Review: ‘Parks and Recreation’ – ‘Galentine’s Day 2014’

A review of tonight's “Parks and Recreation” – which NBC almost casually renewed yesterday – coming up just as soon as I cap off a long con I'm pulling on Keith Sweat…

Oh, that was much better. Much, much better.

I wonder if the problem with the last few episodes has been less the age of the series and its central characters – though this is always a concern with any show at this stage – than with the age of certain concepts. This was the first episode in a few weeks to really have no material about how obnoxious and willfully ignorant the citizens of Pawnee are, and I don't think it's a coincidence that it was the best episode since “Anniversaries.” Once upon a time, the horribleness of the people of Pawnee was a great wellspring of humor for the show, but I think it's dried up – and has not been helped along by certain characters like Jamm. The show tends to do better when it focuses more on the relationships among the characters, which “Galentine's Day 2014” had in spades.

Before bringing back Rashida Jones for a brief but sweet cameo with baby Oliver – in which the friends take opposite sides of the Riggins/Saracen divide – the episode dealt at length with the hole that Beautiful Ann's departure has left in Leslie's life, and the unsurprisingly insane lengths Leslie will go to in order to fill it. It worked not only because it was acknowledging from the start that Leslie was going absurdly too far here, even by her usual standards (the Beautiful Ann conspiracy wall from the teaser was horrifying), but because it already understood the ways in which Donna, April and, yes, Ben (even if he can't discuss Sandra Bullock's skirt length) can each stand in for Ann's “ethnic hybrid energy” without turning into a copy of her. The collection of women assembled for the bogus Galentine's Day brunch was a good one – Ethel Beavers is always welcome, and I was only slightly disappointed that Evelyn (aka Fake Ann) somehow didn't win the contest – and I liked the pivot into being a therapy session for poor, damaged Shauna Malwae-Tweep. (Though wouldn't Chris have imprinted the value of Dr. Richard Nygard into her mind during the brief period when they dated?)

Ron and Andy's trip to the dentist, meanwhile, neatly played off of both Ron's adjustment to fatherhood – I can sadly relate to the bleak notion that “There is no quiet anymore. There is only 'Doc MacStuffins.'” – and to Andy's nature as an overgrown kindergartener. Now, we have reached a point with Andy Dwyer where is almost literally too stupid to function, and yet Chris Pratt is so endearing in the role, and the unexpected father/son chemistry between Ron and Andy so good, that I ultimately do not mind. And Ron's realization that being a father means he is never off-duty was sweet without undercutting his inherent Swanson-ness.

The tent negotiation subplot followed up on Ben and Jerry's bonding day in “Anniversaries” by having Ben – the latecomer to town and the only current cast regular who has never actually worked in the parks department – recognizing Jerry's strengths and getting fed up with the way the rest of the group treats him. On the one hand, I do think the group's relentless cruelty to Jerry goes too far – this year in particular with the shift to Larry, which takes the joke about no one using his real name go from passive to active mockery – but the idea that Ben will pull an “Oh captain my captain” and stand up on a chair in defense of the poor, clumsy, extremely flatulent guy was at least a step in the right direction. And Tom's disgust at having worn his straightforward deal fedora for a deal that proved to be anything but straightforward was perhaps the single funniest thing in a very funny, joke-dense episode of “Parks.”

What did everybody else think?