What ‘Parks And Rec’ Gains And Loses With Director’s Cuts

After I watched “Win, Lose or Draw,” the season-four finale of Parks & Recreation that aired last Thursday night, I knew I’d end up watching it again on Hulu the following day. And that’s not just because I loved the episode – it’s because I knew there were at least five minutes of the episode that I hadn’t seen yet.

Of all the TV shows on the air, Parks & Recreation has most fully embraced the idea of the Hulu-friendly extended director’s cut. The “Win, Lose, or Draw” director’s cut, which adds over six minutes to the episode that originally aired on NBC, has plenty to recommend it to hardcore Parks & Recreation fans – but it also botches one of the episode’s most pivotal moments. Though director’s cuts have existed in film for decades, in versions as essential as Blade Runner’s “Final Cut” and as inessential as the Justin Bieber: Never Say Never Director’s Fan Cut, the TV director’s cut is a relatively recent phenomenon. (The only other example that jumps to my mind is the DVD-only extended Glee pilot, but feel free to correct me in the comments.)

Parks & Recreation has been releasing extended episodes as far back as season one, when the “Rock Show” finale got an “extended producer’s cut,” but the last weeks of season four took the trend to a new level: Of the 22 episodes in Parks & Recreation’s fourth season, four appeared on Hulu in a “director’s cut” or “producer’s cut” version, and three came at the tail end of the season. It’s become increasing clear that the real way to watch Parks & Recreation isn’t on Thursday nights; it’s on Friday mornings, when the director’s cut of the episode alongside the version that aired the night before. (It surprises me that Parks & Recreation, which needs every live viewer it gets, would go so far to incentivize waiting to watch on Hulu the next day – but that’s another blog post.)

But the director’s cut of “Win, Lose, or Draw” is particularly tricky because it’s both better and worse than the version that originally aired. In the original version of the episode, Leslie learns that Ben has been offered a job in Washington, D.C. immediately before she goes to vote for herself for City Council. When she starts crying in the voting booth, it’s both a reaction to the idea of losing Ben and a culmination of all the emotions that have built up over the course of her campaign – now that the election is officially out of her hands, she can finally take down her armor (and unsurprisingly, Amy Poehler knocks the scene out of the park – now if ever, this is her Emmy year).

But Michael Schur’s “Win, Lose, or Draw” director’s cut reinserts a quick scene at the start of the episode that undercuts all the power of Leslie’s voting booth scene. As Leslie addresses her friends/campaign workers at brunch, she begins to deliver a thank-you speech before breaking into tears. “Again?” says April, before Tom takes over, rolling his eyes and calls Leslie “an embarrassing disaster.” The scene was rightly cut – it adds almost nothing, and detracts from both the dramatic arc of Leslie’s story and the strength her character has shown all season.

What makes things even more complicated is that the “Win, Lose or Draw” director’s cut also adds a detail that makes a storyline significantly better. The director’s cut restores a scene in which Ron, who disapproves of the whiskey selection at Leslie’s election-day party, pulls out a bottle of Lagavulin scotch and says to the bartender, “nobody touches this but me.” Later in the episode, he cancels the obviously distraught Ben’s gin and tonic order in favor of a glass of Lagavulin scotch. Though the scene exists in both episodes, it’s only in the director’s cut that we fully understand the generosity of Ron’s gesture.

As TV audiences continue to migrate away from live viewing and toward streaming, directors and producers will have more room to reinsert scenes cut from the original broadcast. It’s an exciting opportunity, but it has to be used judiciously – “more” isn’t always better, and most cut scenes are cut for a reason.