Thomas Doherty of the Chronicle Review called today’s TV shows “long-form, episodic television.” He compared shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Downtown Abbey, to name a few, to novels. He wrote, “Like the bulky tomes of Dickens and Dreiser, Trollope and Wharton, the series are thick on character and dense in plot line.” It’s a different world of television, a damn good one.
What is also different is the way we talk about TV. It used to be that we would discuss an episode of a show like NYPD Blue with our coworkers around the water cooler. Now, the water cooler is online and in the form of television recaps. A TV recap is exactly what it sounds like: a summary of what happened in an episode. The recaps have a following, and the readers are passionate.
As Matt Zoller Seitz said in a primer of TV recaps on Vulture: “Some people watch TV programs as obsessively as other people watch sporting events or presidential debates.”
One problem with the recaps may be, however, that there are too many of them.
Each week, you can find dozens of recaps of your favorite show. Search close enough, and you can find some entertaining recaps. Given how fun it can be to read these reviews, I’m going to take a stab at recapping the TV recap (that make sense? Or would you like me to use the word "recap" one more time?). This week, I’m taking a look at four recaps of Thursday night’s Parks and Recreation episode, “Emergency Response”:
Steve Heisler gives “Emergency Response” an A-, which is a pretty fair grade for a funny half hour of television. The recap is a lesson in how to write a recap. He tells us what the plot is: Leslie Knope needs $50,000 to build a park in an empty lot, she decides to throw a black tie event to raise the money, problems get in the way of the party, but they push through and throw the party. He also provides insight as a fan of the show: “we’re allowed to take in every moment of the party, listen to a little Mouse Rat, and witness Leslie beaming like a proud parent. It’s the simplest thing in the world, but for a network sitcom to take a deep breath and let things slow to a normal pace, it demonstrates a whole lot of faith in its audience.”
I’ll give his recap an A- to match his grade for the show.
Television Without Pity
It might be because I enjoyed this episode, but I did not enjoy Rachel Stein’s recap. She opens by saying: “I was not a fan of “Emergency Response.” Aside from the Upright Citizens Brigade mini-reunion, Leslie’s pre-taped emergency alerts, “You’re On with Ron” and the Mouse Rat performance, nothing made me laugh or even very excited.” Hmmm, saying that you didn’t like it and then listing four hilarious things doesn’t really help your argument of not liking the show.
Then, the recap got lazy by listing funny lines (nothing wrong with listing funny lines, but there needs to be more than just that). Thankfully she didn’t miss April telling Andy that if he doesn’t pass the Police Academy test, “I’ll just divorce you and marry someone else, and then cheat on them with you.” Brilliant.
Jessica Goldstein gave “Emergency Response” 5 out of 5 stars. I’ll give her 5 out of 5 for her recap. She clearly understands Parks and Recreation. She sets the stage slowly, recaps precisely, and comments hilariously. Parks and Recreation is at its best when a character is busy coming up with different ways to explain something. Goldstein is at her best when listing these explanations off. Ron Swanson had a scene in Thursday’s episode: "'Any dog under 50 pounds is a cat, and cats are pointless. Any bank is a Ponzi scheme run by morons. Your house isn’t haunted.' Later we learn he also helped a child perform a tracheotomy on his elderly uncle.” This recap has life and still explains everything that happened in the episode.
Esquire Culture Blog
Adam K. Raymond is on point with his recap of the episode. Instead of writing out a summary of the half hour, he recaps the show using screen caps. Because “Parks and Rec’s brilliance is best encapsulated by small moments of absurdity,” he grabs 12 screenshots from the show and gives them a quick caption (bonus points for saying “encapsulated” so that we can remember the “Time Capsule” episode with the brilliant Will Forte…meta).
Not the way to learn what happened on the show if you missed it, but let’s be honest, if you’re reading a recap, you’re a big enough fan to watch the show on Hulu. And this picture:
The beauty of a TV recap is that it can be anything. You can summarize the show, you can comment on the show, or you can show a few pictures. And if you're really reaching, you can recap those that already recapped it.