S4E8: Every episode of Parks and Recreation—even the very worst episode of Parks and Recreation—is still a chuckle-worthy, syrup-slathered delight that is the rare combination of both clever and life-affirming and sweet. That’s the worst case scenario for this show: a few laughs and some smiles. So how, pray tell, would I describe this show at its best? Much like what is buried in Ron Swanson’s backyard: gold.
This week’s episode of Parks and Recreation is such a magical delivery after last week’s meager-for-the-show/terrific-by-all-other-standards episode. It’s not a particularly complicated episode, but it’s an episode that embraces everything that is just right about each of its major characters: Leslie’s unwillingness to accept anything but perfection, Tom’s sky-high ambition to be the greatest businessman who ever lived (which I worried was dead after his return to the Parks department), Andy’s wide-eyed misunderstanding/love of pretty much everything on Earth, and Ron Swanson’s ability to coexist perfectly with while completely rejecting altogether the world entirely. Any problems there? Of course not.
"Anne, your quiet support means the world to me. As well as your tacit endorsement of all my behaviors." - Leslie
Leslie has taken on the conquest of creating the smallest park in all of Indiana for Pawnee, which is literally just a few feet large. A project so insignificant (to anyone but Leslie) seems capable of breezing by without conflict, which means it will be over in a jiffy. The only problem here: Ben explains to Leslie that due to the emotional difficult of working with her, after the Smallest Park project is over, he will be requesting to Chris that he no longer work with her or the Parks Dept. So how does Leslie handle this? Draw out the Smallest Park project as long as humanly Lesliely possible. It is things like this—these incredibly innocent yet somehow decidedly ingeniously crafted schemes that make Leslie Knope the most unbelievably likable character in modern fiction. Obviously, her plan goes awry and ends up making Ben even more upset with her. He calls her a steamroller for neglecting his feelings in favor of her own, which Anne confirms (in the most supportive way possible).
After deliberating the matter, Leslie apologizes to Ben and offers him complete freedom from her…or, and here’s where your eyes might start welling up, the two can put it all on the line, come clean and try for a real relationship. Sure, it might sabotage Leslie’s lifelong goal of running for office. But Leslie is willing to take that chance. As I said, she’s clever, ingenious and terrifically strong, but Leslie is nothing if not a romantic whose heart is oh so prone to melting. Their quiet, slow-paced final scene has real kick to it. It’s not sappy, it’s serious and heartfelt, much like many of the sweet moments on this show. I don’t know what will happen from here on out, but I’ve never been more invested (and believe me, I’ve been quite invested). One final thought about this storyline: Leslie trying unsuccessfully to provoke conflict in a public forum filled with the regular nut jobs who always cause her department grief—this is the sort of thing that fans of the show can’t help but feel rewarded watching. Thank you, show.
"This is our current community center...and this is our new community center! That's right—it looks like an Apple store!" - Tom
I was very afraid of what might happen to Tom once he returned to the Parks Department. Sure, he’s funny here. But are we going to be expected to cast away his dreams and allow him to return to his sardonic slacker role? Graciously, apparently not. Although Tom is back in his old position, he applies a new zest and flare to the job now, realizing he can utilize his creativity and business sense right here in the Parks Dept. Jerry plays the foil, recommending complacency and telling Tom kindly that the government is no place for his flashy, stylized antics. However, Jerry inadvertently inspires Tom to reinvent the department’s logo, channeling a limited-time retro style from Jerry’s early days in the department. Tom and Jerry have never had a rapport beyond mockey, and although Jerry didn’t do much in the way of actively trying to help Tom achieve his goal, and Tom’s acknowledgement of Jerry’s contribution was backhandedly complimentary at best, it is still kind of a nice moment for the two of them. They both seem pleased, anyhow. I guess that’s how things role at Tommy’s Place.
"Of all of my coworkers, Andy is one of a small number whom I do not actively root against." - Ron
Andy Dwyer, April Ludgate and Ron Swanson take the day off to go to college. I would pay inordinate sums of money to see that three-hour movie. But I’ll gladly settle for rewatching this episode’s B-story, in which Andy, on a quest for self-betterment, decides to enroll in one class at the local college. April wants Andy to choose something he’s already excellent at (i.e., guitar—by the way, it’s kind of warming to see Andy as the best in the room at something; the scene wherein he casually shows off his knowledge of and talent at the guitar really makes me feel good for the character, and proves that he has more value than just goofy one-liners), while Ron suggests that he find something new in order to genuinely learn.
Ron recounts a story when his own father insisted that Ron work at the steel mill instead of pursuing a college education, but that he neglected his father’s wishes and paid his own way through college. Ron is adamantly averse to just about everything on Earth, so to watch him genuinely proclaim his steadfast value of a good education is really intriguing to me. It’s easy to take a character like Ron, a hypermasculine, old-fashioned woodsy type and lock him into a thoughtless, backwards-thinking stereotype. Instead, Ron is regularly one of the wisest, most progressive figures on the show. Instilling these traits into such an easily admirable character is a terrific choice.
After a slew of hilarious, laser-centric academic hijinks, Andy/April/Ron all mutually agree that Women’s Studies is the most fascinating class offered, and that Andy will be taking said class. And yes, his heart is definitely in the right place. But no…it doesn’t mean he’s immune to some highly embarrassing comments in the lecture.
The episode is chockfull of all of the things that make Parks such a treat for its viewers. The show loves its characters so much, and celebrates them wholeheartedly in this episode. The Leslie/Ben story is both hilarious and heartbreaking. The Tom/Jerry story is highly encouraging. And Andy/April/Ron…that’s about as good as television gets.