A review of tonight's “Parks and Recreation” coming up just as soon as I listen to a TED talk by the color beige…
On the whole, I didn't find “The Wall” nearly as successful as last week's “Anniversaries,” even though both spent a lot of time on the Pawnee-Eagleton conflict. Ron bringing his son John (middle name redacted) to work was fun – and the fact that the birth happened off camera, as a complete surprise to Leslie and the others, fits both Ron Swanson's philosophy regarding personal information and the show's tendency to race through big life cycle events as quickly as possible – but there was too much Jamm, too much Craig (who works best in concentrated doses), and I'm in general less fond of episodes built largely around how terrible the people of Pawnee and/or Eagleton are. I understand that in this case, it was supposed to provide some conflict for Leslie as she considers this amazing new job offer (more on that in a moment), but there's a joyousness to “Parks” when it's at its best – the kind we got last week, for instance, in the competitive anniversary gift story, or in Ron's pleasure at becoming an analog Yelp reviewer – that gets elbowed aside when the show is dealing with the pettiness of one or both of these towns.
What's most interesting, though, is the way that the writers are very clearly casting about for a good balance of what these characters are up to at this stage in their careers and the show's lifespan. There is no way Leslie would not or should not take the job she's been offered with the National Park service, except that she's the lead of a show based in Pawnee that's likely coming back for another year. Ben is on his third job of the season (Sweetums Foundation executive, accountant, and now City Manager), Tom is starting up his fourth (Rent-A-Swag owner, his regular position working for Leslie and Ron, Pawnee business liaison, and now running a restaurant). April and Donna are juggling multiple gigs within the city government, Jerry retired but then came back as an intern or something because the show was continuing, Andy is (I think) Ben's assistant again, etc. Some of these characters would be fine staying in the positions they're in, and staying in Pawnee, while others are still here because it's where “Parks and Recreation” is set. I'm definitely not eager to say goodbye to these characters and this world, but if we're talking of “Parks” as the story of the super ambitious Leslie Knope, it should have either already ended with her leaving town, or radically reinvented itself with her leaving town (and various characters improbably following her to Chicago, Washington, or wherever).
You'll note that the one character who has not bounced from job to job – even when offered the chance by Chris at the end of the election arc – is Ron. Ron is easy, and something of a perfect sitcom character, because Ron is always Ron, and neither wants nor needs to change. (In that regard, Schur was right not to have him take Chris up on his offer, even if it would have introduced a new Ron vs. Leslie dynamic to the series.) He has a new wife, two stepdaughters and now a baby son, but he remains fundamentally Ron and has no need to go anywhere else or do anything else. Which is very valuable to a show of this age, in the same way that “Cheers” needed a bunch of barflies with lives that could understandably be centered around the bar. (It wasn't until the very end of the series that they dealt with things like Woody running for office, Norm getting a real job, Rebecca getting married, etc.)
But when you're dealing with someone like Leslie – even when you factor in her deep love of this town and her ability to improve it – it becomes trickier and trickier to keep her in place for years on end. Assuming we do get one more season, I expect the show can have a lot of fun steering each and every character towards the happy ending of his or her choice. But I listened to Grant make his job pitch to Leslie, and all I could think was that it would be silly for her to not take it, even if her life and friends are in Pawnee.
What did everybody else think? Did you laugh at the bee attack? Enjoy the introduction of Seth Morris as an obnoxious Eagleton TV reporter? Melt at Ron teaching his baby about power tools? Wonder how the show will keep Leslie from moving to Chicago for another year?