Review: ‘Parks and Recreation’ – ‘Women in Garbage’

Senior Television Writer
01.24.13 55 Comments

A review of tonight’s “Parks and Recreation” coming up just as soon as I text you about Michael Stipe…

After the high-concept hijinks of last week’s bachelor mega-party episode, “Parks and Rec” gets back to basics with “Women in Garbage, an episode with the usual structure of three storylines (plus a running gag involving Chris and Shauna Malwae Tweep) that offer a mix of the professional and personal. But the show has the basics down so pat – it has the fundamentals that Andy and Tom so badly lack on the basketball court – that it doesn’t need anything fancy to work. The night of a thousand bachelor parties was a treat, but I had plenty of fun just bouncing around Pawnee tonight.

The institutional sexism of Pawnee has been the subject of stray jokes in the past, but here it takes center stage in the Leslie story that gives the episode its title. The meeting where only men are sent to a meeting on bringing more women into government danced around the edges of current events – playing on the recent Congressional silliness where hearings about women’s reproductive health didn’t involve actual women being allowed to speak – without really being about that subject. Among the many things Amy Poehler does well is play Leslie reacting to people who fail to live up to her standards for the world, and that meeting provided plenty of opportunity for great reactions by both her and Aubrey Plaza.

Leslie and April’s stint as trash collectors, and then struggling to move the industrial fridge, was basic stuff as well, but with some good variations along the way, like April going through the trash of a woman she doesn’t like, or Leslie thinking that she could move the fridge by sneaking up on it. Even Leslie’s solution to the problem didn’t require a huge leap of imagination, but did make its point in an understated way about how women can handle things on their own.

Meanwhile, the Ron subplot revisited two combinations the show hasn’t used often, but which are always funny: Ron + Ann, and Ron + small children. Ron’s complete lack of knowledge/interest in the details of Ann’s life (and Ann’s hurt reaction to it) always works, and making Ann just as bad as Ron at relating to Diane’s daughters (“So, you guys like Coldplay?”) was an excellent note for Rashida Jones to play. With the garbage and basketball stories filming a lot on locations, this one made good use of the pre-existing parks department set for some amusing tableaux, like an exhausted Ron sitting on the floor while the girls paint his shoes red, or Jerry struggling with the keys while the girls cut each other’s hair on the other side of the door. And Nick Offerman’s pained, defensive delivery of “I LOVE NOTHING!” was a thing of beauty.

Speaking of still-bountiful comedic wells, we revisit the awkward marriage of Tom Haverford and sports, as well as Ben offering Tom knowledge for no gain (Andy at least gets to chug a bag of Skittles). Tom’s complete ignorance of all things athletic set up a great slapstick sequence at the gym, where he makes a mockery of the game and the three of them get badly outplayed by a bunch of kid. And of course, the basketball knowledge turns out to be less essential to Rent-A-Swag’s future than Tom’s glimpse of how Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook dress for post-game press conferences.

Nothing fancy. Just funny. Just “Parks and Recreation.”

Some other thoughts:

* Chris struggling to define his relationship with Shauna was essentially one joke, and was wisely deployed as such, with Chris occasionally interrupting the garbage plot to ask for advice on the subject. It has to be especially painful for a man who so loves the use of “literally” to be with a woman who uses words for a living and yet is being incredibly vague on this subject. And it touches on the generation gap without making that the whole point of things.

* In case you were wondering why Andy has been looking so large of late – particularly in the basketball scenes tonight – Chris Pratt intentionally gained around 60 pounds for a role in a Vince Vaughn movie. And given that Andy is always kind of a slob, “Parks and Rec” production didn’t exactly object to the move. In this episode, it really works; regular-sized Andy running over the kids would be funny enough, but king-sized Andy destroying them? Hilarious.

* Pratt’s most memorable line in “Zero Dark Thirty” was improvised, as was his funniest line in this episode: “Can I borrow $1500, and you’re not allowed to ask what for… Fireworks.”

* Always happy to see Emmy winner Bonnie Bartlett pop up on my TV, here as Pawnee’s first female city council member. The only way it would have been better was if they’d cast her husband William Daniels as one of Councilman Milton’s sexist old fossil colleagues.

What did everybody else think?

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