S4E14: Most sitcom episodes drawing on whatever time of year we're in as a theme (Halloween! Christmas! Hannukah! St. Patty's Day! Arbor Day!) usually fall flat for me. That said, I'm not sure Parks and Recreation has ever missed a beat for me when they've tackled the holidays. So when I realized the show was dabbling in the most romantic of days, Valentine's Day...well, my heart was aflutter. I do love the show, after all. Thankfully, they didn't break my heart, tonight's episode "Operation Ann" delivering on the laughs.
"Ann's not totally hideous, why does she need our help?" - April
February 13. Gal-entine's Day. The day where all the lady's can share their stories and hug it out. This year, most everyone in Leslie's life has a significant other—including herself. But for the first time in recent memory, Ann is sing and, frankly, not dealing with it well.
In an effort to cheer up her BFF, Leslie tasks everyone in the office with finding an eligible bachelor to bring along to the Valentine's mixer, as a potential hook-up for Ann. The results are as disastrous as you might expect: April brings her goth friend Oren; Tom recommends himself; Jerry accidentally hires a male gigolo. Even Leslie's picks are lackluster—Jeff, for instance, had to admit his sister was more beautiful than Ann. But in true Knope spirit, there was no resting until a suitor could be found.
Although earlier this season I was dying to get to the actual Knope 2012 election, after three episodes of solid campaigning, I am happy to see Parks take a break in favor of a little character TLC. I think the show is at its best when it's peppering its scenes with non-regular Pawnee citizens, and all of Ann's potential dating options were hilarious. A goofy episode, sure, but a welcome change of pace.
"Did you try f***?" - Ron
There's no surprise that celebrating Valentine's Day with Leslie Knope is not your run-of-the-mill romantic celebration, and Ben gets a full serving of crazed holiday traditions when he's sent on a V-Day scavenger hunt. With the help of Andy and Ron, Ben cracks the code of a cryptex ("from The Da Vinci Code, the first movie we watched on Starz HD), which sends the trio down a rabbit hole of riddles, a race across every familiar location in town. From the gay bar The Bump to J.J.'s Diner to a Snowglobe museum (which included a sweet cameo from Adam Scott's Party Down co-star Martin Starr!), the gents sweep Pawnee to find the final clue leading Ben to his epic date. The real winner of the chase? Ron. Boy, does he love riddles. Like a lot.
This episode more than others is a fury of jokes, almost all of them killing. Whether Ron is suffocating from enjoyment, Andy's picking up sticks that look like deer or the writers are throwing us Party Down fans a nice inside curveball, the show is sharp and on fire. One of the funnier half hours of the new year.
"Millicent Gergrich has literally torn my heart from my body, and replaced it with a thick slab of sadness. I may never smile again." - Chris
In last week's episode "Bowling for Votes," we saw Chris have his heartbroken by Jerry's daughter Millicent, and now Valentine's Day is slowly destroying the generally-chipper man. To cope, Chris volunteers to DJ the Valentine's social (plus he doesn't think Tom's recommendation of a DJ who wants to get everyone "wet with sound" is appropriate), and spends a majority of the mixer moping and playing music from the end of a movie where a monk kills himself. Not that danceable. But as Leslie notices as the night tapers off, Chris mysteriously slips away...
"How is your night unfolding? In terms of the conversations you're having with men." - Leslie
Realizing she doesn't have much of a chance, Ann takes off the from the dance, followed intently by a suspicious Leslie. Is her best friend sneaking away for a date? And with who? Could it be Chris!?
Putting two and two together (albeit against the discouraging words of April, who finally appears to be looking out for Ann), Leslie takes off to meet Ben at the final location (Lil' Sebastian's grave, how romantic!), then tracks Ann at her romantic rendezvous. The goal is to catch Chris and Ann in the act, an inner-office relationship Leslie and Ben can rub in Chris' face, but what they do find is even more shocking. Ann...and Tom...on a date.... April catches up with the two Peeping Tom's to clue them in. April set them up it seems, as Tom was really the only guy making Ann smile—so why not?
The episode concludes with Ann and Tom making small talk ("Go back to my place and snuggle up like little bunnies?" "No."), but what we have here might be potential for a new arc, a ripe Tom/Ann romance ready to blossom. Does our favorite loud-mouth and Pawnee's resident nurse/Parks Dept part-timer have a future, or is this going to fizzle out like the rest of Ann and Tom's relationships?
I'm crossing my fingers that love's in the air.