Whether they're writing under a crunch or have time to luxuriate over every sentence (though that's probably not the case), the Parks & Rec writing staff is as consistent as Pawnee's history of blatant offensiveness. There was no indication that this season's first six episodes were shot in a hurry to avoid coinciding with Poehler's pregnancy, and this latest episode, "Harvest Festival," feels like a natural extension of the season, despite being written and produced months after the others. Much like "Time Capsule" from earlier this season, "Harvest Festival" is a celebration of the whackjobs that live in Pawnee and how their singular focus can make for some adorably naive comedy.
Though I wasn't expecting it until the season finale, the Harvest Festival has arrived in Pawnee. Leslie put the thing together, so of course there are zero kinks in the plan thus far; she's even managed to secure Li'l Sebastian—honorary degree from Notre Dame and all—to make a tiny horse appearance. There's just one last piece of business: Ken, the leader of a local Native American tribe (played by Jonathan Joss, the voice of John Redcorn from King Of The Hill), sits down with Leslie to request she move the fairgrounds to another location, as she's currently holding it on the site of a tragic Wamapoke atrocity. The problem, as Leslie points out, is that there are hardly any spots left in Pawnee where someone wouldn't be offended if the fest were to be held there. ("The atrocities are in blue.") She simply can't do anything at this point, and the entire meeting feels like a formality: She says no, Ken says that he hopes his ancestors don't put a curse on the festival, and everything goes on according to plan.
Of course, there's no curse. ("There are two things I know about white people: They love Matchbox 20, and they're terrified of curses," Ken says to the camera as he leaves.) It's all hot air. But the people of Pawnee enjoy making inconsequential things seem extremely important, and this week, the supposed curse becomes the target of their mania.
I've heard people talk about similarities between Pawnee and Springfield from The Simpsons, and it feels like an especially apt comparison, given the performance of tonight's supporting players. Leslie and Joan establish a game between them very early: Joan wants Leslie to fail, so she scours the fair grounds looking for something modestly terrifying to hang her journalistic hook upon. (The Ferris wheel: "Beautiful…but deadly.") Then, once Joan overhears talk about the curse and Li'l Sebastian's disappearance, another game is introduced whereby townspeople—like Perd Hapley—become obsessed with picking apart the nitty-gritty of what this curse may or may not mean to Pawnee and the Harvest Fest. I feel like if there were more to the supporting characters than this simple game, it'd make things too confusing, and if there were less for them to do, they'd be instantly forgettable. Instead, Parks & Rec feels like it takes place in a fully realized, albeit comical, world.
After so much build-up of the Harvest Fest, I really felt terrible for the way everyone was treating Leslie at her pretty minor Li'l Sebastian fuck-up (albeit Jerry's—nay, Tom's). The reenactment video was one of the funniest things Parks & Rec has ever done, but its humor was tempered a bit by looking at Leslie's face reacting to its obvious inaccuracies. No matter how inevitable it might be that Leslie's going to fuck up, her return to grace is always a nail-biter. I remember watching the second season episode where she inadvertently got involved with the sex scandal and wanting to yell at the screen every time one of the characters brought it up. That's not normally an experience I associate with Parks & Rec—being so angry at hypocrisy that I literally want to shout—but it provided the episode with tremendous stakes, and I feel the same way about how Leslie had to deal with inane curse-related questions.
The manufactured drama in "Harvest Festival" felt slightly more forced, due to the deftness of the rest of the episode. I'm not quite sure how much time has passed since April and Andy began dating/courting, and while it was sweet to hear April declare her love, it felt like it came out of nowhere. In the same way, I know the show likes to make fun of Jerry, but even he, of all people, would have the wherewithal to stand up for himself when Tom blatantly lied to everyone about his guilt. These subplots were still good though not a highlight, and I left "Harvest Festival" wondering what the show would focus on in the coming weeks, now that the big event of the year (so I thought) was over. But this is Parks & Rec. They make everything feel so effortless, and just like a foot massage… to completion.