Review: ‘Parks and Recreation’ – ‘Ron and Diane’

Senior Television Writer
12.06.12 54 Comments

A review of tonight’s “Parks and Recreation” coming up just as soon as it’s about to get warm all up in my jazz…

I have no idea if there will be another season of “Parks and Rec” after this one.(*) Nor, I suspect, do Mike Schur and the other people making this show. But I get the sense watching this season that the writers are doing all the things they would want to in a final season, just in case. And because this is fundamentally a happy, optimistic show, that’s largely involved the characters finding happiness in different ways. 

(*) Maybe I’m just a wide-eyed optimist by nature (which is one of the many reasons I love “Parks and Rec”), but I’d say the odds favor at least one more season. Not that the ratings are good, but “The Office” is ending, “30 Rock” is ending, “Up All Night” is being perpetually retooled, and the only comedy on the schedule that seems a lock for renewal is “Goon.” I think NBC will be glad to be done with the era of low-rated critical darlings, but at the same time, they can’t cancel everything, and they own this one (though the lack of a big syndication deal so far doesn’t help), they get to employ Amy Poehler, etc.  

So Leslie and Ben are engaged, Tom is finally learning to balance his entrepreneurial spirit with some actual business savvy, April is finding things she cares about besides Andy, etc. And happiness abounded throughout the warm and funny “Ron and Diane.”

Even the title itself suggests a kind of ending. Season 2 gave us “Ron and Tammy,” season 3 “Ron and Tammy Part Two,” and season 4 “Ron and Tammys.” This, instead, was “Ron and Diane.” Tammy Two was still around to cause trouble (and to give the video pixellation software a real workout), but ultimately Ron is in a successful, healthy relationship with a woman who deservedly gets Leslie’s double thumbs-up. Tammy’s not a real threat, though she remains an amusing one, and it’s a sign of how strong things are with Diane that she’s more bothered by the emotional intimacy (by Swanson standards) he has with Leslie. That’s largely a misunderstanding, and one that Ron clears up very quickly by exposing Diane to his cool jazz cat alter ego Duke Silver – a running gag the show has wisely not overused, allowing it to have extra impact when used for a half-silly, half-sweet moment like that. Leslie yields her role as Ron’s emotional protector, but she doesn’t stop being his friend, meaning we can still have good stories between the two of them for as long as the show runs – and maybe even welcome Tammy back if the right idea comes along. And if not, Lucy Lawless isn’t a bad fallback position at all.

Meanwhile, Jerry’s holiday party offered emotional closure of all kinds. We got a reminder that Chris and Ben originally arrived in Pawnee as a team, as Ben got to witness the benefit that 15 therapy sessions a week with Dr. Richard Nygard is having on Chris’s fragile psyche. And with the introduction of Christie Brinkley as Jerry’s wife Gail, and the opulence and joy of the party itself, we were reminded that away from the office, Jerry has a damn perfect life, and one that makes whatever mortification he suffers there as both the schlemiel and schlemazel of the parks department utterly irrelevant. Even Tom, April and Andy seemed to recognize that Jerry’s too good a guy to deserve the constant mockery,(**) even if none of them realized they’d locked him out of his own party on a cold, cold night.

(**) I’m not sure it was planned this way, but Jerry – who was little more than a background extra in season 1 – turned into something of a comedy heat shield for Leslie in season 2. At the start of the series, remember, it was Leslie who was the target of Tom and April’s scorn, and one of the big improvements the show made over that first hiatus was making her co-workers acknowledge Leslie’s awesomeness (even as they didn’t understand her), so those two – and, later, Andy – needed somewhere else to direct their sarcasm.

And yet even as characters mature and change – even as Ron can entertain the thought of vacationing in Europe if it’s with Diane – “Ron and Diane” also demonstrated how much comic life there is in “Parks.” Ron’s delight at being at the woodworking awards was marvelous (Nick Offerman giggling is never not funny), as was Ben’s ongoing response to the reality of Gail Gergich, April’s complete lack of physical strength (and the way she deftly turned it into another excuse to mock Ann), the many embarrassing things (by Swanson standards) Leslie knows about Ron, the reaction of the women in the crowd to meeting Duke’s girlfriend, and a lot more.

if this show is going to be back next season, I think there are plenty of great stories and jokes to tell about the people of Pawnee. And either way, the remaining 13 episodes of season 5 look to be one long, happy, funny ride.

Some other thoughts:

* As a man of a certain age – who was a boy of an impressionable age when she appeared in “National Lampoon’s Vacation” –  I’m largely helpless to the charms of Christie Brinkley. She’s never really turned into much of an actress, but I think for this part the value that she brought as herself – that Jerry is married to Christie Brinkley – mattered more than her few line readings.

* As we know from her Kaitlin character on “SNL” (“Rick! Rick! Rick!”), Poehler is often at her best when she’s playing a character so enthusiastic that she leaps over the line into obnoxiousness, and it’s even more fun in Leslie/Ron scenes, because you can always tell that Leslie knows how much this bugs Ron, and that she takes no small pleasure in it.

* Also, Leslie’s Google alert for “Ron Swanson” finally paid off after seven years!

* “An Evening at the Improv with Ann Perkins: The Webseries.” Get on it, NBC and/or Rashida Jones.

* The In Memoriam clip reel at the awards was a nice touch, with the pictures of the coffins each man designed for himself before he died.

What did everybody else think?

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