“The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show” is one of those concept episodes that’s so good it barely matters what else is going on on in the show proper. There’s practically nothing else like it, not only in the history of Parks and Recreation but also (short of UHF) very little on TV or film that’s this utterly strange and magical, period. The episode was so good that it, to a certain extent, redeems a season that’s been chock full of problems. “Johnny Karate” was nearly perfect, and if you don’t like it, you don’t like fun.
We jump in at the taping of the final episode of “Johnny Karate,” Andy’s television show that has a large following amongst Pawnee’s children. We get, not just the episode itself, but also some behind-the-scenes moments and a handful of particularly Pawneean commercials, each one better than the last. While we’ve had a few glimpses of what “Johnny Karate” actually entails earlier in the season, this is the first time we get to really see the show in all of its insane glory. As April says, it’s a wonderful trainwreck every week, and the fact that this episode is partially hijacked by Leslie in order to honor Andy takes nothing away from this. Suffice to say, “Johnny Karate” has a set graphic and contingency plan (“segment”) for when one of its animal guests escapes, “Loose Animal in the Studio.” And there’s no way that I’m the only one who freeze-framed through the show’s disclaimer and learned valuable information such as Champion’s nickname (Tripod Jones), and the existence in Parks’ world of a Brazilian thunder panda.
Unlike, for instance, one of Community’s parody concept episodes, part of what makes “Johnny Karate” so great is that it builds so naturally from Parks and Recreation. There doesn’t need to be much of an excuse to show this, and characters aren’t forced to act in any way differently from normal. In fact, the jokes come from the way every member of the show’s cast stays so much to themselves, even when they’re supposedly playing a role on a scripted television show. Everything simply fits, and as with many episodes in the past, it’s an amazing showcase for just how crazily charismatic Chris Pratt is. Not only were the jokes razor sharp and the direction spot-on, but every member of the cast made “Johnny Karate” a joy to watch. I just wish we lived in a world wonderful enough for “Johnny Karate” to be a real TV show.
The episode that followed this, “Two Funerals,” had the problem of following one of the funniest episodes of Parks and Recreation ever made. Well, it had a lot of other problems, too, but NBC’s insane scheduling for this season really didn’t help things. “Two Funerals” was a much more traditional episode of Parks, and it largely centered around yet another problem with Pawnee’s local government, when the city’s mayor, played by Bill Murray (who’s good, but perhaps not as good as you’d hope), dies. This means Pawnee needs an interim mayor, and while going about the business of the mayor’s memorial, Ben works on finding a replacement.
Of course the show hints at Ben as the natural candidate for this interim position, but there’s a switch at the end that, while a nice piece of fan service, still feels pretty forced. Unlike Donna’s nice moment earlier this season of changing Garry’s name back to, well, Garry, Ben’s decision to make him interim mayor gives him the happy ending Garry doesn’t need. One of the problems this season has had is its insistence on giving every member of the show’s cast a fairytale ending, and episode after episode of that is tiresome. It’s sweet, but at this point all tension has been effectively removed from Parks since the deus ex machina end of episode six, “Save JJ’s.”
The other main storyline centered on Tom proposing to Lucy. She only returned to the show a few episodes back, and the main interaction we’ve seen between them was at Donna’s wedding. But since that’s the happy ending Parks decided on for Tom, then he’s already proposing and she’s saying yes. To say that this felt rushed is a vast understatement. That being said, the story itself, particularly once Jean Ralphio appears, is wonderfully executed, it’s just that it shouldn’t really be there in the first place. I’m happy to see Tom return to the show and get a nice ending, but this isn’t how it should be done.
That was the thing about “Two Funerals,” as well as last week’s episodes of Parks. It’s not that they’re badly executed, in fact “Two Funerals” was clever in its execution and even its smallest story (that of Ron mourning for his barber), featured great moments (Ron bonding with Typhoon couldn’t have been better). But the show’s goal of creating infinite happiness and optimism really doesn’t work well with the short season, as it’s just one climax after another. At its best, Parks always built things slowly and focused on the process, but here we have stories that just skip to the end because there’s no time to show the middle. While I look forward to next week’s show finale, it’s hard not to think it won’t be as good as the last episode of Season Six, because there we had a build-up, and not just fan service to keep our interest.