that or something about the superiority of breakfast foods, as I'm sure we can all agree). With a final flash back in time, we see Leslie, sad to leave Pawnee but ready and willing to take on her next, big adventure (cue the tears). I ask you, could this show end any other way?

I will admit I was hoping for more laugh-out-loud moments from the finale, and I was disappointed that we didn't get a full future story line for Ann and Chris (Why? They're two of the most important characters!), but overall, this ending left me feeling deeply satisfied. We got to spend seven years with these folks, and the fact that we got to see good things happen to them? That, to me, was the cherry on top of the Belgian waffle that was this show.

Some of my favorite things about the finale include:

- Donna finds the paperwork the team needs in "Thanks Form The Memories", Leslie's scrapbook dedicated to government forms.

- Some hidden gems: the presence of a Jean-Ralphio brand wine in the future, Mayor Garry's name spelled wrong almost everywhere it shows up, the StarLord-dressed trick-or-treater at Andy and April's house, and the fact that the concerned citizen (Jon Daly) was the drunk stuck in the slide in the pilot episode!

- Everyone has colorful hair in 2025, except Leslie who accidentally ate the special pills that you're supposed to use topically…because they were delicious.

- Could the security detail at Garry's funeral and the end of Leslie's commencement speech mean that she ends up becoming president? I sure hope so, but I love that it was just slightly hinted at so we could decide for ourselves.

- Also, Garry's wife never ages! And Ben is still confused and obsessed with this fact as always.

- Ron's smile as he canoes out into his new job. Perfect.

- Future Leslie still hates both vegetables and libraries (even those named after her) with a passion.

- The end credits are what really made me lose it. What can I say, I'm a sucker for outtakes, and of course, that cast group hug put it over the top.

"That's a series wrap on Parks and Recreation."
Well, Parks and Rec, all I can say is thank you. Thank you for the laughs and the tears. Thank you for giving us Lil' Sebastian and "Treat Yo Self" and Cones of Dunshire and Galentines Day. Most importantly, thank you for giving all of us a truly incredible heroine in Leslie Knope. May we all strive to have her ambition, her gift-giving skills, her drive to make the world a better place, and her passion for waffles (we already share that last one, so the rest shouldn't be too hard). The good thing is, if we ever need a shot of positivity, Pawnee is only a re-run away.

Want more on the Parks finale? Check out the cast on Late Night With Seth Meyers, Entertainment Weekly's inside look at the last day on set, and an interview with executive producer and's interview with showrunner, Mike Schur.

Until next time, keep watching!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

May Your Wishes All Come True - A Farewell to Parenthood

Ok, so yes, I did watch Empire. And yes I really liked it and I can't wait to talk about it with all of you and analyze all the cool and complicated and campy things about it but I just can't right now you guys. I can't.

Because Parenthood ended on Thursday.

And it was beautiful and touching and such a perfect finale that now I have to organize my feelings and attempt to give this show the send off it deserves. Writing about a show like this, one that has meant so much to me, well it's not going to be easy. But I'm going to try my absolute best (in true Braverman fashion), since, as a series, Parenthood has honestly brought me more joy and more things to think about than any other show on television.

I wrote about Parenthood after last year's beautiful season finale which, at the time, I felt could have worked as a series finale since it's renewal was still up in the air. As wonderful as that episode was, thank goodness the show got picked up for one more year, because we were lucky enough to get this final, emotional season that ended up being the perfect conclusion to the Braverman's story. These last 13 episodes were much more than extra time spent with some of the best characters on television. With them, we got a truly masterful and satisfying wrap up of Parenthood's six years on the air; a final victory lap for Jason Katims and Co. to solidify their place in the TV canon for years to come.

**Warning: Spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn't yet seen the entire last season - if you're catching up on NBC on demand, finish watching first and then come back and see me. I'll make nachos and we can cry together and everything will be fine**

Of course when I think about this final episode, I immediately want to jump into discussing the sublime and cheer-worthy ending montage (which you can watch over and over again here) and gush over the whole darn thing. I'm definitely going to do that, but first, I think it's important to analyze what Parenthood was really about. This show meant so much to me, and to so many others, because it centered on human relationships, and the challenges that we all go through every day. If I could boil it down to one sentence, I think Parenthood was a show about letting people in, and what happens when you take that risk. Sometimes scary things happen: heartbreak, loss, anger, regret. And the show didn't shy away from that reality. But beautiful things happen too. Friendship and growth; happiness and love; a new experience or opportunity that could change you, and push you to be better. The message I got from this show was, even though it's hard, you have to try. Because that's what living a full life is about. And there isn't enough entertainment today that promotes that, in my opinion (see Parks and Recreation for another excellent example of this and PLEASE YOU CANT GO TOO! THIS MONTH IS TOO HARD! WHYYYY?). Even though Parenthood was often under watched and underrated, they always brought their A-game as a force for positivity, showing all of us the rewards that come from not giving up even when things get hard.

And oh, the rewards both we, and the Braverman's got from this season finale! Where to begin? Well let's start in the present day. Sarah and Hank got married - in a beautiful ceremony that only took, like, four days to plan, but lets gloss over that - and Drew made a beautiful and perfect speech as the best man (Ray Romano and Miles Heizer had some of my favorite scenes of the season together, but Hank asking Drew to be his best man topped the list). At the ceremony, Zeek and Camille invited Amber and baby Zeek to move in with them, and a newly back together Joel and Julia decided to adopt Victor's biological sister into their family. Like we all guessed, Crosby, with support from both Zeek and Jasmine, decided to keep the Luncheonette open without Adam and run it on his own. Max also chased his dream, proving himself to be an excellent wedding photographer, and he and Haddie shared a touching final scene together that provided some nice closure to their often fraught brother/sister relationship. He even boldly brings a girl out on the dance floor, putting himself firmly "in the picture" as his mother hoped he would, instead of always being on the outside looking in.

Post-wedding, Kristina dropped a pretty great bomb that a non-profit was looking for her to replicate the Chambers Academy model in other schools, giving Adam the headmaster position he didn't even know he wanted. While that plot point seemed a little dropped from the sky, I love that over the season, we got scenes of Adam finding his bliss as a cooking teacher for kids with disabilities (and kudos to Parenthood for featuring those kids exploring their own talents and showing the benefits of vocational training - the school counselor in me notices these things of course). Since running the Luncheonette was never really Adam's passion, it was a lovely compromise in the end that Crosby was able to live his dream and keep the studio as family run business without the guilt of keeping Adam tied to something he no longer fully wanted to be a part of.

But not everything ended on a joyful note. Before we get our final look at the Braverman's lives, we see a sad, yet beautifully done scene in which Camille finds Zeek's lifeless body in his chair, going out the way he wanted to after getting to walk Sarah down the aisle. That was a real gut-punch of a moment for me - I guess I just wasn't expecting us to actually see Zeek's death - but it was the right choice for a show that didn't pull punches with its audience. Of course, this leads to the final moments of the series, as we witness the family granting Zeek's final wish to have his ashes scattered over center field. As they play baseball together in his honor, we get a series of flash forwards into the future showing all that he left behind: his legacy in the growing family that he and Camille created together.

Can one of you get me some tissues already??
So what happens to the Braverman's in the near future? We're lucky enough to get to see some small, intimate moments that shed some light on their lives. Crosby, Amber, and a pregnant Jasmine run the Luncheonette (and they record the artists whose cover of the Bob Dylan theme song is used to score this montage). Joel and Julia get a new puppy for their FOUR children at Christmas. Max graduates high school as his family cheers him across the stage. Camille visits the Paris inn that Zeek wanted to take her to before he died. And finally, Sarah and Hank's family all comes together for a dinner that includes Amber's new husband and daughter, and the return of Ryan, who is in her son's life as she always wanted him to be. It's a joyous compilation of scenes, cut in with the family's baseball game that gives everyone their moment in the sun. "Boy, we did good, didn't we?" Zeek says to Camille at Sarah's wedding as he looks out at their family. You have no idea, Zeek. You have no idea.

Damn, Parenthood. I'm really going to miss you. Thank you for your optimism, your realism, and your ability to approach difficult things with humor and grace. You've been thought provoking and challenging; inspiring and eye-opening. There's no question you've left some pretty big shoes to fill. I can't wait to see the next show that has the guts to try and do just that.

Already seen that ending scene 100 times? Check out some of the cast and crew's tweets and photos from the last day of filming here and an interview with Jason Katims about the final montage here.

Until next time, stay watching!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

CH-YEAH, Dude! The Triumphant Return of Broad City and a Handy Midseason Calendar



I feel you, Molly.
It's cold, it's dark, the holidays are over, and we're all just a bunch of vitamin-D deprived human sleeping bags trying not to pass out before 8PM on a weekday. Well friends, I urge you - PLEASE TRY! Get caffeinated any which way you can post-work (or just stay home?) because damn there are a lot of great things coming out this mid season that I know you'll want to be fully awake for.

Exhibit A: The long-awaited return of Comedy Central's extraordinary sitcom, Broad City! And while we may be freezing our butts off IRL, our favorite blazed buddies, Abbi and Ilana, are sweating through a New York City heat wave in their season two opener, which premiered this past Wednesday, January 14th.

If you read this blog (or know me personally, or have only met that one time on line at Panera) you know that Broad City was my favorite new show of 2014. It's hilariously written, perfectly and subtly acted, and depicts the New York City that I have come to know - and both love and hate - in a way I've never seen it before. Abbi and Ilana's NYC is dirty, surreal, and populated with the kind of specific nut jobs that I've actually seen walking down 6th and A on any given day. Last year, these ladies came to us fully formed and ready to take on the five boroughs (plus one mysterious - and actually real - island) and all of the crazy contained within them. After watching this season's premiere, I'm happy to say Broad City returns even stronger than before, continuing to carefully and realistically build upon its unique world, and the broads and dudes that inhabit it.

We meet up with Abbi and Ilana on the hottest, stickiest day of the summer. With no air conditioner in her apartment, Abbi accidentally "takes advantage" of her new boyfriend, Male Stacey (played by Seth Rogen!), after he passes out from the heat. Afraid she's become an unintentional female rapist - thanks, of course, to Ilana - Abbi enlists her friend's help in tracking down an AC so that she can have her man over without the possibility for another…mishap. And thus begins the type of bonkers quest that Broad City does best. First, the ladies go to Abbi's beloved Bed Bath and Beyond where her frequent shopper status is cemented by multiple, complex secret handshakes with the employees. But after the AC she purchases gets stolen off the sidewalk, they have to find more creative ways to get some cool relief. They help Abbi's pseudo-roomie Bevers' friend (awesome guest star number 2, Kumail Nanjiani) move while he creates his Amazing Race audition video, but his AC promise to them is literally broken, thanks to a Facebook post misunderstanding. Finally, they head to Ilana's old dorm room to try and steal her air conditioner, but end up smoking her secret stash with the current residents who turn out to be a little younger than they expected. In the end, we get a brief AC celebration, a screaming match with a mystery kitten, and an intimate moment between Ilana and Lincoln (who shall from this moment on be known by his blogger name, "The Aldente-Dentist") over a stolen NYU meal card. With that, another day in the life in Broad City comes to a close; it's next chapter already off to a hell of a start.

As we move through the city with our two high heroines - and "moving" is the operative word, as this show totally thrives on manic energy - it's hard not to notice how much action they pack into 22 short minutes. But with Broad City, it's not so much about what happens, but how these two friends interact and deal with the insanity that's around - and is created - by them. In the excellent cold open, the two traverse a moving subway full of obstacles including pervs, toe-nail clippers, and poop cars** (all only only slightly heightened from an actual MTA-rider's experience, by the way). Watching Abbi and Ilana react to these often unknown pitfalls that come with life in the city makes both the show, and their relationship hit close to home. Their conversations are often such dead-on representations of how my girl friends and I talk to each other, I constantly find myself smiling with recognition and the pure thrill of seeing the kind of women I know and love reflected on television. But honestly, you don't have to be a New Yorker or a woman to relate to these ladies, their friendship, and their mini-triumphs over the unexpected garbage we all have to put up with on the daily. I for one can't wait to keep cheering on these bad-ass bitches all season as they take on their city together, one adventure at a time.

**Broad City is simply excellent at being disgusting. In addition to the "poop car" visual, everyone is literally drenched the whole episode, and the "sweat angel" that Bevers leaves in Abbi's bed is so gross, but so perfectly…Bevers. 

While I could talk about Broad City all day (challenge accepted - call me if you would like this to happen) I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't alert you to the veritable goldmine of other shows airing this mid season. Check out my handy calendar below for premiere dates and where to find your returning favorites!

Already on:

Empire, Wednesdays at 9 on Fox new!

Hindsight, Wednesdays at 10:30 on VH1 new!

Portlandia, Thursdays at 10 on IFC

Cold Justice, Fridays at 8 on TNT

Shameless, Sundays at 9 on Showtime

Girls, Sundays at 9 on HBO

Togetherness, Sundays at 9:30 on HBO new!

Parks and Recreation, Tuesdays at 8 and 8:30 on NBC **final season**

Broad City, Wednesdays at 10:30 on Comedy Central

Coming up!

Fresh off the Boat, Wednesday, February 4th at 8 on ABC new!

The Odd Couple, Thursday, February 19 at 8:30 on CBS new!

Last Man on Earth, Sunday, March 1st on Fox - March 1 new!

Broadchurch, Wednesday, March 4th at 10 on BBC America

Call the Midwife, Sunday, March 29th on PBS 

Orphan Black, Saturday, April 18th on BBC America 

Inside Amy Schumer, Tuesday April 21st on Comedy Central 

Where do I begin? I've got my work cut out for me so let's start with a newbie: Next week I'm jumping into the booth with Fox's soapy new musical drama, Empire! See you then!