...which is where the Spirt Cards Come In
December 19, 2013 11:02 AM   Subscribe

The creators of Parks and Recreation often express their fandoms through their Nerd Spirit Animal, Ben Wyatt. After dropping references to Catan, Batman, baseball sabrmetrics to name but a few, Ben's geeky awesomeness reached a new height in a recent episode, in a scene where he shows off his new board game, the Cones of Dunshire. (Poorer quality version for non-USians) The pretend game was created specifically for the scene by Mayfair Games, makers of Settlers of Catan. Hot on its tail, Vulture presents An Oral History of the Cones of Dunshire scene. (via Vulture's micro-oral histories week, recently previously)
posted by dry white toast (118 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
its goal (“to accumulate cones: Four cones wins, but in order to get a cone you have to build a civilization ... which is where the Spirit Cards come in”), its hyper-specific character types (“two wizards, a maverick, the Arbiter, two warriors, a corporal, and a ledgerman,” the latter of which merely keeps score while wearing a hat that says Ledgerman), and its many quirks (“the thing about the Challenge Play is that it’s basically the game” — here, Ben opens his hand dramatically to reveal disc-shaped game pieces — “in reverse”)

"You'd love that game" my partner said immediately while watching the scene being quoted here, proving he's been paying attention for the last seven years.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:19 AM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love the concept of micro oral histories of a pop cultural moment. I am disappointed though they did not put up the interview files as an MP3.
posted by LarryC at 11:21 AM on December 19, 2013


I have...um...done this (minus the mockup) in conversation with people I was romantically involved with. More than once. Sometimes more than once with the same person. None of whom broke up with me afterwards.

With this FPP, I have finally discovered definitive confirmation that I have crossed over into Nerd-dom. I hope they have comfy couches here.

also I have confirmation that I date the right people.
posted by davejay at 11:21 AM on December 19, 2013


Bah, Mayfair are only the English-language publishers for Catan. Now, if they actually got Klaus Teuber to work on Cones of Dunshire, that'd be a different matter. (Or Knizia or Moon or Wallace would be even better.)
posted by kmz at 11:22 AM on December 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I would totally play the shit out of The Cones of Dunshire.
posted by zakur at 11:22 AM on December 19, 2013


This is pretty much my worst nightmare. My face looked exactly like Leslie's when my friend tried to explain the rules of Age of Steam.
posted by muddgirl at 11:24 AM on December 19, 2013


I made my wife a custom Settlers of Catan set with a Doctor Who theme for Christmas last year, including roles, minor rules adjustments, and a widely expanded deck of "Companion" cards. The "plot" of the game is that players are Time Lords who have escaped the Time Lock, and are trying to create a new Galifrey by accumulating temporal energy by creating Fixed Points in Time through combinations of various cosmic influences.

With that, I reached Peak Geek. I will never aspire to such lofty heights again.
posted by Shepherd at 11:25 AM on December 19, 2013 [31 favorites]


I think I used to have that exact Letters to Cleo t-shirt.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:27 AM on December 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


I made my wife a custom Settlers of Catan set with a Doctor Who theme for Christmas last year, including roles, minor rules adjustments, and a widely expanded deck of "Companion" cards. The "plot" of the game is that players are Time Lords who have escaped the Time Lock, and are trying to create a new Galifrey by accumulating temporal energy by creating Fixed Points in Time through combinations of various cosmic influences.

There's so many version of Catan out there now I'm honestly surprised they haven't gone full Monopoly and just started churning out licensed variations.
posted by kmz at 11:32 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had some friends over for Thanksgiving and brought out Pandemic. Now, I love the heck out of Pandemic. It's cooperative, so sometimes you get people micromanaging each other's turns but things don't get as fighty as they do with competitive games; it has a good amount of strategy without having a ton of variables to keep track of and manage; and there's a real sense of victory when you cure the last disease just before that last epidemic card causes an enormous chain of outbreaks and deaths. But as I was explaining, "You have four moves, and on your move you can move one city, or you can spend a city card to fly TO that city, or you can spend a city card to fly FROM that city, or you can take off ONE disease cube, or you can take off all of the disease cubes if you're the medic..." I interrupted myself to say, "I feel like I'm explaining the damn Cones of Whatever."

I feel like "the damn Cones of Whatever" will be my name in the future for, say, any board game too complicated to get my mother to play.
posted by Jeanne at 11:34 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Bah, Mayfair are only the English-language publishers for Catan. Now, if they actually got Klaus Teuber to work on Cones of Dunshire, that'd be a different matter. (Or Knizia or Moon or Wallace would be even better.)

The amount of delightful meta in this comment could choke a minotaur.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 11:36 AM on December 19, 2013 [13 favorites]


The Venture Brothers remains my favorite TV show, but Parks and Recreation is doing its best to challenge it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:41 AM on December 19, 2013


Leave it to some Germans to make up rules for an impossible game.
posted by Think_Long at 11:41 AM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


If the Parks and Rec clip is blocked in your country, try this alternative.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:43 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The big reveal is that there may be a GenCon event with a playable Cones of Dunshire setup next year. WANT NOW GIVE ME
posted by FatherDagon at 11:45 AM on December 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


This whole thing is like a microcosm of why Parks and Recreation is so great.

There's this huge overly detailed joke about how Ben is a huge nerd, which feels both over the top but also very real, and Leslie reacts with a bit of terror and just plain Not Understanding.

But the joke isn't really ON Ben at all. We aren't laughing at him. We in the audience are either identifying with him and his obsessiveness or with Leslie and her Not Understanding or none of the above, but it's all done is just the sweetest possible way and feels not at all malicious.

The people who make this show love these characters now, and it shows.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:46 AM on December 19, 2013 [32 favorites]


For some reason that I cannot articulate, I have resisted watching P&R. Probably has something to do with The Office fatigue which I (surely unfairly) associate with P&R. But every time I read something about it, I think that I need to give it a try.

I found this a very interesting story both from the nerd angle but also some the TV production standpoint: I really am impressed with the level of thought and detail that went into that scene which is really just one joke. I've never played any games like that, but I found it very charming and funny watching that scene and it is because of the obvious detail that the character and producers put into it.

As an aside, I'm exhausted with seeing this "oral history" thing. I don't know when this became a "thing" or why (is this a hipster/ironic thing I don't get?), but I'm tired of seeing it every day. "Discussion" is a perfectly acceptable noun to use to explain that a group of people were discussing a topic without using something that suggests academic or historical importance. "Oral history" of life as a slave or the civil war like the Federal Writer's Project did? Yes. "Oral history" of a 2 minute scene in one episode of a comedy show? No. That's a interview or discussion. Are all DVD commentaries "oral histories" now?

Speaking of DVDs, this thing about this board game is charming enough, I think I'll finally give it a try. Maybe they have more good minutia on the commentaries!
posted by dios at 11:46 AM on December 19, 2013


As an aside, I'm exhausted with seeing this "oral history" thing. I don't know when this became a "thing" or why (is this a hipster/ironic thing I don't get?), but I'm tired of seeing it every day.

Vulture is doing a series of them this week, like 3 of them have been posted to the front page, that's why you're seeing more of them - plus there was a Kids in the Hall one a couple weeks ago.

I don't know, they're fine I guess - they're really more like behind the scenes featurettes, so I can see why it is easier to publish them than a normally written piece, because there isn't a ton of actual story behind a lot of these topics.
posted by Think_Long at 11:52 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


dios: I found this a very interesting story both from the nerd angle but also some the TV production standpoint: I really am impressed with the level of thought and detail that went into that scene which is really just one joke.

The. Whole. Show. Is like that. You can safely start at Season 2 though, if you want. First season is much more Office-y, and they didn't really have a feel for the characters yet.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:52 AM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


The oral history overload this week is pretty much purely because of Vulture.
posted by kmz at 11:52 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I call Ledgerman!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:54 AM on December 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


I heart oral. History.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:59 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can safely start at Season 2 though, if you want.

I'd bump that up to a strong "you should start at Season 2". If it weren't for a lot of "it gets better!" reinforcement from people I trust, I would have stopped after that first (short) season.
posted by Shepherd at 12:00 PM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Shepherd: "I'd bump that up to a strong "you should start at Season 2"."

Visual proof.

(Not that the wisdom of crowds is infallible, but the show really was quite generic and forgettable in the first season.)
posted by tonycpsu at 12:02 PM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the first season isn't like Dads-horrible or anything, but it is very wobbly. The only real reason to watch it is if you are a completist and/or if you are the type of television fan who really likes to think about how and why a mid-stream quality shift happens. Whatever Parks and Recreation did would be the most valuable thing in the television industry if they could bottle it.*

Watching those in re-runs is awkward but also fascinating -- you can see the seeds of what it becomes but they have not blossomed.

So I guess my recommendation is just watch the first season after you've watched the others.


* Well, it would be valuable if quality shifts actually led to shifts in ratings, which sadly hasn't been the case here.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:06 PM on December 19, 2013


Due to some setting or other in my browser, your Visual proof resulted in a large black box for me. Which I found quite hilarious. As if P & R Season 1 sucked because it was filmed entirely in the dark.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:07 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


On further consideration, I feel like a major positive turning point in my enjoyment of P&R was the exit of Mark Brendanawicz (Paul Schneider) in Season 2. Nothing against Schneider as an actor, but it was like he was on a completely different show than all the other characters.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:13 PM on December 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


> I think I used to have that exact Letters to Cleo t-shirt

To me it looks like someone simply printed an enlarged album cover at Kinkos onto cheap iron-on paper and made the shirt themselves. You can see a square of aged iron-on print surrounding the image on the shirt, which is a dead giveaway.

It's mad genius to have details like that, if it was the intention.
posted by mediocre at 12:13 PM on December 19, 2013


There's so many version of Catan out there now I'm honestly surprised they haven't gone full Monopoly and just started churning out licensed variations.

I'm just going to leave this right here.
posted by KingEdRa at 12:15 PM on December 19, 2013


And this! And, um, this which is weirdly great.
posted by bookwo3107 at 12:17 PM on December 19, 2013


I think the big moves that got P&R headed in the right direction were:

1. Establishing the Ron Swanson / Leslie Knope battle for control of the direction of the department as more of a friendly but passionate rivalry instead of a death match.
2. Toning down of the Andy Dwyer character from unbelievably stupid to believably goofy.
3. Moving away from "Who's Ann Perkins Sleeping With Now?" (though that still dragged on too long.)
posted by tonycpsu at 12:25 PM on December 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


> From the Reddit link above to an attempt to make rules out of the known game pieces.

Each roll behins with a pre-roll to determine how many dice are used for each roll. Select 3 small dice and 1 large di for pre-roll; roll these 4 dice onto the game board. The Pre-Roll Sum ("P-RS") of the pips represents the number of dice to be used for Player's Roll. Player then chooses P-RS number of dice for his roll, with no more than ten (10) small dice and no more than six (6) special dice to be used at any time. The Roll Sum ("RS") of pips represents the player's currency moving forward for the current turn.
...

Player now has RS currency with which to purchase resources. Mavericks and Corporals may choose to play Resource Doublers at this time, in which case they begin with RSx2 (Resource Doubling is not permitted at any point in Challenge Mode OR after Wizard induces Cathartic Freeze.) Player must announce his intention to buy before each turn begins. All purchasing must be made in exchange with the Ledgerman. Any remaining resources after purchase may be either (a) left unused by player or (b) transferred to Arbiter at a rate of three (3) resource in exchange for one (1) Agriculture Card (excluding Famine Cards).

A player may ONLY purchase a cone if his armies are advanced beyond The Front of Traganaro[?]. The only exception is, of course, the Maverick, who may purchase cones regardless of position of armies IF AND ONLY IF he has induced Paramilitary Disruption.


Trying to read this makes me feel like I'm drunk.
posted by mediocre at 12:26 PM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I will never aspire to such lofty heights again.

My wife would disown me.
posted by DigDoug at 12:26 PM on December 19, 2013


mediocre: To me it looks like someone simply printed an enlarged album cover at Kinkos onto cheap iron-on paper and made the shirt themselves.

Kay Hanley seems to think that shirt never existed, but I still swear I had one or another one like it. Who are you going to believe, my vague memories, or the leader of the band in question?
posted by Rock Steady at 12:29 PM on December 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


Those rules, wow. It's funny cause it's true. The entire reason I can't play games at all is these endless, pointless rules. I mean is this even a joke or just one of many games that's available to play.
posted by bleep at 12:33 PM on December 19, 2013


This just makes me hate Asiz Ansari even more, because I cannot STAND that guy, to the point that I deliberately do not watch this show and I really want to watch this show.
posted by jbickers at 12:34 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


In The Colors of Metafilter (Die Farben des Mittelfilteres; A. Seyfarth, 2011 Spiel des Jahres), you play the founder of a community web log at the height of the Blogging Age! Will you curate content or generate it? Maximize advertising or erect a paywall? Membership, links, conversation, moderation: these facets of site governance can be a cause of strife or a gushing source of victory points--and they're all represented in a deck of buff-colored cards!

You keep score with buff cards! Claim job titles with buff cards! Announce auctions and place bids with buff cards! Expend buff cards to buy new server racks, which are represented by the same buff cards arrayed to your left at a 36 degree angle!

When all possible colors of subsites are in play (one each of blue, black, green, white, and gray - all signified by slightly different shades of buff) it's time to count up your buff cards and find out who the most colorful of Metafilter he is.
posted by Iridic at 12:36 PM on December 19, 2013 [21 favorites]


I hate games period, yet, I am a nerd/geek. All my kids Love games... I tried to play Agricola and almost had an aneurysm. So I get the joke it just makes me angry which I think is a rare reaction to this.
posted by mrgroweler at 12:42 PM on December 19, 2013


This just makes me hate Asiz (sic) Ansari even more

Because he doesn't even appear in the scene that's being discussed right now?
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:42 PM on December 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


You keep score with buff cards! Claim job titles with buff cards! Announce auctions and place bids with buff cards!

The game would look more professional if they had a white background.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:43 PM on December 19, 2013


You keep score with buff cards favorites! Claim job titles with buff cards favorites! Announce auctions and place bids with buff cards favorites! Expend buff cards favorites to buy new server racks...
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:45 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really am impressed with the level of thought and detail that went into that scene which is really just one joke... "Discussion" is a perfectly acceptable noun to use to explain that a group of people were discussing a topic without using something that suggests academic or historical importance... "Oral history" of a 2 minute scene in one episode of a comedy show? No.

There is some cognitive dissidence here. The "oral history" angle of this trend is all about obsessive detail of monumentally unimportant things
posted by mediocre at 12:49 PM on December 19, 2013


My favorite part of this episode is at the end when he introduces the Cones of Dunshire to his new accountant coworkers and they are like THIS IS THE FUCKING BEST SHIT EVAAAARRRRRRRR.

I feel like most sitcoms would make a plot point like this the butt of a quick joke, with the assumption that designing your own extremely elaborate board game in your spare time proves that you're crazy/boring/too nerdy to live.

But Parks & Rec respects it. The assumption is that, while Leslie might not get it, there is somebody out there who will. This is the genius of that show. They rarely make anyone the unquestioned absolute butt of a joke.
posted by Sara C. at 12:54 PM on December 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


Sara C.: "They rarely make anyone the unquestioned absolute butt of a joke."

You're forgetting about Jerry. Er, Larry.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:58 PM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


You're forgetting about Jerry. Er, Larry.

Sorry, you mean the one person on the show who seems to legitimately have a wonderful and fulfilling life outside of work, with a gorgeous family who clearly adore him? It's always struck me that that's the joke there--for all that he's the butt of the joke at the office, he's probably the most normal, well adjusted, happy person there.
posted by MeghanC at 1:00 PM on December 19, 2013 [20 favorites]


Larry is the sin-eater who absorbs the sociopathic joke writing tendencies of the writers so they don't get directed at other characters.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:00 PM on December 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


As an aside, I'm exhausted with seeing this "oral history" thing. I don't know when this became a "thing" or why (is this a hipster/ironic thing I don't get?)

As far as I can tell, "An Oral History Of" means the reporter did a bunch of leg-work on research and then either couldn't be arsed to turn it into a real story, or, more sympathetically, the story became too complex to lay out in a traditional journalistic format and it was better to just let the interviews speak for themselves.
posted by Sara C. at 1:01 PM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


The best part about the ultimate fate of the Cones of Dunshire is that Ben gives it to the accountants after he breaks their hearts by quitting again -- like it's the least thing he can do for them because he feels so bad. I was genuinely moved by this.

And everybody forgets about Jerry/Gary/Larry because he's so hate-able.

But seriously, the only reason that works is because it's so ridiculous because here's this totally bland person with a wonderful life who just wants to be liked and somebody as ridiculously upbeat as Leslie Knope finds him vile. I don't know why that's funny, but it just is.

Similarly, I think that's the reason why Mark Brendanawicz didn't work. He tolerated Leslie but did not adore her, and not adoring Leslie basically makes you a villain on this show.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:03 PM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


On the meta-question of "oral histories", I'll get tired of them as soon as they quit being about things in which I am very interested. But yeah, these folks aren't all Studs Turkel.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:05 PM on December 19, 2013


My favorite part of this episode is at the end when he introduces the Cones of Dunshire to his new accountant coworkers and they are like THIS IS THE FUCKING BEST SHIT EVAAAARRRRRRRR.

Much has been written about how Parks and Rec is basically the anti-Big Bang Theory, in that it likes its characters. And what I dig about that ending is how it presents this world where everyone has the Thing that makes them happy, and the good way to live life is to either A) find your bliss or B) help others find theirs.
posted by dry white toast at 1:07 PM on December 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


The thing with Jerry is, if you've worked in government, there are 100% people like him...meaning people for whom work is nothing more than a comfortable paycheque, and ALL their fulfilment comes from their life outside of work. So they have a secure job and they can coast. Further, most of them can be found in Jerry's generation. Obviously there are lots of jobs like this, but having spent most of my working life in government bureaucracies, Jerry's portrayal rings particularly true.
posted by dry white toast at 1:11 PM on December 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, the first season isn't like Dads-horrible or anything, but it is very wobbly. The only real reason to watch it is if you are a completist and/or if you are the type of television fan who really likes to think about how and why a mid-stream quality shift happens. Whatever Parks and Recreation did would be the most valuable thing in the television industry if they could bottle it.

What they did was make the characters actually SPECIFIC.

In season 1, everyone is a "type", not a person. And for the most part they are the exact "type" you would expect. Leslie is a manic Tracey Flick type. Ron is a libertarian Doomsday Prepper type. Donna is a sassy black lady type. April is the bored intern type. Et al.

In season 2, I don't know if there was a writing staff change, or some kind of conscious decision about the tone of the show, or what, but suddenly actual characters start emerging. Everybody gets little quirks that build specificity and make them actual people that we believe.

The problem isn't so much with the inability to "bottle" this phenomenon. The problem is twofold. Firstly, LETTING your writers do this. Not forcing characters to conform to broad types because it's easier on the viewer. Secondly, picking up series with the potential to be more than just cookie cutter stereotypes doing the same predictable shit every week. So many shows get canceled because it's obvious that the network picked them up precisely because they are boring, and then everyone is all surprised that nobody fucking watches them because they are BORED.

(See also Brooklyn 99's decision to make their streetwise tough as nails black police chief character openly gay, which was pretty much the moment I fell in love with that show.)
posted by Sara C. at 1:15 PM on December 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


So many shows get canceled because it's obvious that the network picked them up precisely because they are boring, and then everyone is all surprised that nobody fucking watches them because they are BORED.

Perhaps, but Parks and Rec doesn't actually do that great in the ratings, does it? It keeps getting pulled from the schedule, going on hiatus, etc. Or is that a product of the feeling that NBC is constructing its schedule these days by letting a drunk 7 year old play with their time slot board?
posted by dry white toast at 1:27 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry, you mean the one person on the show who seems to legitimately have a wonderful and fulfilling life outside of work, with a gorgeous family who clearly adore him? It's always struck me that that's the joke there--for all that he's the butt of the joke at the office, he's probably the most normal, well adjusted, happy person there.

My favorite thing about the Jerry meta-joke is how it's also making fun of the central conceit of all workplace comedies, that every main character is a complete workaholic who expects that all of their personal, social, and relationship fulfillment will come from whoever they happen to be working with at the time. In life, those people are generally insufferable, and I much prefer workplaces with friendly people who also have some other friends and who date people outside of the office, or at least who have some sort of life before 9 and after 5. Now, a TV show has to do that because it has to be economical with its characters and wants to build on existing chemistry between the regular actors, but Jerry still exists as a reminder that in healthy workplaces what most people actually look forward to is coming home to their family that they love instead of looking forward to spending more time with work people.
posted by Copronymus at 1:34 PM on December 19, 2013


This is pretty much my worst nightmare. My face looked exactly like Leslie's when my friend tried to explain the rules of Age of Steam.

That was me too; I have played Settlers of Catan once--mystified by the whole experience--and I faked an illness to leave a friend's game night recently when it turned out that instead of playing Cards Against Humanity like I'd hoped, we were playing something called Munchkin (which our host claimed was a "parody of an RPG," but the rules were so confusing and so poorly-explained that it was actually nauseous). I didn't think I had much in common with Leslie, but that short scene almost made me sweat.

if you've worked in government, there are 100% people like him...meaning people for whom work is nothing more than a comfortable paycheque, and ALL their fulfilment comes from their life outside of work.

Except the thing with Gary (I'm on the self-identification bandwagon, personally) is that there's a running joke about how he likes working in the office so much that he happily gives up his vacation time and time again to go to work with people who hate him. I know--I work with--the people you're talking about and they're not like him.

So I guess my recommendation is just watch the first season after you've watched the others.

After all the character work we've seen, to watch Ann dating Andy again? I love them both, but ugh no. DO, however, watch the last episode of season one.

posted by psoas at 1:37 PM on December 19, 2013


Perhaps, but Parks and Rec doesn't actually do that great in the ratings, does it?

For NBC, it does fine, I think. I don't think they've had a popular hit sitcom in years. Though they have had plenty of critically acclaimed award-winning cult hits. Sadly, now that they are letting their up and coming stars get poached away by other networks, I doubt that will continue for much longer.

Personally I'm happy with the idea that not all television is CBS, where they just churn out the most horrible boring garbage because, hey, people seem to want to watch horrible boring garbage I guess.

You can't say a lot for NBC, but one thing you can say is that, sometimes, they do sort of OK producing quality shows that are actually good. Often by letting the shows take chances and be interesting.

I'd much rather an NBC where Parks and Rec happens and gets mediocre ratings but is allowed to run for five years doing pretty much whatever, than an NBC that is a total wasteland of bullshit that does great in the Nielsens.
posted by Sara C. at 1:40 PM on December 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


In short: I love nerds and I love Ben Wyatt, but every one of his obsessions is something that makes me cringe.
posted by psoas at 1:45 PM on December 19, 2013


Also, I just looked at the overall ratings for the run of the show, and while I guess they're in "not a hit" territory, they've never struggled nearly as badly as the network show I worked on where we got canceled midway through the first season.
posted by Sara C. at 1:48 PM on December 19, 2013


In short: I love nerds and I love Ben Wyatt, but every one of his obsessions is something that makes me cringe.

My girlfriend told me that I have the nerdy mannerisms of Ben Wyatt crossed with the premature-old man rage and sloppiness of Nick Miller from New Girl. I couldn't say if that is a good thing.
posted by Think_Long at 1:55 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


People always forget that Gary is also hung like a well hung horse. It is canon. Look it up.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 1:55 PM on December 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


The one character that I really don't feel works well with the rest of the show's vibe is Tom Haverford. I enjoy his interplay with Donna in the office, but his outside-of-work story arcs have ranged from mostly terrible and repetitive (Entertainment 720) to promising but ultimately unsatisfying (Rent-a-Swag, which was ruined by the Jean-Ralphio's sister mess.) There's enough to work with in his personality, but I feel like maybe he'd work better as a lead instead of a member of the supporting cast.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:57 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the joke is that Tom Haverford believes he is the lead.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:59 PM on December 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


People always forget that Gary is also hung like a well hung horse. It is canon.


More like cannon, amirite?

(Sorry I'm drunk with pre-holiday last-day-in-the-office glee but still have a 4:00 call.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:00 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think the joke is that Tom Haverford believes he is the lead.

I keep wanting to read a nice comparison of Tom Haverford and the Office's Michael Scott- they're so intensely similar and yet so very, very different.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:03 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


While it's been a while since I've considered Parks & Rec and Community as anything other than self-congratulatory circle-jerks of nerd, this is pretty cool.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:03 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Tom Haverford serves as a conduit for affectionately satirizing metrosexual sub-culture the same way Ben serves as a conduit for affectionately satirizing geek and gaming sub-culture.
posted by dry white toast at 2:05 PM on December 19, 2013


Sure, I just feel like that's all he's there for, which is disappointing, because Ansari has a lot of comedic talent.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:09 PM on December 19, 2013


Parks & Rec is hardly a self-congratulatory circle-jerk of nerd. It's more like a really nice cuddle of nerd, and then your family skypes in and you get a ton of invites to Thanksgiving dinner.

Community, though I love it, is definitely a self-congratulatory circle-jerk of nerd.
posted by Think_Long at 2:11 PM on December 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


The interesting thing about Tom Haverford is that, for most of the characters, their outside the office subplots involve their love lives. While Tom has dated on the show, his relationships are never the focus of ongoing plots. Instead, it's his relationship with John-Ralphio that gets followed over the course of the series.

Which leads me to a question. Henry Winkler plays John-Ralphio's dad, who is a lawyer. Granted Parks and Rec takes place in Indiana, not California, but what are the possibilities that this this means Parks and Rec and Arrested Development are in the same universe?
posted by Sara C. at 2:13 PM on December 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Isn't that actually the Greendale motto?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:13 PM on December 19, 2013


If P&R and AD are in the same universe, that means that Leslie Knope used to be maried to GOB Bluth. And then had to flee when that seal deal went to shitOHMYGOD
posted by Think_Long at 2:16 PM on December 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


but wait, then GOB comes back as an MRI technician and he and Leslie go on a blind date? Your brief flight of fancy has WAY too many contradictions.
posted by Think_Long at 2:17 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The one character that I really don't feel works well with the rest of the show's vibe is Tom Haverford. I enjoy his interplay with Donna in the office, but his outside-of-work story arcs have ranged from mostly terrible and repetitive (Entertainment 720) to promising but ultimately unsatisfying (Rent-a-Swag, which was ruined by the Jean-Ralphio's sister mess.)

I gotta admit, I found Entertainment 720 pretty funny. Repetitive? Sure. Silly and lacking in nuance? Definitely. But the button that suddenly initiates a dance party - stupid, but hilarious. The name strikes a great balance between believable and goofy. Detlef Schrempf just hanging around the office shooting baskets for no apparent reason is completely ridiculous and absurd, but also somehow perfect and it always makes me chuckle.

I also like how it spurs Haverford's arc where, he seems totally unserious and silly about his business dreams with Entertainment 720, but then learns something and gets serious in time for Rent-a-Swag. I do agree that the Jean-Ralphio's sister stuff detracted from that storyline - it could have gone somewhere a lot more interesting if they just let Tom run the business and didn't derail it with all that stuff.
posted by breakin' the law at 2:19 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sorry, you mean the one person on the show who seems to legitimately have a wonderful and fulfilling life outside of work, with a gorgeous family who clearly adore him? It's always struck me that that's the joke there--for all that he's the butt of the joke at the office, he's probably the most normal, well adjusted, happy person there.

I feel like the final punchline of the meta-joke is when he retired and Leslie visited him at home and she realizes that he is as competent in his home life as she is at work. Suddenly when he is in his home, he has cat-like reflexes and can calmly handle any situation that comes up there. Leslie, meanwhile misses her queue in the waffle song, knocks over her coffee mug (I think it was a coffee mug), and does all the things that Jerry does when he's at work.
posted by VTX at 2:28 PM on December 19, 2013 [16 favorites]


I do agree that the Jean-Ralphio's sister stuff detracted from that storyline

Two things:

1) Those are exactly the types of "relationships" people like Tom have in their 20s
2) JR and his sister lend some credibility to the portrayal, because the world in which Tom is trying make his name is filled with people like them: rich kids who are trying to make it look like they're "doing something with their lives" but with no real need or motivation to actually work hard or, you know, succeed. Tom has actual talent and is learning about success, but he has to navigate the Jean-Ralphios of the world.
posted by dry white toast at 2:33 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jean-Ralphio's dad isn't a lawyer, he's a doctor.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:38 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dammit.
posted by Sara C. at 2:56 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


but wait, then GOB comes back as an MRI technician and he and Leslie go on a blind date?

Forget-Me-Now is a hell of a drug.
posted by Spatch at 2:58 PM on December 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


Oh, and from the oral history:

King: I mean, let’s put it this way: It ended up in the hands of those accountants, who will hopefully spread the Word of Cone as much as Ben would.

I totally want an episode next season (SHUT UP THERE WILL TOO BE A NEXT SEASON) where it transpires that those accountants have been spreading bootleg copies of The Cones of Dunshire the way people used to spread bootleg copies of D&D or Settlers of Catan (I remember stories of people building their own Catan sets when the game first hit the US and there weren't enough copies to meet demand) and Ben's become some kind of underground gaming legend without his knowledge.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:07 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jean-Ralphio is the fucking best. I would totally get hit with a Lexus with that guy.

Mona-Lisa is hilarious as well. She is, after all, the worst.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:42 PM on December 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


This whole thing is like a microcosm of why Parks and Recreation is so great ... The people who make this show love these characters now, and it shows.

Totally. Actually, I'm finding that Parks and Recreation has spoiled me for other shows because of this. I used to love, for instance, 30 Rock and Arrested Development. And I still recognize why they're great, but can't really watch more than one episode before I get tired of them, because the whole point of those shows is to laugh at these horrible people.

For a while in television comedy, there's been this dichotomy that shows could either be smart, sharp and well-written but have cynical, negative worldviews, or have a sunnier outlook but be broader and less creative. I feel like Parks and Recreation is the first show that's come along in a while that manages to be really smart and well-written while also really loving its characters. I guess The Office, How I Met Your Mother, and The New Girl might also fall into this category, but the latter premiered after Parks and Rec and I'd argue that the first two aren't as good as Parks and Rec.
posted by lunasol at 3:43 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was in line behind Jean-Ralphio once at the Trail Cafe in Griffith Park. He pet my dog!
posted by Sara C. at 4:28 PM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I assume he is nothing like his character, and if my assumption is correct, he didn't annoy your dog so much that he was bitten; this means he is a very good actor.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:31 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Actually my only two celebrity encounters so far in LA have been with people on cult-favorite NBC sitcoms. I also once sat next to Danny Pudi in a coffee shop.
posted by Sara C. at 4:33 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


You are AV Club Platinum and the rest of America "huh? who?"
posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:35 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I also once sat next to Danny Pudi in a coffee shop.

Was it in the morning?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:37 PM on December 19, 2013


I made my wife a custom Settlers of Catan set with a Doctor Who theme for Christmas last year

i am so mad that you guys live in far off canada
posted by elizardbits at 4:42 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Was it in the morning?

No, I think it was afternoon.
posted by Sara C. at 5:00 PM on December 19, 2013


Sara and Aaaaa-bed in the After-noon!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:22 PM on December 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Almost works, if you draw the "Aaaaa" out long enough and emphasize the "af" in afternoon.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:24 PM on December 19, 2013


the whole point of those shows is to laugh at these horrible people

To be honest, my criteria for television is, at this point, a two point list: is there at least one woman who has a role other than [generic hot chick/relationship interest]? Do most of the people on the show seem to like each other? Both answers must be yes.

As a direct result of this, I basically only watch about three current shows, but whatever. So much happier this way.
posted by MeghanC at 6:26 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I dispute this idea that Parks & Rec loves its characters. It certainly doesn't love April, who's turned into a nasty piece of cardboard. And Donna, who never gets her own plots or love interests and who only gets lines in order to be a "Magical negro" type.
posted by bleep at 6:57 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't think of how Donna is anything like the Magical Negro trope.

She never got her own plots in the first five seasons because her character was meant to a supporting role, never really a lead - the same reason we never get plots of Larry out on his own. She is being explicitly beefed up in this season because she is serving as the replacement for when Rashida Jones bails in midseason.
posted by Think_Long at 7:20 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


And April's not a nasty piece of cardboard, she's the stealth successor to Leslie Knope.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:34 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Speaking of being a nerd, I present my Leslie Knope Halloween costume. The skirt may be nearly as excruciatingly detailed as the rules to the Cones of Dunshire.
posted by ilana at 8:22 PM on December 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


Well, that all depends on how many binders you created for the project.
posted by Spatch at 9:05 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


In other "unplayable sitcom games that now have real rules" news:

True American! 1, 2, 3, JFK!
posted by Rock Steady at 9:47 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


So, one of the things that's worth knowing is that the best baseball blog ever, Fire Joe Morgan, is the same folks who are Fremulon, who produce and write Parks and Rec. So the nerdiness, especially the Sabr stuff, has a long history. Getting Parks and Rec picked up is essentially what ended Fire Joe Morgan.
posted by klangklangston at 10:49 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


April has much more in common with Ron than Leslie. Both outwardly stoic and unflappable, but insanely committed to their own personal ideals. Also similar ; if you can catch them smiling at something they've engineered it is pretty much the best thing. They could be father and daughter, except if April were actually Ron's daughter she would actively be rebelling against everything he stood for.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:51 PM on December 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I would go so far as to say that April and Ron probably like each other better than they like any of their other coworkers.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:57 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


All of the recent Donna plots I can think of are about "Donna teaches a lesson". April plots are basically "I'm going to say awful things for the whole episode but then at the end I do one nice thing and for that I get a cookie" I used to really enjoy this show but they are getting very lazy.
posted by bleep at 7:17 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tom Haverford isn't a lead either but he gets better plots and love interests.
posted by bleep at 7:18 AM on December 20, 2013


It seems to me like Donna gets the same number of plots and love interests as Jerry. Tom Haverford is more comparable to April, who also seem to have an equal number of plots and love interests. There's also Rashida Jones, who is biracial and up until recently a huge supporting character.

Maybe it's changed this season, which I haven't watched, but up until then the only "Magical Negro saves the white person with their fount of life experience" plot I can think of is maybe the "Treat yo'self" storyline with Ben, although Tom was as much a driver of that as Donna. When she does help people out, it's not with the magical fount of her life experience - it's with her wealth. I don't think we usually call wealthy black women on TV "magical negros."
posted by muddgirl at 7:42 AM on December 20, 2013


Donna is wiser and more self-aware than the other characters, so that allows her to cut through a lot of the bullshit and say things as they really are. I guess I can see how that could be interpreted as "magical negro", but it seems quite a stretch to me. Ron has just as much self-awareness as Donna, and he is usually the guy who drops the wisdom bombs that help the other more cartoonish leads see through their issues.

I've never been wild about April.
posted by Think_Long at 8:01 AM on December 20, 2013


April's the worst character. Entirely one note, just like a horrible, boring parody of what I thought was cool in the '90s, but without any surprise or wit.
posted by klangklangston at 9:14 AM on December 20, 2013


Which makes her the most realistic character on the show.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:17 AM on December 20, 2013


I could defend Donna and April till I'm blue in the face, but I agree that the current season is trash.
posted by Sara C. at 9:24 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


the only "Magical Negro saves the white person with their fount of life experience" plot I can think of is maybe the "Treat yo'self" storyline with Ben

And in that plot, there's a lot of Donna and Tom totally not getting Ben's style of treating himself.

Again, one of the great things about this show is that nobody is ever "just" anything. Nothing is straightforward. These people misunderstand each other as often as they offer wisdom.

Agreed that April is the most one-note character (though they have done interesting things with her).
posted by Sara C. at 9:28 AM on December 20, 2013


One of my favorites parts of the show is Ron Swanson's secret appearances as Duke Silver. They are infrequent enough that every time it happens, I get a little pang of excitement. I think the last one was when he revealed himself to Lucy Lawless's character. When he got up from the table and I realized what he was going to do, I started yelling "Duke Silver!" over and over again to my wife, who was in the other room wondering what the hell my problem was.

Contrast this with Community's overuse of the "Daybreak" reference in Season 4.
posted by crLLC at 11:33 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Interesting to hear other takes on it. Anyone who likes the show and hasn't seen this season should skip it.
posted by bleep at 1:11 PM on December 20, 2013


I don't know that it's quite that bad. I wouldn't recommend that people avoid it. But I think it's a touch unfortunate that most people only heard about how great the show is right at the point where it started to jump the shark.

There are probably a lot of people starting to watch now and wondering what the big deal is, similar to people who start with Season 1 on Netflix and wonder the same thing.
posted by Sara C. at 1:22 PM on December 20, 2013


How has it jumped the shark? I think some of the story lines are a little tired at this point, and I agree that this season is sagging (to be expected after 4 pretty great ones), but what element of this season's arc is jumping the shark?

I seem to have killed a lot of my week talking about parks and rec.
posted by Think_Long at 1:34 PM on December 20, 2013


They should have Ron Swanson carve a small wooden shark for reasons. At some point, the carving should be lying on its side on the ground, and Ron or Leslie should hop over it as they move through the scene. This should happen off to one side in the middle of a busy scene without in any way calling attention to itself.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:41 PM on December 20, 2013


"How has it jumped the shark? I think some of the story lines are a little tired at this point, and I agree that this season is sagging (to be expected after 4 pretty great ones), but what element of this season's arc is jumping the shark?"

Going to London was dumb and gimmicky; Ann and Chris has just gone on too long and I can't wait for them to "move to Indianapolis" or whatever the fuck. April's still one-note, and that means they're often squandering Andy. It's just gotten to the point where they don't seem to know where to go or what the conflicts are, so it's petered out into bland cuteness too much like the first season.

(I think Donna's pretty great, and like that her character seems to have the most going on outside of the office.)
posted by klangklangston at 2:07 PM on December 20, 2013


Related: An oral history of that Letters To Cleo shirt.

Okay, not an actual oral history, but a surprisingly in depth article considering its about a t-shirt.
posted by mediocre at 3:15 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I agree that this season is sagging (to be expected after 4 pretty great ones), but what element of this season's arc is jumping the shark?

This is what "jump the shark" means.

I would put the precise "jump the shark" episode/moment the entire London thing.
posted by Sara C. at 3:38 PM on December 20, 2013


I would argue that the London trip was actually not a stunt in the classical shark-jumping sense because it was critical to the arc of Leslie's political aspirations. The trip really was a bit of a boondoggle, but was also exactly the sort of thing she could be expected to do. She over-reached and it had lasting consequences. Not saying it was the show at its best, just that it was way more mindful and consistent than a simple one-off shark jump.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:00 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


'Parks And Recreation': Good For Nerds, Good For America
posted by tonycpsu at 1:43 PM on January 9


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