A review of tonight's “Parks and Recreation” coming up just as soon as my dog's Jewish…
How interesting that two of the last three episodes have had names pegging them as sequels to past episodes. It's not that it can't be done in sitcoms – “The Office” did a Christmas variant each year, and Mike Schur's beloved “Cheers” did a whole bunch of “Bar Wars” episodes – but that it can set the bar incredibly high. The original “Galentine's Day,” while probably not in many fan's top 10 episodes lists, is still awfully good, and if the first “Flu Season” isn't at the top of everyone's list, it's going to be awfully close. It's the single funniest episode the show's ever done, with the single funniest line, arguably Chris Pratt's funniest improv, and Amy Poehler's funniest performance in the run of the show. When you call an episode “Flu Season 2,” you are raising expectations to an unfair level.
But very wisely, “Flu Season 2” quickly pivots away from any sequelization attempts to become something very different. There are a few flu jokes early on, including poor Jerry being forced to work inside a tent, but the bulk of the cast is healthy throughout, and Leslie's vomiting turns out not to be a flu recurrence, but the first symptom of pregnancy. It's misdirection: we're so busy waiting for the 2014 version of “I'm Leslie Monster, and this is 'Nightline,'” that it doesn't even occur to us at first that her nausea is part of a different sitcom trope altogether.
And it's a trope I'm eager to see “Parks and Rec” explore, especially since next year is likely to be the final one. Babies can be problematic for sitcoms that weren't previously about parents and kids, but for less than a full season (assuming Leslie even gives birth before the finale), it can work. And I'd like to see what happens when the irresistible force of Leslie Knope's superhuman energy meets the immoveable, attention-starved, sleep-destroying object that is an infant. Does she put other sitcom moms to shame with her ability to juggle everything, or will Leslie Jr. prove to be her Kryptonite?
Either could be fun, and the episode nicely set up both Leslie and Ben's reaction to the news. Though Ben didn't get sick, his massive drunkenness from the blueberry wine essentially let Adam Scott play some similar notes to Poehler in the first “Flu Season” (and, like, “Partridge,” was a reminder that he plays drunk very well), and his reactions to Eagleton Ron(*) were priceless. But his frustration over the loss of the family lake house put him in the perfect position to respond well to Leslie's news, just as Andy inadvertently made Leslie realize she's ready to have kids. (The confusion over Andy's puppy petting gesture was hilarious, even as I knew from the start of his speech that it would seem like he was talking about parenthood when he meant something else entirely.)
(*) When Eagleton Ron started talking about whether Ben's conception of time is linear or circular, I realized that he is not only Ron Effing Swanson's doppelganger, but Rust Cohle's.
Beyond that, “Flu Season 2” was just a very funny and sweet episode of “Parks,” packed with strong throwaway gags (the pregnancy test is called “Womb There It Is”), satire (the shameless patriotic pandering inserted at random into all of Chipp's songs), and good character moments for relationships both long-established (Donna funding April's attempt to subvert the sommelier competition) and newer (the group trying to convince Craig to take it down a notch or 12). Plus, Andy Dwyer got to duet with Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy as the Land Ho lead singer, which was very nice.
So, no, not an instant “Parks” Hall of Fame contender, but much stronger and more distinctive than one might have expected from the title. And a potentially big new wrinkle for next season, since a Knope baby wouldn't be backgrounded quite as easily as John (Middle Name Redacted) Swanson.
What did everybody else think?