A review of tonight's “Parks and Recreation” coming up just as soon as we as a culture agree to forget the year we were into swing…
Had “Prom” just featured the unholy union of Leslie's teenage protege Allison (aka France from the Model U.N. episode) and her teenage nemesis Greg Pikitis (from the great season 2 episode of the same name that introduced Burt Macklin, and who is now likely college-age), it probably would have been enough (dayenu!) for me to feel happy with it.(*) But “Prom” was a very good episode overall – maybe a bit too busy and/or messy, but with a bunch of nice character stories and running gags folded in before we got to Pikitis' spine-tingling, peach-eating return.
(*) You may recall that when I sat in on a brainstorming session in the “Parks” writers room a few years ago, Chelsea Peretti (now playing Gina on Mike Schur's other show) pitched the idea of Pikitis coming back to blackmail Leslie. Schur tells me that, “He's probably been pitched, in small stories and big, fifty times since that episode aired. I've always resisted, on the theory that unless you have a better story than the original, best to let sleeping dogs lie. But this one — and I honestly don't remember who pitched it — was too good to turn down. (Especially since it merges the fates of Pikitis and France from Model U.N., which makes for a neat little piece of Pawnee trivia.)”
As we've gotten quite a bit of this year, the main plot was cobbled together from ideas the show's used before, combining the occasional Leslie vs. Ron battle with yet another story where Leslie can't leave well enough alone despite ample warning to cool it. Leslie vs. Ron is one of those dynamics that the creative team has been really judicious in using, given that this could easily be the underlying premise of the show: a sunny, outgoing believer in the value of big government constantly butting heads with her misanthropic libertarian boss. I think that's probably a very good show right there, especially given the Poehler and Offerman of it, but it feels more special because it's only an occasional thing, which in turn allows us to appreciate the love and respect these two ordinarily have for each other and how awry things go when their philosophies clash this directly. They've done funnier iterations of this idea (“Woman of the Year” probably is still the best), but Ron's plan to get Allison a job at the sawmill because he once did the owner a favor – “I built his sawmill” – was hilarious, and the scene where Ron explained his numerical system for cataloging Leslie's craziness was just so sweet and lovely.
And having the parks department organize the prom allowed the supporting characters to grapple amusingly with how much they've changed (or haven't) since high school. Ben gets another bit of redemption from his Ice Town Clown days when it turns out that his R.E.M. and Weezer (which are as much “classic rock” to these kids as the Stones or Zeppelin would have been to Ben) goes over much better with the teenagers than Tom's collection of hip-hop bangers. (And I need an enlarged screen cap of Tom's chart for determining what song is a banger, please.)
Andy and April's subplot, meanwhile, dealt with something the show only occasionally touches on in their relationship, in the way that they're every bit as opposite in their personalities and history as Leslie and Ron. We have ample evidence that they're happy together even though she's smart and dour and he's stupid and exuberant, but you can also see how the high school setting would remind April of how miserable she was back then. Plus, it gave us the creepy spectacle of Orrin as April's mom and the adorable spectacle of Champion as her dad.
Add in various other stray gags like Ron's cell phone, Andy's “Expendables 2” analogy (“It's just not good”) and more adventures from Donna's dating life, both past and present, and then close it off with the return of Pikitis, and you've got yourself a dandy episode of “Parks and Rec.”
What did everybody else think?