‘Parks and Recreation’ – ‘Smallest Park’: Man, I’m steamroller

Senior Television Writer
11.17.11 76 Comments


A review of tonight’s “Parks and Recreation” coming up just as soon as I get competitive with Martin Luther King…

Leslie Knope has long since evolved past the “female Michael Scott” type many of us tagged her as back in the bumpy first season. But if her personality has become very different, the extremes of it – and the way those extremes have to be carefully modulated so that she doesn’t seem unbearable – are definitely familiar from many years of watching “The Office” writers figure out exactly what they could get away with in writing Michael. For the most part, “Parks and Rec” has been pretty pitch perfect in terms of how it’s depicted Leslie, turning her human steamroller persona into a positive attribute rather than a deficit.

Every now and then, though, Leslie goes too far, and those episodes tend to be less enjoyable. “Smallest Park” happened to be one of those, but it managed to mitigate some of the problems by being about how Leslie sometimes goes too far, and by ending on a dynamite, moving Leslie/Ben scene at the smallest park in Indiana.

“Smallest Park” was aware throughout that Leslie was being both ridiculous and unfair to Ben, and to Ann, and while some of that material was funny (Leslie telling Ann to shut her beautiful piehole), for the most part I found myself empathizing with Ben and wishing she would cool it already. But then came Ann finally getting Leslie to listen to her, and Ann talking to Ben, and then Ben and Leslie in the park – a fantastic acting duet for Amy Poehler and Adam Scott – and if it didn’t magically make me laugh more at what had come earlier, it felt like a good character story for Leslie, and a moving springboard for Leslie and Ben to get back together, and damn the torpedoes. A great romantic moment for those two – just look at how Ben practically dives into Leslie to show her how he feels about her idea – and one that ultimately proved Mike Schur right for deciding to let the relationship play out the way it did. Ben breaking up with Leslie because of the campaign didn’t feel contrived in the way these kinds of sitcom splits often are, we got a bunch of episodes where they didn’t interact at all so we could feel the absence, then several where they did and he was miserable, and now they’re going to give it another shot and see what happens. And they’re so perfect together – as demonstrated throughout last week’s Model U.N. insanity, or in the kiss tonight – that I look forward to whatever comes next.

Ron’s affection for Andy (one of the few co-workers he doesn’t actively root against) has been an excellent source of both comedy and pathos for the last couple of seasons, and I liked seeing him thrown into the college subplot so he could play the metaphorical angel to April’s devil (or vice versa) on Andy’s shoulder. It felt especially satisfying that neither his wife nor his boss’s counsel landed Andy a class he enjoyed, where his own silly method did. (Though we’ll see how long he is for Women’s Lasers Studies after the events of the tag.)

The Tom and Jerry story felt like a good one for Tom’s first episode back as a parks department employee, being forced to confront the monotonous, non-pimped-out lifestyle of a government employee after several months of Entertainment 720 insanity. For Tom, it’s a nightmare. For Jerry, it’s the life he’s enjoyed for decades.  And somehow, the two manage to accidentally team up and make the project a wild success. (And without using the “Sopranos” font where the R is a pistol.) Short, sweet, funny, and Jerry actually gets credit for once – sort of.

What did everybody else think?

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