A review of tonight’s “Parks and Recreation” coming up just as soon as I eat an unreasonable amount of St. John’s wort…
“‘I, Leslie Knope, love Ben Wyatt. I love him with all of my heart.'” -Leslie Knope, as read by Ethel Beavers
“Parks and Recreation” isn’t as overtly a chameleon in the way that “Community” or “Louie” is, where you never know exactly what you’re going to get when you tune into those shows each week. But I think the consistency and polish of “Parks and Rec” masks just how versatile the show can be. Some weeks, you get the cartoon world of Ron battling one or more of the Tammys. Others, you get biting social satire, others warm cameraderie, and still others straight farce.
Tonight we got “Parks and Rec” as swooning romantic comedy, and boy was it good.
Ben was absent for a large chunk of “The Trial of Leslie Knope”(*), but his presence was felt throughout. Not only did he pop up in a couple of the flashbacks(**), and not only was the trial all about Leslie’s relationship with Ben, but Ben, Leslie and the script (by the rhyming duo of Mike Schur and Dan Goor) made sure that Leslie could feel he was with her just by looking to the portrait of Old Stoneface on the wall. So everyone was either talking about him or thinking about him during the long stretch when he was off-camera, then brought him back on for the two big declarations of love. And what made both those scenes so poignant was the way the sentiment was undercut just enough by having Ethel Beavers (from the fourth floor) reading both declarations, rather than hearing it come from the mouths of either Leslie or Ben. I’m sure Amy Poehler and Adam Scott would have played those lines marvelously, as we’ve seen from them in previous episodes (most recently their reconciliation in “Smallest Park”), but doing it that way actually made it more powerful by holding something back – and by putting the declarations in the nerdy language of an official government transcript that only true policy wonks like Leslie and Ben can appreciate. Really, I don’t think they should have expressed their love any other way. A classic sitcom romance moment.
(*) This is the second time the show has put the title into the body of the episode (season 2’s “94 Meetings” was the other).
(**) This seemed like the only real way to do a clip show in this day and age. People aren’t going to accept 22 minutes of clips, but if you build enough of a story spine, you can get away with a good chunk of time being devoted to old scenes being discussed in a new context. This isn’t really what the episode was going for, but had it been the goal, I think they could have easily worked in a bunch of other scenes involving Ben and Leslie, and/or the two characters behaving erratically at work. (I’m sure in some draft of the script – if not a scene that got cut – Leslie’s mom came in to testify.)
Before we got to that point, we got some good comedy courtesy of Chris struggling with his role as the villain of the story – and this was a much better balance of Chris’ ridiculous and human sides than we’ve gotten at other points in the season – from seeing the parks department go on the stand (with April naturally channeling Janet Snakehole, and Jerry’s real name being revealed, then quickly ignored), and from Tammy Two’s brief, aborted attempt to torpedo Leslie just for kicks.(***) Any bit of Pawnee’s colorful, embarrassing history is welcome, and this one gave us a whole lot. (Donna’s discovery that black people aren’t legally entitled to use the sidewalks in town narrowly edged out the story of the “frozen whore” for me.)
(***) I’m glad we can have Tammy sometimes appear in episodes that aren’t about her. Makes the character and Pawnee feel more lived-in, and so far the show hasn’t overused her. With a lot of special guest characters like this, there would be pressure to only put them into episodes revolving around them, but because Nick Offerman knows where Megan Mullally lives, I imagine it’s easier to just have her stop by for an hour every now and again.
For a long time, we’ve all been wondering how the show would get around the no-dating policy so that Leslie and Ben could be both lovers and co-workers. Instead, Ben’s out of a job, and I’m going to be very curious to see what the show does with him now. Can he work on Leslie’s campaign, or would that just shine an even brighter spotlight on what will be played as an indiscretion for her? Will he take over Ann’s old role as the normal person who’s friends with everyone in the parks department and hangs out all the time without actually working there? Does the shoeshine stand need a new operator? (And would Ben be any nicer to Kyle than Andy’s been?) Or will he just hang out at the house he shares with April and Andy wearing his Batman suit all day?
What did everybody else think? Now that these crazy kids have found love, but not professional compatibility, what do you want to see Ben doing now?