‘Parks and Recreation’ – ‘Pawnee Rangers’: Treat yo’self!

Senior Television Writer
10.13.11 120 Comments

A review of tonight’s “Parks and Recreation” coming up just as soon as I Google those rat tumors…

“I’ve created a mob of little Leslie Knope monsters. I’m so proud, and a little annoyed, but mostly proud.” -Leslie

It’s easy to write a joke about someone who can’t do something very well. (Or, at least, it’s as easy as writing most jokes – which is to say not very.) That’s why so many characters in comedies are doofuses, or klutzes, or placed in positions to perform tasks for which they’re poorly-qualified. It’s much harder to wring laughs out of someone who’s good at something, and yet “Parks and Recreation” has consistently managed to do just that out of the hyper-competence of Leslie, Ron and, more recently, Chris.

With each character, the trick seems to be to illustrate the perceived madness that goes hand-in-hand with their abilities. Ron Swanson is brilliant at whatever he chooses to do, but his choices in what to do and not do often reveal him to be a lunatic (or, at least, a man with a very extreme moral code). And Leslie’s boundless energy often veers into mania; she’s also great at everything (and acknowledged as such by everyone around her), but she also lacks impulse control and takes various projects way too far. As Ann and the parks department staffers have all learned time and again, Leslie Knope is awesome, but there’s a thin line between awesome and really damn annoying sometimes, you know?

The show has often gotten good comic mileage out of pitting Leslie’s optimism against Ron’s misanthropy, and the main story of “Pawnee Rangers,” the series’ 50th episode, neatly put them into conflict in an arena where they were each the best that they could be – but where Leslie ultimately takes her desire to achieve victory over Ron too far, and has to find a way to make it up to her beloved boss.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I would gladly choose being a Pawnee Goddess over a Pawnee Ranger. Where Ron’s approach certainly would leave his charges better-equipped to survive in the wilderness (or a post-zombie apocalypse or other kind of disaster), it’s not nearly as much fun as Capture the Flag, a s’mores-off and a puppet show about the Bill of Rights set to “Party in the USA.” The contrast between the two approaches was funny in and of itself, but the comedy kicked up a notch when Leslie’s experiment grew beyond her control and her Goddesses(*) insisted on letting the boys (and Andy) join. And then we got a simple, honest, slightly sad conversation between Leslie and Ron, followed by Leslie coming up with the kind of solution that may not have worked in the real world, but was great here, in finding the kinds of kids who want to be Ron Effing Swanson when they grow up. Ron’s smile as he told the young Swansons that “This will be no fun at all” was a thing of beauty.

(*) Note, by the way, that being a Pawnee Goddess supervisor is the one role so far where Leslie doesn’t worship at the alter of the beautiful Ann Perkins. Funny to see Ann continually fail to impress Leslie for once.

The “treat yo’self” B-story was, in addition to being the series’ best Donna showcase to date, another good example of how well “Parks and Recreation” mixes the salty with the sweet. It had a lot of the usual fun with Tom mocking Ben’s nerdier qualities, and Ben only digging himself in deeper (Ben’s “Game of Thrones” defense: “They’re telling human stories in a fantasy world!”), yet ultimately allowed Tom and Donna to be kind to Ben, let him explain the source (if not all the details) of his sadness. It helped, of course, that Ben’s emotional breakthrough came while he was wearing a Batman costume(**), but it was about time that the show dealt with the downside of Ben’s magnanimous gesture at the end of the season premiere. It’s great that Ben was willing to step aside to let Leslie pursue her dreams, but it kinda sucks that he still lives and works there and can’t be with her anymore. The two characters have had almost no interaction the last few weeks, and I wonder how long that will continue, or if his catharsis will let him find a way to hang out with her without feeling depressed.

(**) Adam Scott is a very trim dude, so it was funny to see how unflattering the costume was on him. I can imagine a lot of “Does this cowl make me look fat?” conversations on the set that day. 

The C-story with Jerry and Chris was a bit of a dud – other than again making it clear that Jerry’s doing just fine in his non-work life – but if you consider 50 episodes a significant landmark, then “Pawnee Rangers” as a whole worked very well as an anniversary episode celebrating so many of the things “Parks and Rec” does well.

What did everybody else think?

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