‘Parks and Recreation’ – ‘Media Blitz’: Ice town clown rebounds?

Senior Television Writer
02.17.11 75 Comments

A review of tonight’s “Parks and Recreation” coming up just as soon as I look you up on AltaVista…

“Look, who hasn’t had gay thoughts?” -Ben

In comedy, there tend to be straight men who set up the jokes (or react to them) and comics who deliver the jokes. Rare but special is the actor who can do both – who can be the sane and deadpan center of the madness but can also go convincingly, amusingly mad. It’s not a surprise that many of my all-time favorite comedies feature just such an actor – Ted Danson on “Cheers,” Dave Foley on “NewsRadio” and Jason Bateman on “Arrested Development,” to name three – nor that my favorite current comedy has two of them in Amy Poehler and now Adam Scott.

Because of the roles they play on the show, and because of their past reputations, Poehler’s better known as the daffy one, and Scott as the straight man, but some of the series’ best episodes largely feature Leslie as the foil to Ron or Tom or Andy. And though Scott’s job for his first six episodes on the series has been to react to the lunatics of Pawnee, with “Media Blitz” he gets to go bananas, and is unsurprisingly fantastic at it.

Ever since the writers introduced Ben’s backstory as a teen mayor(*), I’ve been waiting for it to come back up as something to embarrass him. Because when you’re a public figure (or semi-public, in Ben’s case) in this day and age, every embarrassing detail of your life is only a Google – or, in the case of Pawnee, AltaVista(**) – click away. And the moment of discovery – and Ben’s complete mental flameout over it – was everything I had hoped it would be, and more.

(*) Which, according to Mike Schur in the recent Entertainment Weekly cover story, was originally something they were thinking of for Leslie.

(**) Ah, AltaVista. So many memories of random web searches in my college days. AltaVista technically still exists, but the one aspect of it that I kept using even after Google eclipsed it as the search engine of choice – Alta’s Babelfish translator – was bought out by Yahoo! I still have the AltaVista link to it in my bookmarks somewhere.

When Ben first appeared, I suggested the teen mayor thing was a bit like his “Party Down” character’s embarrassing history as reciter of a famous ad jingle (“Are we having fun yet?”). That character’s past came back to haunt him early and often, so it could have felt familiar when it happened to Ben. But Ben Wyatt isn’t Henry Pollard – where Ben is trying to rewrite his life story so that “teen mayor” isn’t in the first line of his obit, Henry has largely given up and is largely resigned to “Are we having fun yet?” – and the depth, breadth and insanity of Ben’s reaction was like nothing Scott ever got to do on “Party Down.” (And that was a show on which Scott got to do many, many, many funny things – like this NSFW clip where a high-on-Ecstasy Henry critiques the grammar of a porn video box blurb.)

I’ve seen this episode twice, and I still can’t decide which freakout I prefer: Ben unable to form words in front of Ira & The Douche(***), or Ben spazzing out on “Ya’ Heard with Perd.” I suppose I have to take the latter, not only for the line quoted above, but for the way we got to experience a miserable Ben watching the clip after the fact, which provided a hilarious payoff to the earlier running gag about Ron trying to encapsulate the spirit of melancholy in a photograph. But both were fantastic bits of physical, verbal, emotional comedy from Scott.

(***) Played by, respectively, Matt Besser and “The League” star Nick Kroll, as a very “Simpsons”-esque parody of the inane, crude state of modern radio. Plus, The Douche’s nickname was the gift that kept on giving, as when Shauna Malwae-Tweep told Leslie, “The Douche blew the story wide open!”

My only problem with the Ben storyline is that it felt like Leslie turned the tide a bit too easily. Yes, Leslie has a history of taking over Joan Callamezzo’s show to serve her own agenda (see last season’s “Park Safety,” where she and the Andy Samberg character started talking about “Avatar”), but the show’s audience and, specifically, Joan, haven’t always shown to be as easily tractable. It just seemed like we were coming to the end of a very busy episode – featuring three different disastrous interviews and subplots for both Andy/April/Ron and Ann/Chris – they needed to wrap it up, and so Leslie somehow guilted the evil Joan into blurting out about the gym teacher, and the tenor of the calls turned instantly.

Still, I’ll let an iffy resolution slide if it’s accompanied by all the other laughs that “Media Blitz” contained.

Some other thoughts:

• April and Andy reunite in a terrific moment for Aubrey Plaza, who’s so committed to the cool and distant persona most of the time that it’s extra-effective whenever April melts and displays happiness. Beyond that, that subplot was wonderful for giving us more Andy and Ron after their delightful bonding in “The Flu,” which in turn gave us the aforementioned “sad desk” running gag.

• Andy doing April’s jobs also gave us one of those great glimpses of the crazy, intense people who show up at city hall, this time with the guy in a hurry to post signs about his missing bird, because, “There’s no time! HE CAN FLY!”

• Ann’s insecurity about Chris continues to be a good source of humor, as does the way he’s slowly turning her into a female version of himself. The sight gag of April finding Ann balancing on his back to maximize her core’s elasticity was great, and it was only nostalgic love of AltaVista that prevented this review from coming up “just as soon as I define your Bagua.”

• So in the premiere, we learn that Tom bought sneakers at Lady Foot Locker with his employee discount, and now we know he shows up at Brooks Brothers Boys. What next?

• Though I have ridden many normal-sized roller coasters, I would not object to the opportunity to stretch out my legs in a plus-sized one.

What did everybody else think?

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