What’s possible in the world of television isn’t necessarily possible in real life. In reality, one can’t throw a last-minute “fancy” party that turns out to be an impromptu wedding. But it’s possible to do that in the wacky world of Parks and Recreation. It’s possible for everyone to show up on such short notice. It’s possible for April and Andy to get married after only having dated for a month. Whether that possibility translates to acceptance is a matter of personal taste, of course. In some sense, “Fancy Party” was a test of the viewers’ suspension of disbelief, and I think it illustrates an important point about the tools that are at the show’s disposal.

The mockumentary format presents viewers with a sort of hyperreality, a candid window into the characters’ lives. Nothing is filtered, and nothing is adulterated. However, a comedy must also push the bounds of reality. Sure, there’s humour to be found in everyday life, but imagine filming 22 minutes of your own life and showing it to strangers. It’s unlikely that you’d generate many laughs. Thus, Parks and Recreation has to walk a fine tightrope, creating an odd but effective juxtaposition of the hyperreal and the surreal.

More often than not, the show has relied on the town of Pawnee to provide the surreal. The town is, in some sense, its own character, with its own twisted, satirical history. And like a live-action Springfield, in that town, we find a cast of colourful characters, like Joan Callamezzo, Shauna Malwae-Tweep, and Perd Hapley. “Fancy Party” featured some such familiar faces – Jean-Ralphio, Ben and Derek, April’s sister – but the setting of Pawnee didn’t figure heavily. Without the town’s usual insanity to distort reality, this episode had to rely on another source of craziness: the Ludgate/Dwyer nuptials.

There are likely many viewers who won’t be able to suspend their disbelief and enjoy this episode, and I understand where they’re coming from. Five or six episodes ago, April and Andy weren’t even together, and now the audience is being asked to accept that main characters, who usually help ground the show while the likes of Marcia Langman and Bill Dexhart push it towards insanity, are driving the ridiculousness. But here’s the brilliance of Parks and Recreation: instead of just acknowledging with a meta-gag that April and Andy were being hasty and crazy, the show incorporated that acknowledgment into the plot. Leslie thought the whole thing was crazy. The other characters were simultaneously confused and amused.

That’s what made the wedding plot work. It involved a “real” wedding with “real” consequences. Even if it was an only-on-TV sort of thing, it worked because it was “real” to the characters. Plus, in the end, the episode managed to have its cake and eat it too. Sure, Andy and April were rushing their relationship, but as Ron reminded Leslie, different things work for different people. He’s a fountain of wisdom.

He’s also a fountain of hilarity. I laughed out loud at him pulling out his own tooth and at his talking-head segment about the proper way to burn an ex-wife effigy. The rest of the A-plot was sprinkled with plenty of other little chuckle-worthy bits, including the dead bird and Andy’s “big words” speech.

Overall, the A-plot about Andy and April’s wedding managed to pull off several impressive feats. It made me believe that Andy and April would rush into a wedding while also acknowledging and addressing how crazy it was. It was funny yet touching. And it was sweet without being cloying. This was Parks and Recreation at its best.

On the flipside, the B- and C-plots worked less well. As much as I love Donna, I think I’m ready to move on from storylines that revolve around Ann’s dating woes. Ann is a far more interesting character than her recent plot lines would suggest. As for the idea that Ben would move back to Indianapolis, I think that TV needs to abandon those kinds of plots in general. Viewers aren’t stupid. They know that cast members don’t just leave like that. I knew that there was never any possibility that Ben would actually move, so I was unable to invest in the story. But I did appreciate that Leslie wanted Ben to stay and told him so.

At any rate, I don’t want to dwell too much on what didn’t work because on the whole, “Fancy Party” was a pretty fantastic episode of Parks and Recreation. It also demonstrated to me that the show has the ability to tell a very unrealistic story and ground it in real emotion. It’s a new tool that, if used sparingly, could greatly expand the show’s storytelling possibilities.

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