Leslie Ben and Chris in Smallest Park

Parks and Recreation
Season 4, Episode 8: Smallest Park
-Posted by Sage

Change sucks.

Or at least, that’s usually our knee-jerk response. Change drags us, kicking and screaming, from the comfortable status quo of our relationships, family lives, and jobs. It demands us to pay attention, to alter our routine. Change is difficult enough to handle when it’s forced on us. This season 4 episode of Parks is about the courage it takes to bring about that change yourself.

April is helping Andy choose a course at the local Community College (“Achieving Standards Every Day!”). Her advice is to enroll in a subject that he’s already mastered and cruise through. (“Horizons are stupid. Never broaden your horizons.”) Ron rightly thinks that that sounds like a waste of time, so he offers to go along with them to audit a few classes. After all, Andy is one of the few coworkers he “does not actively root against.” Plan A for April leads them to “Guitar for Beginners,” where Andy’s pride at knowing the answer to every question quickly devolves into abject boredom. They make a dramatic exit (“I was secretly an undercover rock star this whole time!), and start taking Ron’s advice – Andy won’t be bored if he challenges himself. Luckily, every other class at this school will likely be a challenge for Andy, unless “Shoeshine for Beginners” or “Home Ec 128: Using Frisbees as Plates” are on the schedule.

After a disappointing visit to “Introduction to Lasers,” Andy decides to let fate choose his path. He closes his eyes and points to the book, which is how Ron Swanson, Andy Dwyer, and April Ludgate end up in a Women’s Studies class. Mesmerized. Andy practically skips to the Bursar’s office to enroll, but finds that the $940 tuition is way beyond his means. He won’t take the money from April’s parents, so he returns to his shoeshine post (KYLE!) for extra cash. April stands nearby, doing her best to sell Mouse Rat CDs and candy bars with a huge mark-up. Ron can’t help but be touched by Andy’s excitement and desire to learn and thus, creates the very first (and probably only) Ron Swanson Scholarship. Andy enters the world of academia, where he will stumble and get things wrong and eventually learn new things about himself and the world. I love this show.

Meanwhile, Leslie and Ben are still trying to carve out a working relationship from their breakup and failed friendship. (Remember, at this point in the season, Ben had broken up with Leslie so that she could run for City Council without worrying about a scandal. They’ve tried to be friends, but it’s still too raw. All good? Let’s carry on.) Leslie’s new foolproof idea is to create Pawnee’s smallest park on a .00003 square mile patch of concrete. Chris is even more thrilled than Chris usually is, because his “Dream Team” is on the case. And Leslie is thrilled to have an excuse to be around Ben. Ben is very much un-thrilled, because being near Leslie still hurts. He tries to cut the cord and save his sanity by telling Leslie that, after this project finishes, he’ll be concentrating on other departments. Instead of respecting his feelings, Leslie comes up with a new foolproof plan: drag this goddamn project out until they are old and grey.

Leslie approaches this scheme with the same vigor as any other, drumming up the most angry townsfolk to be “ringers” at the park forum. She also releases a list of activities that will be taking place at the park, including fireworks every night at midnight. Ben disrupts the resulting protest by assuaging all the fears of the riled up Pawneeans. And he tells Chris that the “Dream Team” is dead. Leslie is a steamroller, who does whatever she wants, whenever she wants. It’s not a partnership, and he’s not being heard.

Enter Ann Perkins, with her beautiful pie-hole. The best friends will tell you when you’re being an idiot and also go to bat for you on the same day. Leslie sometimes tackles her personal relationships with the same momentum and go-get-em attitude as she does her work. We saw it in “Fancy Party.” She was so sure that she was in the right opposing April and Andy’s surprise wedding, that she didn’t leave room to account for either of their feelings on the matter. She doesn’t care that Ann doesn’t like Harry Potter, because she’s going to show her all 8 movies anyway, and WHY NOT, ANN? YOU LOVE HARRY POTTER, YOU’VE SEEN ALL 8 MOVIES! Ann doesn’t advise Leslie not to steamroll Ben because she thinks it will win him back or because it will make Leslie any happier. She tells her to do it because Ben’s feelings are just as valid as Leslie’s and they deserve to be respected. Ann knows Leslie well enough to give her the tough love when she needs to, but she also knows her well enough to clarify her intentions to the offended party. Ann goes to Ben and tells him to hear Leslie out. She’s finally ready to listen, and they need this closure.

Ben meets Leslie is the completed smallest park, which is quite lovely. Also, Leslie is wearing the most amazing fire-engine red J.Crew doublecloth lady car-coat, but I DIGRESS. She apologizes to Ben for not attempting to understand his side. She’s finally ready to say this and to follow through: if he doesn’t want to see her anymore, she understands. But…

“There is another option. We could just say, ‘screw it,’ and do this thing for real.”

It was circumstances that broke Ben and Leslie up, and now those circumstances do not seem so insurmountable. At the height of the newlywed period of their new relationship, they were forced apart. No wonder both of them are having their own difficulties moving on. It’s still important that Ben hears that Leslie was willing to put her own happiness aside for his, even though the point is now moo (like a cow’s opinion.) Anyway, she lays it out on the line, but leaves the final decision in Ben’s hands. Are we going for this?

Ben and Leslie - Smallest Park Kiss

I think that’s a yes.

Random thoughts/B-Stories:

  • Tom is also forced to challenge himself when Chris gives him and his #2 – or #3 – or maybe just #4, Jerry the job of redesigning the Parks department logo. Tom’s first treatments come back with insane, Entertainment 720-style pitches: Apple store offices, the Parks department logo in The Sopranos font, a reality show for park rangers. Tom overshoots with his ideas, because he’s terrified that a real one will get shot down. Bigger is always better to Tom. Coming up with the craziest, most elaborate plan leaves him off the hook from delivering something true. Jerry inadvertently inspires Tom to come down from clouds by advising him that the best way to approach a government job is by doing the exact same thing every day. Tom marries his vision with Jerry’s reality check and comes up with a retro logo treatment that knocks Chris’s socks off. Ch-ch-ch-channnnges.
  • My heart leapt the first time I saw this episode and Ron’s reaction to the Women’s Studies course. Again, I ask you to think about how any other sitcom would treat a character like Ron Swanson in this very same situation. Imagine the grunts and masculine grand-standing and lady-jokes. But no. In Parks, Ron Swanson is a feminist. He believes in fairness and equality and being rewarded for effort and success. It doesn’t hurt that the professor was 100% the Swanson type: a smart, confident brunette.
  • Jerry’s logo redesign pitch: “Comic Sans always screams, ‘fun!'”
  • If you have the season 4 DVDs, immediately pop in this disc and watch the extended scene of Andy dropping some women’s history knowledge in his first class. Chris Pratt is a genius.
  • Aubrey Plaza’s bob was everything.
  • Possibly my favorite Parks and Recreation line ever: “Your quiet support means the world to me, as well as your tacit endorsement of all my behaviors.”
  • Andy’s disappointment at the very hands-off nature of “Introduction to Lasers” is palpable and so very, very sad. “One of the most significant bummers of my lifetime.”

April will kill you with scissors

When I found out NBC was airing a rerun of The Voice instead of a new Parks – especially because it delayed the return of Jean Ralphio.

While I’m incredibly disappointed that Parks was preempted this week, I had a blast writing my first rewind recap! I’ll choose a different episode to revisit any Thursday we’re not graced with a new one. Leave your requests in the comments! Any season is fair game.