A review of tonight’s “Parks and Recreation” double-feature coming up just as soon as my favorite book is “Downton Abbey”…
NBC’s weird scheduling of the show this month(*) means we again get two episodes that weren’t designed to air together, but which accidentally function well as a unit. After kicking Leslie in the teeth for much of last season and the start of this, she finally gets a pair of wins over Jamm in her last few days as a councilwoman, with a lot of help from Tom in “Fluoride” and Chris in “The Cones of Dunshire.” And assuming Leslie will be back in the parks department full-time(*), we end up with a promising new status quo for the post-Lowe/Jones era, with Ben anointed to take over as city manager, and to be Leslie’s boss again.
(*) Expanding on a thought I expressed in the comments of this post, I’m ultimately not concerned about the scheduling and what it says for the show’s future. Originally, 10 episodes were going to air in the fall; instead, there will be 9, which winds up being exactly as many as aired last fall. NBC’s doing it in a strange way, but the show is airing. And while it’s entirely possible this could be the last season, 7 seasons of “30 Rock,” 5 seasons of “Chuck,” 5 seasons of “Friday Night Lights” (albeit with some help from DirecTV), 6 seasons and counting of “Parks” and 5 seasons and counting of “Community” have taught me that you can never predict what’s truly in trouble at NBC.
(**) Weirdly, Leslie refers several times to the idea of her and Ben both being unemployed soon, even though she’s been splitting time between the part-time council job and her position as Ron’s deputy.
Where I felt last week’s episodes got a little too caught up in satirizing real-life politics and celebrity, these episodes were much stronger as a whole. “Fluoride” dealt with fear-mongering over facts and science, but in a more general way, and was also a rare but welcome example of Tom applying his genuine skills and interests to his day job.
“The Cones of Dunshire,” meanwhile, did better by Jamm than the show often has. I like Jon Glaser a lot, but Jamm is such an unapologetically awful human being that I’ve preferred him in small doses, if at all. But I liked seeing a glimpse of his very weird and pathetic home life, and his gender-reversed duet with Leslie of “Summer Nights” from “Grease” was a highlight of the evening.(***)
(***) It also meant that Amy Poehler has worn a memorable costume of some sort (if we count the lime green pantsuit) in each of the past four episodes.
But what made “The Cones of Dunshire” especially pleasurable was the spotlight it shone on Ben. Because the cast is for now so big, and because Adam Scott is such a great straight man, Be goes through long stretches where all he does is react with befuddlement or horror to others around him. This episode was a hilarious reminder of what a massive nerd he is: the kind that other nerds like Barney and his accounting firm would idolize (or, in Frank’s case, envy). The streamlining of the cast and Ben’s impending new job should give him more to do, though I hope there’s an opportunity for Barney to come back every now and again.
The episodes started preparing us for Chris and Ann’s move to Michigan in other ways. Chris provides a massive farewell present to Leslie, and before that gets some more advice from Ron. Ann, meanwhile, is absent entirely – though she provides the inspiration for Leslie to want to secure the future of Pawnee Commons before leaving office – and that in turn provides yet another opportunity for the show to move Donna closer to center stage. The spirit animals plot in “Fluoride” deals straight-on with the way that Donna has always held the rest of the parks staff (other than maybe) Tom at arms length, while also offering April another opportunity for both growth and hugs. And after Donna and Ron got along so well last week in “Filibuster,” it was nice to see them paired up for the cabin sale story and to be reminded of just how wildly different their worldviews are. (And of course April winds up with the cabin; before Diane and her girls came along, April was the closest thing Ron had to a daughter.)
That’s it for “Parks” until January 9, but this was a very satisfying note to end 2013 on. Given that the original plan was to air one more episode in this calendar year, I wonder if the next one will feel more like a mid-season finale than a mid-season premiere.
Some other thoughts:
* Ron’s rule that all conversations must end with 100 words is something I hope comes up again in the future.
* Also, what do you suppose Ron does with his two secret cabins?
* Billy Eichner appears again as Craig, whom I suppose the show will use as needed. I doubt Eichner was doing anything different from his performance in “Doppelgangers,” but Craig felt a bit more cartoonish in “Fluoride,” simply because the episode and story he was featured in this time wasn’t quite as big and broad as Ron, April and the others dealing with their Eagleton counterparts.
* What does Ben’s job change mean for Andy, who’s still working for the Sweetums Foundation over in England? And how will show deal with the non-fraternization rule now that Ben is city manager and his wife (in theory) still works for the parks department?
* Another unplanned linkage between the two episodes: metaphor jokes! Loved Ron’s belief that “Moby Dick” is just a straightforward sea story.
* Chris standing up in response to Leslie’s request to help battle Jamm was a very Sam Seaborn move, and then nicely undercut by him saying no.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com