Showrunner — and Grantland-affiliated cricket enthusiast — Michael Schur has often name-checked The Wire when discussing his inspiration for Parks and Recreation. And while the people of Pawnee, much to Tom Haverford’s chagrin, have little in common with the corner boys of West Baltimore, both shows do share an altruistic, almost literary desire to be something greater than the genres to which they are arbitrarily assigned. For David Simon, the adjective was $#@!ensian. For Schur, I’m suspecting it might be something like Steinbeckois.
Sure, John Steinbeck wasn’t known for his blowout parties featuring not one, not two, but four VIP areas (and rumor has it he hated grilled cheese sandwiches), but the author did know a thing or two about America (even if his book about driving around turned out to be mostly made-up). His best books, like the slyly charming Cannery Row, were expert at teasing out the larger themes of community, camaraderie, and fellowship that make this country if not great, than at least damned decent. The Schur-penned “End of the World” — played out over the course of a single night that, if Pawnee’s local apocalyptic cult is right (and they’re usually not), just might be the last one the universe ever sees — was a genial and gentle half-hour that was occasionally satirical and often very silly. But more than anything else it was sweet.
The death-obsessed cultists in Pawnee call themselves “the Reasonablists” primarily to discourage anyone from taking a public stand against them. But watching Schur’s patient, character-based storytelling one can’t help but think it’s a name he’d be proud to stitch across his own tinfoil hat. Everything in this episode unfolded logically and at its own untroubled pace. It was utterly free of wild mood swings — even Rob Lowe’s hair was safely back under control. In the A-plot, Ron babysat the local “Zorpies” as they cheerfully played the pipes (only $80 apiece thanks to flute profiteer Swanson) and awaited the arrival of the demon god who will turn them all into “fleshless, chattering skeletons” while Leslie attempted to free Ben from the flirty, actually quite pleasant clutches of Pawnee’s only reporter, Shauna Malwae-Tweep. For a while Leslie reverts back to the panicked Pelosi of old, driving Ben to an old abandoned gas station that she claims might have once been owned by Mick Jagger. But eventually reason wins out like the victor in a fifteen-hour match of Chess/Risk and Leslie lets her little bird man fly away — for now.
Across town, Tom and Jean-Ralphio send Entertainment 720 off in style with the greatest experiment ever to emerge from Dr. Haverford’s party laboratory. With caged tigers, Nutcracker uniforms, and even de facto Pawnee-ian Roy Hibbert, the bash is a hedonistic success ripped straight from the Ben Silverman playbook. I kept waiting for the worm to turn or Jean-Ralphio to do the worm at an inopportune time, but there was no trick: the dopes actually pulled off something dope. Those who found Tom’s swagger-jacking in last week’s episode unsavory might wonder just why he deserved such a complete redemption — he thoughtfully provided designated drivers for everyone and even got a kiss at dawn from his ex-squeeze Lucy (who was only there because forgetful Jean-Ralphio was trying to hit that) — but in Schur’s world, Napoleonic fragrance designers can be people too. And even bankruptcy can occasionally be beautiful.
But the real heart of the episode was nearly removed from it entirely. In defiance of Andy’s belief that “repetition is the key to a good marriage,” April leads her lovable lug on a night-long exploration of his bucket list, checking off items as diverse as holding $1,000 in his hands (it’s more exciting as singles, even better as nickels) and making Jerry and her wondefully sour sister Natalie assist Andy in living out his stuntman fantasies via the inimitable Burt Macklin and his daring Russian rescue of sassy heiress Janet Snakehole. By episode’s end, as the two stole her father’s car and drove thirty hours to gaze at the Grand Canyon, we were beyond looking for jokes and just enjoying the ride. It was far from the funniest episode of Parks and Rec but if it wasn’t great it was certainly damned decent. And I’ve got a feeling hearing that would be apocalyptic flute music to Schur’s ears.