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Fairy Tale Beginnings: Considering Couples and Consequences on Parks and Recreation

Kudos to the writers of Parks and Recreation for pulling off what will go down as one of the all-time best episodes of the NBC comedy series, one that threw off the audience's preconceptions of comedy narratives and shattered our expectations about how romantic comedy couples are meant to be handled.

In this week's hilarious and emotionally resonant episode ("Fancy Party"), written by Katie Dippold and directed by Michael Trim, newly dating couple April and Andy got married. It wasn't a Very Special Episode. It wasn't preceded by NBC hitting us over the head with promos for a wedding site for April and Andy or forcing us to watch them shop for rings or make wedding plans, the writing team instead pulled the rug out from underneath the audience, transforming an episode about the unlikely couple hosting a dinner party into an impromptu wedding episode.

It was unexpected and magical, not least because the wool was pulled over the characters' eyes as well as our own. The sudden revelation that the "fancy party" that the gang at the Department of Parks and Recreation was attending was in fact a wedding for a couple who had only been dating for a month--the TV equivalent of a micro-second--was a stunning revelation in the face of the protracted and painful courtship of Jim and Pam over on The Office.

In one fell swoop, our expectations about April and Andy were punctured amid a ceremony that was not only organic in terms of their relationship and the show's unsentimental look at modern love, but also was entirely fitting for these characters at this point in the show's run.

Parks and Rec executive producers Greg Daniels and Mike Schur have seemingly relished the opportunity to shake things up in terms of the relationship department for the show's panoply of lovably odd characters. They split up Ann and Andy, thwarted our expectations that the romantic leads were Leslie and Mark by throwing Ann and Mark into a romance, and then just as surprisingly broke them up at the end of Season Two. Ann and Chris danced their dance and went their separate ways this season while Leslie and Ben are still tiptoeing around their own potential romance. All of which establishes Parks and Recreation as a show that's willing to take risks with the romantic trajectories of its characters.

None more so, perhaps, than this week's wedding. I couldn't help but wonder--all the way up to the point in which the justice of the peace declared them man and wife--whether this was in fact a complicated and provocative joke employed by Andy and April on their guests. Was it a ruse or an actual wedding? Were they about to be married or was it in fact a provocative gag on the institution of marriage?

This sense of unease and a cynical distrust of the reality unfolding here was assisted by the cold open in which Ron Swanson seemingly yanked out one of his own teeth during a department meeting. Shocking and unexpected, it was a gag of the highest order, an effort by Ron to pull one over on his gullible colleagues, a prank that pushed the boundaries of polite behavior and terrifying excess. (Ron, of course, had had the tooth removed by a dentist the day before.)

That aura of suspicion carried over into the wedding sequence, though the writers defied my own preconceptions by actually going through with the marriage of April and Andy, creating an emotional truth to the impulsive action that cemented their love and remained true to their wacky sense of adventure and selves. April Dwyer (nee Ludgate) is so seldom in touch with her emotions, so typically jaded and aloof, that when she does manifest some semblance of genuine feeling, one can't help but be swept up by it. Her tears at her sister's sullen speech may have been real, but it was the honest way she told Leslie that she loved her that tugged on my heartstrings.

While the characters may be splitting off and coupling, what remains at the show's core is the easiness and bond of friendship that exists between the characters. Leslie's efforts to try and call off the wedding were motivated by love for both April and Andy and an attempt to see that they not make a huge mistake they regretted later, putting their marriage before actually dating, or getting to know one another, or finding a place to live. ("We'll get a condo!") But her support of the couple is also a testament to her love for them as well, and it's felt in that brief but powerful scene between Leslie and April. ("You're awesome... I love you.")

Despite the fact that we're raised on fairy tales in which the wedding is the happy ending rather than the beginning, here the audience is forced to admit that the wedding is just the first step in a long road ahead for April and Andy, the beginning of something rather than the end. In romantic comedies, this is almost unheard of, particularly in televised one, where the tension between the two lovers needs to be sustained at all costs and where marriage often removes some of the shine rather than intensifies it.

April and Andy's relationship has only just begun and they've, fittingly for them, done things completely out of order. They haven't lived together, haven't really fought and broken up (not since they officially started dating), haven't even really gotten to know each other, but their marriage kicks everything into a higher gear. Where will they live? Will they get along? Will they squabble? What does this mean? All good questions as the writers subvert our preconceived notions of how a television couple is supposed to proceed in their courtship.

Which makes "Fancy Party" quite a groundbreaking episode, fusing together humor and genuine emotion into twenty-odd minutes of television bliss. I'm touched, stunned, incredulous, and surprised. But, most of all, I'm in awe.

Next week on Parks and Recreation ("Soulmates"), an online dating service matches Leslie with someone she already knows; Chris challenges Ron to a burger cook-off as part of a new health initiative.


wackiland said…
This, like the episode, defines *awesomesauce*
Ask Rachel said…
I was totally stunned but thrilled too. One of the best Parks & Rec episodes ever!
Sally said…
This was the best episode yet, so sweet and funny.

I think the cold open was best by far and compares to the cold open from The Office... the George Foreman grill/bacon -as one of the funniest of all time. Love this show so so much.

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