S3E13-14: Holy shit.
So let's just take a moment and bask in the glory of all that is Parks and Recreation. Last night's pair of episodes were, well, nothing short of fantastic. They weren't perfect, as nothing ever can be considered "perfect," but they were about as damn close as you can get. It's somewhat sad that, in the rush of trying to wrap the season up in a timely matter following its late start, NBC has to squish two episodes in on one Thursday night, but this situation happened to work out pretty well. "The Fight" and "Road Trip" worked nicely as companion pieces, both illustrating two key relationships of Leslie's (Ann and Ben), and also, both showing the different sides of what Parks can offer: sometimes, it's wacky and ridiculous; and others, it's charming and sweet.
"K to N to O-P-E. She's the dopest little shorty in all Pawnee… Indiana." -Jean-Ralphio
In "The Fight," Tom throws a big party at the Snake Hole to test out his new 140 proof alcohol Snake Juice (don't worry, it has enough caffeine in it to keep you awake). Everybody shows up, everybody gets really, really hammered, Ron Swanson dances with a tiny hat and Jerry rides home on top of the car. Yup. On top of that awesome little synopsis, Leslie and Ann get in a huge, drunken fight ("You're stupid and you're drunk and you're stupid!") about whether or not Ann should interview for the open marketing PR position for the health department. Oh yeah, and Jean-Ralphio shows up, making up raps about everybody's names (including Chris, who loves it).
On a very basic level, what made this episode work so well was, simply, its silliness. But it wasn't silly in a way, like last week's "Eagleton", that it came off cartoonish or unrealistic. No, this week just fed the characters -- characters that we've come to get to know and love -- a bunch of booze and got them really wasted. And just like our friends in real-life, when people get really wasted, it's hilarious. I mean, it's why our culture can find nearly any type of event as a reason to drink. It's just fun. And so, seeing some of our favorite characters on television suck down booze and act like they're in their freshman year of college was just a treat.
But on a more sophisticated level than "drunk people are funny," "The Fight" worked because of how specific each character's goofiness got. Jean-Ralphio returns to, as stated earlier, deliver raps about each person's name but can't ever seem to end on the correct rhyme. Tom can't stop laughing at the fact that The Douche called Leslie and Ann lesbians on the radio. Ron brings hamburgers for breakfast/hangover solutions. Ann answers the door wearing snow pants. It's these types of eccentricities that make the show so funny. It's not that these people just got wasted or had really bad hangovers, it's that these people got wasted and had really bad hangovers in their own, very specific ways. If this episode had occurred earlier in the series, before we had time to really get to know the characters, I'm not sure it would have been as funny. But because we've had nearly three seasons to hang out with this crew, the pay off is that much better.
"What is this?" -Ben
"Whale sounds." -Leslie
The second episode of the night, entitled "Road Trip," featured a little less booze, but practically the same amount of comedy. As the name implies, at Chris' order, Leslie and Ben find themselves heading out on a road trip to try and convince the state to allow the Little League Championships in Pawnee. Before they leave, the sexual tension between the two is at an all-time high, as they're unable to have a conversation without slipping into mumbling and sweet-talking one another. When Chris decides to send them on the road trip, Leslie (and we can assume Ben, but he doesn't give us confirmation) is really, really nervous because, if something does happen, it poses a threat to their jobs (and we know how much Leslie Knope loves her job). So she does everything she can to make their trip awkward -- including making a terrible road trip mix CD full of whale sounds and banjo solos.
Meanwhile back in Pawnee, Tom has created a Newly Weds knock-off game called "Know Ya Boo," and accidentally ends up causing a big fight between April and Andy about the validity of Mouse Rat as the "greatest band in the world" (Sidenote: how hilarious was Tom as a game show host? Man, I'd love to see Aziz Ansari host an episode of The Price is Right). April goes to Ann for help -- despite wanting to hate her so much -- and ends up solving the problem: April learns a Mouse Rat song and sings it to Andy.
Back on the road, Ben and Leslie are successful at the meeting (thanks to Ben's love of Pawnee) and they go to dinner to celebrate. With their chemistry sparking, Leslie calls Ann to try and talk herself out of it, but ends up deciding to just "make out with his mouth" anyway, but as soon as she returns -- Chris is there! The two are forced to return to their awkward, sexually tension-filled relationship for the remainder of the trip. But when they get home, when Chris is out of the office, Ben finally makes the move: he kisses Leslie.
With "Road Trip," we saw a different side of Parks, but the comedy was still funny nonetheless. It wasn't necessarily as ridiculous or goofy as "The Fight" and the plot felt, admittedly, a little more sitcom-y than I like, but I'm willing to let both of those facts slide because of two reasons: a.) we finally see development in one of the series' overarching plots without the writers jumping the shark; and b.) it was fucking funny. Leslie and Ben -- the driving part of much of the awkwardness this season -- finally closed the deal. Well, I don't know about closed the deal, but they finally recognized each others' feelings and actually kissed. What's next? I'm not sure. We'll probably find out next week, and even though some fans have been screaming for the two of them to get together for the majority of this season, I think it's smart that the writers are taking their time with it. Now, they've plotted it so even though, yes, Ben and Leslie won't have the awkward "Do they like me?" tension anymore, we now have the "Holy shit, will we get caught and lose the jobs that we love?" element.
Moreover, "Road Trip" used a similar technique of humor as "The Fight": specificity. Ron Swanson explains the government by eating a little girl's lunch. Leslie tries to make things not sexual with Ben by talking about the dorm rooms at John Hopkins University (a school she didn't even attend). Tom plays the game show music from his iPhone. All of these elements are very, very specific details and they are what gives a show like Parks its humor -- even though it may tread down a sitcom plot that we've seen numerous times before -- and makes it one of the top comedies on television.