“Harvest Festival” is just a fabulous episode of “Parks and Recreation,” but even if it were only otherwise pedestrian, Ron’s reaction to Li’l Sebastian in the opening minute of the show would have made it worthwhile.

I’ve seen the full episode three times now, and watched the opening scene above at least three more times, because Ron Freakin’ Swanson laughing like a 9-year-old girl and clasping his hands together like a member of the Lollipop Guild is a comic gift that does not stop giving. The show had much more than that to recommend it, though.

From the Pawnee media’s glee at and overreaction to hearing about the “curse” to Ann’s post-breakup acting out to Jerry in the corn maze, “Harvest Festival” (the first episode filmed this fall, after the Amy Poehler-pregnancy run of six shot last spring) put a great cap on the first portion of the season. A few key moments from the episode:

Ben and Leslie: Despite Ben’s inability to grasp the appeal of Li’l Sebastian — who, Ron informs him, has an honorary degree from Notre Dame — it appears to be sinking in to Leslie that she and Ben have more in common than a dedication to public service. Theirs has been one of the slowest-burning potential couplings on TV in the past few seasons, but the way they’ve become more and more at ease with each other (her moreso than him) has been fun to watch. Leslie having Ken Hotate lift the “curse” on Ben was emblematic of where their relationship is now, and it’s only about a half-step from a full-blown romance. Here’s hoping that half-step happens in the next couple of episodes.

Andy and April: The coupling of these complete personality mismatches is a recipe for excellent comedy, and it worked handsomely tonight with Andy responding to April’s “I love you” by saying “Dude, shut up! That’s awesomesauce!” and then not realizing that a girl would really rather just hear “I love you too,” no matter how awesome the sauce actually is. (Their dynamic was once again aided and abetted by Ron, who set them, along with Jerry and Tom, straight while they were stalled on the Ferris wheel.)

Ann: As Rashida Jones told us, Ann is going to be all about “getting busy with some dudes” in the next few episodes as she deals (not especially well) with her breakup with Chris (Rob Lowe was filming a movie during this episode, hence his absence; he’ll be back next week). We loved her gut-spilling moment with Donna, and her unabashed makeout session with the “Jersey Shore” wannabe in the medical tent. But most troubling, psychologically? The red streak in her hair. Oh, Ann.

The press: Joan Callamezzo has become a great secondary character, and her snooping around the festival in search of a scandal was fantastic (“Is that Pawnee corn or Eagleton corn?” “When was the last time this giant wheel of death was inspected?”). Almost as good as her reaction to Li’l Sebastian (“Are you f***ing kidding!?!”). Having lived in some small towns with small TV stations to go along with it, I can tell you that Joan, Perd Hapley and the rest of the media we see on “Parks and Rec” is only a little exaggerated.

Other good stuff from “Harvest Festival”:

  • “The atrocities are in blue.”
  • Another good bit of media nonsense, this time from Perd: “The statement this reporter has is a question.”
  • Donna, after Ann unloads all her problems: “I’m gonna recommend you bottle that noise up.” Ann: “That’s what my mailman said.”
  • Co-creator Mike Schur said at PaleyFest last week that the aerial shot of the carnival was the most expensive one they’ve ever done. (The actual carnival was one that takes place annually at Pierce College in Los Angeles.
  • Andy, looking for Li’l Sebastian on the corn maze: “Hey, you know how Indians call corn maize? This is why. I never knew that.” Never change, Andy.
  • And another Ron/Sebastian moment: His goofy, double-handed wave when the horse re-entered the festival.

One more thing: NBC is posting an extended “producer’s cut” of “Harvest Festival” online; you can also watch it in the window below (after 2 a.m. Friday).

What did you think of “Harvest Festival”?

Posted by:Rick Porter