Title The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show/Two Funerals
Two-Sentence Summary As Andy prepares to move to Washington for April’s new job, he hosts one last episode of his beloved children’s TV show. And two deaths in Pawnee lead to major changes for the town and many of its residents.
Favorite Line “You’re what keeps me going. You’re my Verizon/Chipotle/Exxon.” (Andy, to April)
My Thoughts This final season of Parks and Recreation has been filled with such strong episodes that it almost made me forget that we were in the middle of the process of saying goodbye. However, this week’s pair of episodes went about as meta as it gets in terms of reminding the audience that the end is near for our beloved show. One episode was entirely devoted to a TV show’s final episode, and the other featured two scenes of characters saying goodbye at funerals. Through all the winks and nods to the audience, though, the show’s trademark sincerity remained. And in this penultimate pair of episodes, it was the supporting characters who were given the spotlight, reminding us of how much they’ve grown over the past seven seasons before we have to say goodbye to them for good next week.
My only complaint about this pair of episodes is that I would have switched their order, which is the first time I thought that all season. While I loved both episodes, “The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show” (which I am going to just call “Johnny Karate” to save myself typing time) was so meta that it felt weird going into a more “normal” episode right after it was done. It would have felt more fitting as the immediate warmup to the series finale.
There was a lot to love about “Johnny Karate”—from the perfect commercials (The Paunch Burger commercial could have been an actual ad on TV right now.) to the little kid dressed up like Burt Macklin in the audience. But what I loved most about it was the way “Johnny Karate” was so clearly a reflection of what Parks and Rec has been for so many of us who watched it. “Johnny Karate” was a show that positively impacted the lives of all the kids who watched it by reminding them to be nice even as they karate-chopped stuff. The moment when Andy talked about how being nice is the most important lesson was handled with such honesty and sincerity by Chris Pratt. You could feel that he believed this not just as Andy talking about the TV show he starred in but as Chris Pratt talking about the TV show he starred in—a show where being nice was always the most important thing, too.
Andy Dwyer has always been one of Parks and Rec’s most lovable and memorable supporting characters, so this episode was a fitting way to begin to say goodbye to him in all of his silliness and sweetness. Andy could have been just a piece of comedic relief, a bumbling idiot man-child. However, he ended up being a character defined by his warmth and willingness to do things for others without ever losing the goofy humor Pratt has always brought to the role. Andy’s not just a walking joke; he’s a character with successes and failures and surprising depth and emotional honesty that comes out most often when he’s with his wife.
“Johnny Karate” was such a phenomenal showcase for Andy and April’s marriage—a marriage that would have been treated as a punch line on other shows and would have ended as quickly as it began, but was allowed to grow on this show into something genuine, stable, and beautiful. Andy’s heart is always in the right place, but that’s never more clear than it is with April. And April has always felt things much more deeply than she wants to show the world, but she’s never tried to hide how deeply she loves her husband.
Once again, I loved watching Aubrey Plaza in this episode. She’s done such a great job conveying April’s very real anxieties about the changes in her life, and it was bittersweet to see how broken up she was about Andy having to give up a job he loves for her to follow her dream. But that’s the beauty of the marriages on Parks and Rec; they’re about equality and compromise, and they involve men who want to support their wives as they chase their dreams (and wives who support their husbands, too). April and Andy’s talk near the end of the episode reminded me of all the things I’ve come to love about Leslie and Ben—the partnership, the faith in each other, the unconditional support, and the belief that together they can find new adventures. What’s so refreshing about those two marriages is that they’ve never felt like carbon copies of each other. They’re different because the characters in them are so different, but they’re both built on that same foundation of support, partnership, and a desire to make each other happy.
Pratt and Plaza have never been better together than they were in that scene. Her vulnerability was matched perfectly by his sincerity. I’ll even admit to tearing up more than a little bit when he called her his “Verizon/Chipotle/Exxon” (three words I never imagined would make me cry). It’s so rare and risky for a TV show to write one successful marriage, but Parks and Rec has written many. And April and Andy were its first. The fact that this marriage was allowed to grow, mature, and deepen along with the characters in it is simply beautiful. The closing moments of this episode were sweet because they felt like a reflection of Parks and Rec as a whole, but it was that quiet moment between April and Andy that really got to the heart of what’s made this show so special. Its supporting characters have a more interesting marriage written with more depth and care than anything most main characters have on other comedies.
While “Johnny Karate” was a way to shine the spotlight on April and Andy before the series finale, “Two Funerals” gave Tom and Garry their moments in the sun. (How am I just now realizing this show gave us six years of “Tom and Jerry” working in the same office?) There was some good stuff with Ron having to adapt to a new barber, and the cameo by Bill Murray was possibly the most pleasantly surprising celebrity appearance on the show to date. But “Two Funerals” was mainly important to me for three reasons: It gave us a parade of my personal favorite recurring guest characters; it let Garry have a huge win before all is said and done; and it gave us a chance to reflect on Tom’s growth the way “Johnny Karate” let us reflect on April and Andy’s growth.
The search for a new mayor was incredibly entertaining because it included three of the show’s best recurring characters: Ethel Beavers (who had a 46-year affair with the mayor that she recounted in detail at his memorial), Bobby Newport (who was as enthusiastically clueless as ever), and Jean-Ralphio Sapperstein. The rest of the Sapperstein family was there, too, but I’ve always loved Jean-Ralphio so much more than his father and sister. If this episode was the last we’ll ever see of him, I’m glad we got one final moment of him asking someone (Leslie) if they were “down to clown” because I laugh every single time he says those words.
What the search for a new mayor really did—besides allow favorite characters to come back for a brief moment—was allow Ben to make peace with his Ice Town past before moving on to his Congressional future. Our failures make us who we are just as much as our successes do, and I’m so happy Ben discovered that. And by moving on from any desire to be mayor again, the door was opened for one character who no one was expecting to be named mayor: Garry Gergich.
Since I thought Garry finally being called by his real name was a big win for the character worthy of getting very emotional over, you can imagine how happy I was to see him get the most ostentatious mayoral inauguration imaginable (courtesy of Tom’s changed proposal plans). This was the perfect way to honor a character who truly deserved this big moment of recognition and happiness.
Garry got such a great inauguration party because Tom had a change of heart concerning his proposal to Lucy, and I couldn’t have been happier that Mr. Swagger himself chose to go low-key for one of the most important moments of his life. Yes, it was fun to watch Leslie enable his ridiculously over-the-top proposal plans (because we all know Leslie can be just as over-the-top as Tom), and I loved the moment she earned “cool” status and promptly lost it in Tom’s eyes. But it was even more fun was to watch how far Tom’s come from the guy who chose flash over substance every time.
Like April and Andy, on a lesser show Tom would have been a one-dimensional character who never grew beyond the rapid-fire pop culture references, Entertainment 720, and calling radio shows to brag about getting to second base with his girlfriend. On Parks and Rec, though, Tom always had a soft heart underneath his glittery exterior. Tom’s sincerity is what drew me to his character many season ago, and I loved seeing it on display in his proposal. I thought his card trick was adorable, and I’d say yes to any man who proposed to me with pancakes.
Parks and Rec has always excelled at creating supporting characters we care about because they’re given layers and depth beyond typical sitcom character tropes and stereotypes. This pair of episodes was a great way to honor some of the show’s best and most beloved supporting characters before we say goodbye—which I am completely emotionally unprepared for, by the way.