A review of tonight’s “Parks and Recreation” coming up just as soon as I quote Mary Pickford(*)…
(*) And, yes, I went with that only because of the unexpected chance to do two different Mary Pickford intros in one week.
A few weeks ago, I talked about how “Parks and Recreation” handles the usually difficult task of mining comedy about how its characters are really good at things. When it comes to Leslie Knope, the feat is even more impressive than that: “Parks and Recreation” continually generates comedy and story out of how its main character is really good, period.
Leslie’s not perfect. She’s exploited her power in the past (getting the rec center teachers to work at her house party) and skirted or violated rules (dating Ben when she wasn’t supposed to), but she is fundamentally one of kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human beings I’ve ever seen at the center of a TV show(**), and the show has never seemed dull as a result of that.
(**) And now all I can think of is a dark mirror universe version of the show where Leslie has been brainwashed into assassinating someone, “Manchurian Candidate”-style.
Most of Leslie’s storyline in “Meet N Greet” involves her being pushed out of her usual wonderfulness. At first, Tom wants her to set aside her innate humility to brag on herself in front of community leaders who own such fine Pawnee businesses as Enormous Kenny’s Fried Dough Stand And Mobile Phone Emporium, and Leslie can’t do it. But when Tom gets the terrible but completely unsurprising news from an off-camera Jean-Ralphio that Entertainment 720 has gone under, and he tries to hijack Leslie’s event into a last-ditch 720 event, well, by gum Leslie Knope is going to stand up for herself and call a butt-head a dick (or vice versa). And Amy Poehler plays Leslie’s rising indignation very well, but of course we can suspect what Tom is up to, and as soon as Leslie finds out, she goes back to putting others before herself, forgets all about how Tom ruined the event and is just there for him. This all has the danger of becoming too gooey, but fortunately Tom’s over-the-top video biography of Leslie provides some good laughs at the end to go with the usual sweetness.
We knew 720 had to end sooner or later (and not only because Ben Schwartz is busy co-starring in “House of Lies” for Showtime), and if Tom winds up back at the parks department the way we all assume, it’ll be good to have the Knope/Haverford duo together again, with their complementary strengths and weaknesses. (While it’s a complement where Leslie winds up doing 90 percent of the work, we know how much Leslie loves to work.)
With those two off at the meet and greet, the rest of the episode is devoted to another memorable Halloween party(***), as well as another memorable affair at Andy and April’s house (complete with the hilarious return of Orrin), and one that provided stories for most of the remaining cast (other than Donna, who vanished after greeting Sherlock Traeger).
(***) The show didn’t do one last year, and as I thought back on “Greg Pikitis,” I realized it was so long ago that Leslie was still dating Dave, April was still dating her gay boyfriend and his boyfriend, and Ann was dating some nice but slightly dull guy named Brendanawicz. Time, it does fly.
Of the three party stories, two were clear hits. Though it still makes precious little sense that Ben(****) has chosen to live with Andy and April, the conflicts between them have been worth the plausibility problems. This one gave us insight into the different forms of dysfunction each of them was raised in (though Andy’s was less dysfunctional than rambunctious) and provided a hilarious contrast between Andy’s goofy, loud enthusiasm and Ben’s quiet, awkward maturity. (The teaser also provided a great contrast between Andy and April’s views of what makes Halloween fun.) Andy doing a talking head while holding Ben in a headlock was great, as was Andy’s excitement at realizing his nose was actually broken.
(****) I wondered if Ben’s crying-Batman breakthrough in the last episode might finally lead to some meaningful Ben/Leslie interaction, but the show continues to keep those two apart for now. I’m not complaining, as it makes sense with the story and characters, but I do miss Poehler and Adam Scott together, even platonically, and hope the show has a big plan for the next significant story featuring the two.
Ron and Ann turning into Mr. & Ms. Fix-It around April and Andy’s place, meanwhile, mined the same fertile comic territory that the show did with Ben in “Jerry’s Painting”: how would a rational adult, much less a super-competent one like Ron Effing Swanson, react to people who live the way Andy and April do? That subplot also gave Ron breezing past a Lowe’s employee by telling him, bluntly, “I know more than you,” and gave Ann an excuse to get irrationally excited about something, which is a note Rashida Jones always plays well.
The only story I didn’t love was Chris and Jerry, and even that had the single best gag of the entire episode: the brilliant silent sequence where April sees Jerry’s distress and turns his Mr. Potato Head smile into a frown. (It’s funny whether you believe April is sympathetic to Jerry’s plight or doing it to mock him, because with her, you never quite know.) I’m beginning to worry about Chris’ position in the show. He was introduced in season 2 as something of a cartoon character (albeit a very funny one), and then was softened just enough when the show returned for season 3. But because Rob Lowe is so good at playing Chris as ridiculous, it feels like the writers have gravitated towards those beats, and we’re at a point where he doesn’t seem entirely human, even within the context of Pawnee. His obliviousness when it comes to the discomfort he’s causing Jerry doesn’t seem to track with the Chris we’ve gotten to know – yes, he’s too enthusiastic about everything, but he’s also very good at reading people and getting them to like him, and he would figure out by now how Jerry (yes, even the hated, ignored Jerry) was responding to all of this.
But the rest of the episode was very strong, and Chris/Jerry was worth it for the Potato Head joke alone, so I’ll set my Chris concerns aside for now.
What did everybody else think?