A review of tonight's “Parks and Recreation” coming up just as soon as I have a strong opinion on pockets…
Though all of this season's episodes were made before NBC decided to air two a week, it's been eerie how often it's felt like the various double features were designed to run together. And as the one episode of the season to air without a companion (because thirteen divided by two equals six and a half), “Donna and Joe” felt designed to have as much plot as any two previous episodes combined.
Technically, there were only three basic stories, as there tend to be in most “Parks” episodes: the wedding of the two title characters, Jen Barkley returning to talk Ben into running for Congress, and Ron inadvertently causing tension in Tom and Lucy's relationship. But any “Parks” wedding episode – and these were by far the most traditional nuptials the show has given us so far(*) – has a lot going on, and this one also offered us multiple Meagles (including Ginuwine, first established as one of Donna's cousins in season 4's “Sweet Sixteen,” and Questlove as Donna's oft-mentioned brother Lavondrius), Rachel Dratch as Leslie and Ben's overworked nanny Roz, Craig and April doing different kinds of wedding coordination, and even Donna's childhood best friend Michelle, whose relationship Leslie describes – in phrasing that could apply to the whole episode – as “a very complicated tapestry.”
(*) Time to rank your “Parks” weddings, folks. I would probably go Leslie/Ben first, Ron/Diane second (less sweet than the others, but so funny because of Leslie's horrified reactions to the whole thing), April/Andy third (though the combination of goofiness and sweetness gives it a good argument to be in first place), and Donna/Joe fourth. I don't believe we actually see Ron and Tammy II's nuptials in “Ron and Tammy Part II,” but even if we did, the best adjective to describe that (re)union would be “unholy.” UPDATE: Having slept on it, I can't believe I ranked April and Andy so low. I blame recency bias. Now I'll go 1)April/Andy, 2)Leslie/Ben, 3)Ron/Diane, 4)Donna/Joe.
The episode was so busy that Keegan-Michael Key didn't get a whole lot to do as Joe, and the Ben story mostly played as set-up for the back half of this final season, and as something I'd have rather held for another episode in a season that had more episodes to play with. But there were a bunch of lovely small moments throughout, from April realizing that Donna actually wanted some Meagle drama at her reception to the wink Donna gives Garry after she has succeeded in tricking the others into finally referring to him by his real name. (Mike Schur and Jim O'Heir kept insisting that the Jerry/Larry/Terry thing was going to have a satisfying payoff, and they were not lying.)
And if Jen recruiting Ben at times felt like it was upstaging the wedding, it's also an interesting idea for the season's back half. If Jen had asked Leslie to run, it would have felt both been there, done that, but like something Leslie wouldn't want to do at this point in her career. Having Ben stare down his Ice Town demons, this time with his superhumanly supportive wife by his side, could be a lot of fun.
Ron interfering in Tom and Lucy's relationship didn't entirely feel like the kind of thing he would do, but the fact that it was happening around the wedding of Donna and Joe – a couple he helped bring together last season, in an episode where Donna pointed out how marrying Diane had changed him – helped make it work. And since we seem to be heading for happy endings for everyone, why not a lifetime of matching outfits for Tom and Lucy?
Some other thoughts:
* Always a treat to have Kathryn Hahn blow in for an episode or two as Jen, here taking great pains to remind Leslie and Ben at every opportunity that she is not burdened with small children.
* I like the idea that Lavondrius kept the microwave all those years, just waiting for the right opportunity to smash it in front of his sister.
* Ginuwine isn't primarily an actor by trade, but his wounded reaction when Craig started singing at the reception instead of letting him perform was nicely played.
* I'm surprised it took this long for Dratch to turn up on “Parks,” and she did a good job conveying the sense of overwhelmed terror that Roz goes through every day with these kids. I'm also okay if this episode is the only one to feature the little monsters for the rest of the run.
What did everybody else think?