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TV That Matters: Chicago Fire and Parks and Recreation

By John Thomas Columnist

I think that you should say hello to people as much as you possibly can. Now, I’m a neurotic, anxiety-ridden shell of a man, so most days I’m miles away from that ideal. But in a perfect world, I think that greeting everyone you pass would be second nature. Yet, even in that universe, I don’t think I’d say hello to “Chicago Fire,”  because I don’t think I’d notice it shuffling past me – too stylistically lean to have enough substance to possibly be seen by the naked eye.

It isn’t as if “Chicago Fire”  lacks a solid framework to build itself around. While I may not be one for Dick Wolf’s brand of television, I earnestly enjoyed the earnestly chummy atmosphere of the department. Unlike the relationships found between the detectives and prosecutors of Wolf’s “Law & Order” franchise, I found the interactions between the main cast came off as sincere, and not in the least bit saccharine.

That being said, the chemistry cannot make up for the show’s plentiful shortcomings. The main plot is so simple and explicit that I found myself entirely uninterested by the end of the episode. The climatic scene reveals who the arsonist targeting members of the department is, but it’s done in such a ham-fisted, expository way, that I felt as if I was reading a synopsis of the episode rather than watching it.

It’s a real shame that the narrative is so simple minded, because thematically speaking, this episode was very cohesive and well thought out. Each storyline was about constraints – constraints imposed on us by others and constraints we have to impose on ourselves. Yet, the exploration of that theme was completely facile.

The most compelling subplot – where two older firemen tried to each launch their own political career with hopes of reversing recent budget cuts that they believe have put the safety of their crew and their city in jeopardy – was enjoyable but very brief, and not nuanced enough to be that compelling after its first couple of beats.

“Chicago Fire” seems to be much more serialized than Wolf’s other shows, I’m not even sure if I could really label it a procedural, so I hope that as the narrative progresses, its thematic depth expands as well, but sadly, I won’t be around to find out.

 

 

 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “Parks and Recreation” is my out-and-out favorite television show of all time. Some of you have Walter White to bully you into submission just the way you like it, or Gob Bluth to tickle the funny bone that’s in your swimsuit zone, but I have Leslie Knope to welcome me back to Pawnee every fall with a smile and no weird sex thing whatsoever.

That being said, last season started off pretty soft with a destination premiere in Washington, D.C. that I wasn’t a huge fan of. For the most part, it felt as if the writers were becoming, whether consciously or not, really fantastic fan fiction writers in that episode. It was still enjoyable, but I felt like I was watching things Leslie Knope would do and not things Leslie Knope should do. Still, the rest of the season picked up, and while some of my fellow critics may disagree, I think it was as strong an offering as any other season “Parks” has put out.

Nonetheless, I was worried when I heard we were going to be given yet another destination premiere, this time set in London. I know that in this case, the setting was more of a logistical necessity, considering Chris Pratt, who stars as my absolute favorite character Andy Dwyer, is currently shooting Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” around the UK. However, I was worried that it might become a narrative crutch, with Leslie meeting Tony Blair or Daniel Radcliffe, to tempered laughter. My worries were entirely unwarranted.

First of all, there’s a scene where Andy and his British counterpart, who happens to be an incredibly wealthy Lord, battle with remote control helicopters. As a fan of both the humor that can be found in youthful naivety and watching remote control helicopters fly around, this was just about all I could possibly ask for in a television show. Andy’s absence for the rest of the season is explained soon after in an organic way that pushes the character to finally become responsible, without taking away any of his charm.

I can’t go through every scene, though I wish I could because there really wasn’t a single bad apple in the bunch, but I do want to point out that “Parks” is introducing an arch-nemesis that looks like she’ll have something close to a weekly presence for the first time. Sure, last season had Councilman Jam, but he was more like a Captain Boomerang than a Lex Luthor. Leslie is always the greatest when she’s backed into a corner, so I’m very intrigued to see how this all plays out.

 

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