As the Parks Department makes the final preparations for the revival of Pawnee's storied Harvest Festival, everything seems to be going perfectly: the Ferris wheel is up to code; Larry Bird's aunt Tilda is signing autographs; and the adorable, universally beloved miniature horse L'il Sebastian is making a very special appearance. What could go wrong?
The answer, of course, is everything.
The troubles begin when Leslie denies Wamapoke tribesman Ken Hotate's request that the Harvest Festival be moved to a part of Pawnee that's not sacred to the tribe—a seemingly reasonable request, but a difficult one, since Pawnee, as it turns out, is essentially one giant Indian burial ground. When Leslie is forced to turn him down, Hotate places a "Wamapoke curse" on the festival. And when L'il Sebastian escapes through an open gate—an event that may have a bit more to do with Tom's carelessness than a Wamapoke curse—it's up to the parks department to make things right.
The episode's b-plot centers on the (relatively new) relationship between April and Andy. When April finally tells Andy she loves him, he cheerily replies, "Dude, shut up! That is awesome sauce!" It's not, safe to say, the romantic moment that April was looking for.
In my review of the previous episode of Parks and Recreation, "Indianapolis," I argued that Ron Swanson's sudden obsession with Charles Mulligan's steakhouse took the character a little too far off the deep end for the convenience of the plot. Fortunately, "Harvest Festival" is a terrific return to form for Ron Swanson; unfortunately, a similar problem comes up in "Harvest Festival" for Andy Dwyer.
Like Ron, Andy is a character who's always in danger of being just a little too cartoonish. He's happy-go-lucky, but he's not stupid; he's simple, but he's not naïve. Andy and April's relationship works because Andy is so guileless that he undercuts April's all-encompassing cynicism. He can be a little dense, but he's also incredibly sweet—and deeply sensitive to her feelings, which makes his utter confusion at April's anger ring false.
What we have here, to borrow a phrase, is a failure to communicate, and Ron gets the best scene of the night by far when he cuts through the tension between April and Andy for them: "Andy, she's mad because you said 'awesome sauce' instead of 'I love you.' April, he loves you, stop being a child." The two apologize to each other, and everything between them is "awesome sauce" again. But it's implausible—and disappointing—that neither April nor Andy comes to the same realization without Ron's guidance.
Meanwhile, after a flurry of negative press, the rest of the parks department manages to re-corral L'il Sebastian and convince Ken Hotate to lift the curse (which, it turns out, consisted of random gibberish anyway). The Harvest Festival goes off without a hitch, and the parks department—which had staked its future on the success of the event—seems to be safe (as, thankfully, does Parks and Recreation, which NBC has renewed for a fourth season).
In the end, last night's "Harvest Festival"—which Parks and Recreation's third season has been driving toward up to this point—is much like any Midwestern state fair: kitschy, charming, and safe. It's the weakest episode of the season, but it's been a remarkably strong season so far.
But as Pawnee's parks department looks past the success of the Harvest Festival to broader (and hopefully better) horizons, let's hope the show does the same.
The bizarre, troubled history between Pawnee's settlers and the Wamapoke Indian tribe is depicted in many murals throughout the parks department—including the first season's The Trial of Chief Wamapo.
Wise Words from Andy Dwyer:
On carnival games: "God, I swear, it's almost like they don't want you to win."