Parks and Recreation
Season 5, Episode 13: Emergency Response, Producer’s Cut
– Posted by Sage
This is Willa Tremaine reporting to you from Head Over Feels, where we’ve just watched the extended producer’s cut of another classic episode of Parks and Recreation. If you’ve only seen the version that aired on NBC Thursday night, proceed immediately to Hulu and enjoy the episode plus some killer extra scenes. Now, back to our regularly scheduled recap.
It’s the moment of reckoning for this season’s great white whale, the Pawnee Commons Project. Despite Jamm’s best efforts to bribe the planning commission with Paunch Burger’s Greasy Lardbombs™, the group is still behind Leslie’s proposed park. The problem is that the park isn’t fully funded – there’s a $50k hole. Leslie mopes about the seemingly insurmountable gap while she and Ben head troll Macy’s (a rare obvious product placement for this show) with Tom to register for their wedding gifts. Ben comes up with a plan: they’ll register for the park instead. Beslie are purer of heart than your recapper, because I would be Harlem Shaking down the aisles with Tom and pointing that little gun thing on everything that wasn’t nailed down. Also, how does planning a gala fundraiser preclude you from having a wedding registry? I’m really upset about this, because I have more fantasies about registering than my actual wedding.
Team Parks Department kicks into action, as they are wont to do. Put together a black tie gala in one week? They won’t even break a sweat. “Breaking a sweat” is probably on both Tom and Donna’s “Oh No-Nos” lists. But crisis comes in the form of well, a fake crisis. Leonard Chulm, head of the Indiana Department of Emergency Preparedness (hey, Matt Walsh!) rolls into town to throw a emergency preparedness drill at Pawnee and (quelle surprise) Emergency Czar Leslie. We’ve got an outbreak of avian flu, ya’ll. I hope you’re prepared to bathtub-drown all the birds in town.
On any other day, Leslie would HAVE this. She’s prepared for every scenario, with binders and fake news casts at the ready. But passing the drill will likely mean losing Pawnee Commons forever. This is Lot 48. It represents every dream Leslie has ever had for herself and for Pawnee. She cannot let it end up in the hands of Jamm, ghost or otherwise.
So she makes the call: to save the town, she must destroy it. She puts her containment and recovery plans into reverse and quickly ensures that the entire town is soon struck down by bird flu. And if all our citizens are as over-therapized as Chris Traeger, they’ll be pretty psyched about it. (“I’m dead!) Off to save the gala – suck it, Jamm!
But if we’ve learned anything in the past few seasons of Parks besides some awesome nicknames for food, it’s that Leslie’s friends can be counted on to rise to the occasion. Under the inspiring leadership of one Ben Wyatt (“Get some chairs from…somewhere.”), the gala has already come together perfectly. All that’s left for Leslie to do is put on a super hot red dress, give an inspiring thank you speech, and introduce Mouserat. We will build it, the park!
Leonard Chulm’s entire purpose is to make sure every town in Indiana has the right protocol in place to survive a disaster. But protocols and processes are nothing without ingenuity and people who can think on their feet. Leslie has grown from a person who will blindly follow a prescribed plan to the letter to one who is ready to toss the rule book out if necessary, and even if she wrote it herself. And in what WOULD have been the episode’s twist had NBC not PUT IT IN THE PROMOS, we find out that Leslie might even be willing to do that with my – I mean her – dream wedding. I hear you, Les. I too, hate the feeling of not being married to Ben Wyatt. At least you can do something about it. Mazel, you crazy kids.
Parks and Recreation
Season 5, Episode 12: Ann’s Decision
– Posted by Sage
Even the truest love doesn’t always last forever. But we will hold on the misty, watercolored memories of perhaps the most delicious, yet least practical ship on Parks. Ben/Calzones has come to a tragic end.
The bitter breakup comes courtesy of the catering finals Ben has orchestrated to pick the menu for the wedding of the millennium. His judges lineup features veggie connoisseur Chris Traeger, meat specialist Ron Swanson, and Instagram king Tom Haverford. Andy isn’t invited, but we’re not sure if it’s because of his unsophisticated palate or tendency to use frisbees as plates. Everyone but Tom tries the delectable cheesy-meaty-saucey pastry appetizer that puts its creator on the top of Ben’s list. After all, serving calzones at his wedding is the closest to actually MARRYING a calzone that Ben will ever get, at least until those GOD DAMN LIBERALS get their way. But the next morning finds the boys lumbering and rolling around Chris’s office like they just walked off the set of The Walking Dead. Food poisoning. Ben is jilted. Doublecrossed. Forsaken by his beloved. (“The calzones…betrayed me?”)
They know that the calzones were the culprit, because Tom refuses to eat food that requires him to exert any effort. (“Drizzle it on for me! I’m not your maaaaaiiiid.”) After a long and painful recovery, the boys find themselves back at JJ’s for a return to solid food. Ben realizes he’s been overthinking it – why pick a fancy caterer over Leslie’s favorite food in town? Looks like Beslie will be serving their guests a waffle tower instead of a wedding cake. PLEASE, oh please let them have a waffle tower. (Note to self: find waffle tower photo to pin to “Future Wedding to Ben Schwartz” Pinterest board.)
After the madcap shenanigans and Salt N’ Pepa singalongs of the rotating bachelor party, it’s good to see that Parks has no intention of abandoning this male-bonding theme anytime soon. They’re adorable, even when grossly ill. (“I cracked the bottom of the toilet bowl.”) And this light, silly storyline was the perfect complement to Leslie and Ann’s big life decision arc.
The writers have done an admirable job this year of fixing “The Ann Problem.” It’s never bothered me as much as some other fans who I’ve read, but her stories this season have been the most compelling that they’ve ever been. And, more importantly, they feel organic and not forced. Also, this Ann-finding-herself theme has always felt like a meta-acknowledgement of the issues that the show has run into trying to integrate that character into the Parks Department.
I LOVE this single mom plot, because it gives Ann an opportunity to drive it and not always be reacting to the other characters. AND, it makes for some funny and interesting Leslie/Ann interplay. I feel like I learned a lot about both of their characters this week. It’s pretty cray-cray to compare this Leslie to the one-note Leslie of Season 1. She fully supports any woman’s right to create “the family that she wants,” but still believes, deep down in her heart, that a family created from a loving, monogamous relationship is still better than the alternatives. (“The body is Ann’s, and the woman in charge of it is me.”) She may not have even known that about herself until she’s faced with Ann’s no-nonsense, no-waiting plan to have a kid. Stupid Hot Ann’s not doing this because she feels sorry for herself. It’s something that she wants in her life, regardless of relationships. For Ann, waiting for a guy to come along so that she can finally have a baby would have been like Leslie waiting to have a boyfriend before she pursued her career.
Ann does agree with Leslie that she should know more about the biological dad of her future kid, so she side-steps the sperm bank and does some research. The top 3 come in to Ann’s office under the pretense that she’s interviewing them for her blog. (I assume that Leslie worked some of her questions on to the list. I too would not allow myself to be inseminated by a man before knowing his favorite season of Friends, even though any answer is the right answer there.) We’ve got Dr. Harris, who’s a little mean (“The chairs in MY office are leather.”); high school basketball star Pete, who’s a little too clued in (“When will the women in this town stop scheming for my sperm!?”)…
…and Howard Tuttleman, who may be juuuuuuust right. Operation: Baby Douche, engage.
Douche, how little we knew you! Turns out Howard studied semiotics at Northwestern, before creating his satiric second persona and becoming Crazy Ira’s morning radio co-host. But his dual personalities are now fused, and no one can tell where Howard ends and Douche begins! Considering the Pawnee alternatives, Howard isn’t a bad choice. But his Douche-side can’t resist revealing the truth about Ann’s plan on the show, with plenty of bodily function sound effects thrown in. Leslie realizes that she’s imposing her own priorities on Ann, and she needs to make up for butting in and telling Douche the truth. Her apology comes with all the humiliation Crazy Ira and the Douche can throw at her, i.e. Leslie going ass over tincups in a baby pool filled with Jello while doing a truly terrible Bill Cosby impression. Friendship rule: you always forgive the people who are willing to embarrass themselves to earn it. And that’s a Leslie Knope specialty.
Parks and Recreation
Season 5, Episode 11: Women in Garbage
– Posted by Sage
If there’s one thing Leslie Knope can’t resist, it’s waffles. If there are two things, they’re waffles and making out with Ben, on his face. And if there are THREE things that Leslie Knope can’t resist, they are: waffles; making out with Ben, on his face; and knocking down gender stereotypes.
Leslie is used to just ignoring some of Pawnee’s more archaic guidelines (i.e., she really shouldn’t be reserving any conference rooms without permission from her husband or father). But after meeting with Pawnee’s first ever female City Council member Paula Hork, she learns two things: 1) it’s time to correct the underemployment of women in all areas of city government and 2) there is probably a calendar of her own menstrual cycle somewhere in City Hall. Leslie picks up the ball and brings the Equal Gender Employment Commission plan to Chris, who, of course, thinks it’s the greatest idea in the history of ideas. He asks every department to send two people to a meeting. And they do – they each send two men. The Pawnee man-pigs think that Chris (“Oh no, it’s just a very beautiful man.”) and “the girl who brought the snacks” are enough of a female contingency, thank you very much. After listening to some ancient lawmakers wax poetic about the frailty of women, Leslie challenges the worst offender of employment inequality, the sanitation department. She and April take over a garbage collection route to prove that women are up to the task. Chris brings his maybe-kinda-sorta girlfriend Shawna Mulwae-Tweep to cover it for the Pawnee Journal.
Leslie’s proving her point by being ahead of the regular timing for the route. April gets to dig through the trash of all her high school enemies. (“She has to use prescription-strength deodorant. This is the best day of my life.”) Arguably having a less awesome time are the misogynistic sanitation dudes, who are being taken to school, and poor Chris Traeger, who is completely at sea in Tweep’s twenty-something world of group hangs and no labels. The garbage dudes make a last ditch effort to hold on to their manhood by sending Leslie and April to move a giant bakery freezer that apparently the regular route guys couldn’t budge the week before. Of course, they don’t tell the girls that, so Leslie is ready to make it happen. (“Easy, breezy, beautiful. That’s the CoverGirl slogan. I didn’t mean to say that.”) They could call them on it, but April wants to WIN, not to tie. So Leslie calls in the ladies from the soup kitchen to take the donation. With all this combined lady power, the freezer gets onto the truck and the sanitation guys start hiring female workers. Joan of Arc would be proud.
Just like Leslie, Tom is doing his best to hang with the boys. His Rent-a-Swag customers are obsessed with basketball, so he recruits (or tricks, whatever) Andy and Ben into teaching him the basics. (Necessarily side flail: BEN’S BASKETBALL OUTFIT. The goggles. The gym socks. I cannot breathe.) Tom isn’t exactly a quick study (“Did I do basketball?”), and the guys get humiliated by some middle-schoolers in a 3-on-3.
Ben shows a depressed Tommy a video of Kevin Durant and Russel Westberg talking to press after a loss to show him that the best pros know how to come back after a defeat. Tom completely ignores that advice, but has his own epiphany. He uses Kids 46 News to position Rent-a-Swag as THE place to get your post-game press conference fashions.
And on more shaking up of traditional gender roles, Ron is playing babysitter to Diane’s little girls, Zoe and Ivy. He’s covered in stickers (courtesy of Leslie, obviously), his shoes are painted red, and his office now looks like something a Justice threw up. Diane asks if he can handle it for another day. After scouring the building for Ann (“I thought your last name was Hanson for some reason.”), Ron ropes her into helping out. Trouble is, beautiful Ann is a complete awkward turtle around kids. (“Hey, dudettes. So, you guys like Coldplay?”) But once she pulls out her medical supplies, the girls are enthralled. Somehow, they lock themselves into the conference room alone, and Doctors Ivy and Zoe perform surgery on each other’s infected hair. Ron has a meltdown and inadvertently reveals his true feelings for Diane. Yes, it’s true: Ron loves Mommy.
His fears of ruining the relationship are unfounded, as Diane remains the COOLEST CHICK EVER and takes the girls’ scissor adventures in stride. She’s so touched by Ron’s concern, that she makes a declaration of her own: Mommy loves Ron. Ron loves Mommy. Ron and Mommy 4-Ever. And Family Love Michael too, why not?
Parks and Recreation
Season 5, Episode 10: Two Parties
– Posted by Sage
The wedding of the century is almost here, and the girls and guys of Pawnee are sending their friends Leslie and Ben into marriage with style. Well, they’re trying to, anyway.
Maid of Honor and beautiful nurse, Ann Perkins, has bought up all the penis-shaped novelties in three towns. She booked Babe Lincoln, professional historical stripper. But planning a party in honor of the ultimate planner is completely stressing her out. Meanwhile Chris Traeger, literally the Best Man anyone has ever had, is supporting Ben’s choice to have a beer and boardgames bachelor party. And maybe some Homeland on the DVR, if we have enough time.
**Head canon sidenote: before coming to Pawnee, I don’t think that Ben Wyatt would have called Chris Traeger his best friend. Old Ben drew a line between work and his personal life, and Chris’s status as his coworker would have trumped any familiar relationship they had. Also, thanks to Pawnee and Leslie, Ben’s come to appreciate the unique weirdness in everyone he meets. Thus, the coworkers become true bros. Head canon sidenote complete.**
But the boys can’t compete with a nationally ranked Settlers player and Tom Haverford isn’t going to let Jello Shot’s night go down like that. Andy, Ben, Chris, Ron, Tom, and Jerry move the festivities to Essence, Eagleton’s new “molecular mixology” bar, where Ron is served his drink via a whiskey-infused lotion hand massage. Turns out, none of the married or formerly married among them ever had a true bachelor party. So, new plan: this night is now about all of them, and each bachelor boy gets to pick one thing they want to do.
Female friendships often take center stage on Parks, so it was a complete joy to watch the boys bonding in this one. Again, Parks avoids the worst of tired and sexist sitcom tropes: These bachelor parties are about the guys celebrating their friends, not mourning their single lives. Tom gets his vaporized drinks. Andy gets to catch a touchdown pass thrown by the Colts’ Andrew Luck. Jerry gets a couple of ice cream cones and called by his actual name. And, of course, Ron gets a steak. With a rasher of bacon on the side. Chris is thrilled just to be the facilitator, but Ben wants to find some way besides a Best Man trophy to thank our lonely fitness guru. Then Pawnee reporter extraordinaire/former hole in the Beslie ship Shauna Mulwae-Tweep shows up, wanting to do a story on the rotating bachelor party. Ben hardly thinks it’s news, but Shauna disagrees. She thinks that people want to read about “a group of good friends, having fun, doing nice things for each other” and that she wants to write about it. (Ahem – practically Parks and Rec‘s reason to exist and brighten up our sad, desperate lives.) A light comes on in Ben’s mind, and he takes Shauna to Chris’s office to get the story – over lunch.
Let’s be real: this episode was all about the boys. I was disappointed with the girls’ storyline, mostly because my hopes for the return of my personal hero Drunk!Leslie were foiled. Of course it’s in character for Leslie to let work ruin her bachelorette party, but her lack of concern for Ann and the rest of her ladyfriends was a reversion to the Steamroller!Leslie of seasons past. None of them want to see another Paunch Burger location in old pit surely, but was it really worth digging Wamapoke artifacts out of the dirt in the middle of the night using penis hats for shovels? Just…Ann worked SO hard! And, sue me, I wanted the girls to have a little fun. On the bright side, now that this story has happened, hopefully the writers won’t let any Pawnee business get in the way of Ben and Leslie’s actual wedding. DON’T YOU DARE TAKE THIS AWAY FROM ME, SCHUR. I NEED THIS.
Parks and Recreation
Season 5, Episode 9: Ron and Diane
– Posted by Sage
Merry Congratu-Christmas, Parks fans! Our favorite show gifted us with a hell of a holiday episode, featuring some lessons about friendship and the return of one of the most notorious Pawneeans. We laughed, we cried, we flashed our goods while climbing into a dumpster.
A Ron Swanson original has been nominated for an Indiana Fine Woodworking Association Award, and for once, Ron is just about as excited as Leslie. I mean, he hasn’t composed a Congratu-Christmas carol or anything, but he did invite his ladyfriend Diane (Lucy Lawless) to the banquet. Leslie will also be there, as Ron’s “self-appointed emotional guardian.” Ron is going to actually publicly care about something and Leslie will get to meet and vet Diane? The only thing left to make this night perfect is Ron winning the coveted award for “Achievement in Chair.”
At the awards dinner, Leslie and Diane hit it off over hopes and dreams and Hogwarts houses, while Ron fangirls over his carpentry heros. But the evening threatens to be ruined when Ron’s second and two-time ex-wife Tammy 2 shows up, demanding to, well, get drilled. Head Canon: Tammy 2 knows about the awards because she is the only other person besides Leslie Knope to have a Ron Swanson Google Alert. Leslie double-thumbs-up approves Diane and is horrified that Tammy 2 will scare her away. The “sex-crazed demon librarian” successfully turns Ron’s acceptance speech into a monosyllabic mess with a Basic Instinct move and forces Leslie to consider lifting her ban on the b-word, but can’t shake Diane. (“I’m a middle school vice-principal. I deal with hormonal psychopaths all the time.”) What does worry Diane is Ron’s relationship with Leslie.
My condolences to the Ron/Leslie shippers, but this episode effectively put an end to that dream. They both vehemently deny any romantic interest in each other, but that’s not quite the issue. Diane knows that Ron’s “not a big sharer,” but then meets someone, a female someone, who has been able to break down some of those walls. The difference is that Leslie tirelessly chipped away at them for years with cheerful determination and Ron begrudgingly accepted her intimacy. Diane doesn’t have to do that work. Ron wants to be open with her. Meanwhile, though Leslie Knope is used to being the woman in Ron’s life, she has the grace to step back and support him in a different way. Ron tracks Diane down to do some soul-baring. He confirms that Leslie is “a wonderful loyal friend who is very important in my life” (all my Leslie/Ron friendship feels) and who, at that moment, is taking on Tammy 2 single-handedly to protect them.
To affirm his commitment to her, Ron reveals his alter-ego to Diane – the secret identity unknown even to Leslie. Ladies, get your panty-throwing arms warmed up, because Duke Silver is in the house.
Meanwhile, Tom, Donna, April, and Andy are about to celebrate their favorite annual holiday: Jerry Dinner! In a reverse version of New Girl’s douchebag jar, the four would put a dollar into a box every time Jerry did something stupid or embarrassing and then use the haul to treat themselves to a fancy meal. Ann points out how cruel the game is, but they say it’s not mean if he doesn’t know about it. (“It’s like talking about people behind their backs – everybody wins.”) Still, Donna has an attack of conscience on the way to Jerry Dinner and decides to swing by his house to invite him. The meanies are shocked to find Jerry’s house in full Winter Wonderland-mode. It’s a Gergich Family Christmas!
Party guest Ann plays Ghost of Christmas Present and lets the crew look in on the wholesome fun time (Santa! An indoor buffet!) they’d be having if they weren’t so unkind to Jerry. She won’t let them in until they do something nice. They point their sarcasm at Jerry because he’s too sweet to retaliate and therefore, they aren’t made to feel guilty. But there’s a price to being too cool. Tom, Donna, April and Andy are the ones left (literally) out in the cold, while Jerry is surrounded by friends and his gorgeous blond family. Tom gifts Jerry the full wad of cash and tells him that they’d been putting a dollar in the box any time they caught themselves being jerks. Poor, sweet Jerry is touched as can be and welcomes them inside before summarily being locked out. Sigh. There’s the first dollar in the 2013 Jerry Dinner collection.
Parks and Recreation
Season 5, Episode 8: Pawnee Commons
– Posted by Sage
Welp. First things first.
Because this episode will always be known as “The One Where Ben Made That Face.”
Now that that’s out of the way, let the recapping commence!
Other sitcoms take note: this is how you keep a “will they-won’t they” ship interesting to the audience after it’s been definitively established that they will. The Parks writers have a knack for putting Beslie into situations that milk comedy from their differences while solidifying their meant-to-be-ness.
The timeline of Ben Wyatt’s love affair with Pawnee runs in a parallel line to his love affair with Leslie Knope. In this episode, when he says that he’s in love with this “strange, passionate goofball,” he may as well be referring to this kooky town as much as his fiance. He equates the two, as you must, and would go to the mat for either. But Ben isn’t a native Pawneean. He still has a somewhat objective viewpoint. And that’s where his romance with this town diverges wildly from Leslie’s.
Leslie guests on the GENIUS Pawnee Community Radio show “Thought for Your Thoughts” to put out the call for designs for a new park and to introduce a segment of two jazz recordings played over each other to a cacophonic effect. They’re under a deadline for a decent plan and the submissions aren’t quite up to par. (Who wouldn’t want to spend a relaxing afternoon in “Worm Park”?) Ben and Leslie are both thrilled about the resume submitted by the decidedly overqualified Wreston St. James (played by SNL vet and Mr. Julia Louis Dreyfuss, Brad Hall). That is, until Leslie finds out that he’s from Eagleton. Fucking Eagleton, you guys.
Despite the “blood feud” between the neighboring towns, Wreston seems sincere and excited about mending fences. Ben is starry-eyed and possibly has a little crush on him. But Leslie Knope does not negotiate with Eagletonians. She can’t bring herself to believe that Wreston doesn’t have a plan to prank and shame Pawnee; and her ride-or-die hometown pride won’t abide her cozying up to someone from the other side. (Especially when that side is marked by a sign that reads, “Now Entering Pawnee: Good Luck With That.)
Ben should be especially aware that you don’t REASON with Leslie about the pride of Pawnee. But still, he tries to make her realize that she’s judging Wreston personally on the longstanding disagreements of their towns. The designer himself has been nothing but cordial and helpful. Much like Rhett Butler or Bono. The scene where Leslie wrenches out an apology is pure Amy Poehler genius, particularly the impromptu endorsement of Canada Dry.
“If your mouth is dry, drink Canada Dry! That’s nothing.”
Leslie Knope begrudgingly puts her faith in a citizen of Eagleton and is rewarded by the Carrie-style humiliation she expected. Two blandly attractive members of Wreston firm show up with a model of the park, complete with outdoor showers that come with instructions and drool buckets for the town’s “more slack-jawed” citizens. Ben has to physically hold her back.
Leslie wants, nay, NEEDS revenge. Dear, sweet, balloon-art loving Ben doesn’t see how it all adds up. He goes to meet with Wreston, who assures him that the d-bags responsible have been fired. Leslie has downgraded her revenge plan from arson to whipped cream, and attacks Mr. St. James with a spray can. Wreston must be the most patient man in Indiana, if not the world, as he decides to work on the park pro bono anyway. The resulting model is Leslie’s dream come true – a park that’s not only beautiful, but representative of Pawnee’s less racist and violent history. Maybe I’m a cynical jerk, but I have to say that I’m not entirely sure yet that Wreston isn’t a part of a long Eagleton con. Like Leslie, I remain cautiously optimistic about the future relationship of Pawnee and Eagleton. But really, how much compassion can you expect from the town that produced Voldemort?
Meanwhile, Andy Dwyer is bored. Bored with a capital B. So bored, he’s resorted to pondering our existence and place in this universe. Turns out that nighttime security guard at Pawnee City Hall isn’t exactly an action-packed post. And time is crawling by.
If you want to see two hours fly by in a blink of an eye, Andy, you should try writing a blog.
April suggests passing the hours not as regular joe Andy Dwyer, but as Burt Macklin, FBI loose cannon. April’s upped her role-playing game from duplicitous, wealthy Southern belle Janet Snakehole to Judy Hitler, daughter of The Führer. Andy feels a purpose, if not a real one, interrogating Ms. Hitler about the location of “the necklace with all of Germany’s war secrets.” But while he’s chasing stupid, sexy Hitler all over the building, Agent Macklin gets himself a real case: Little Joey can’t find his mom. But this isn’t a job for Macklin. This one is all Andy. Kid and mom are both grateful, and Andy gets to throw out his best, “Just doin’ my job, m’am.” April helps Andy realize that Burt is no longer what this town needs, and maybe it’s time for him to retire.
The rest of the gang are working on the new home of Rent-A-Swag with Tom, who has become obsessed with being a budget-concious and moderate businessman. Rent-A-Swag won’t be another Entertainment 720, and thus, these new digs have 100% Detlef Schrempf. Sad. The result of decorating the home base while pinching every penny is so depressing that not even DJ Roomba (hey, buddy!!) can jazz it up. And I hope everyone has dinner plans later, because the celebratory pizza party is one small pie. Ann takes Tom out for pancakes and real talk. Entertainment 720 folded because it was all style and no substance, but that doesn’t mean that Tom should withhold all his inherent showmanship from the running of this new business. (“You can’t have Rent-A-Swag without the swag.”) In fact, he needs it. Tom uses the money his friends have collected plus most of the contents of his apartment to trick out the store. There’s still room for small doses of Tommy Timberlake in Tom’s new responsible venture. Just like Ben/Leslie and April/Andy in this episode, Ann helps Tom to balance the extreme parts of his personality with the more down-to-earth. What would Leslie be without her passion? Or Tom without his overconfidence? Or Andy without his imagination? Like Eagleton without palm trees.
Parks and Recreation
Season 5, Episode 7: Leslie vs. April
– Posted by Sage
“It was a real honor that, in my sitcom debut, I got to meet someone like Leslie Knope, who believes so deeply in public service. She’s an example for men and women across the country that there’s no higher calling than helping other people.” – Joe Biden
If it wasn’t already obvious to you that Leslie Knope is marrying the right man for her, Ben’s surprise engagement present should have made it abundantly clear. It’s better than a waffle tower! In one of the best Parks cold opens in recent memory, Ben and Leslie have an audience with Vice President and one-man celebrity sex list, Joe Biden. The cameo was secretly filmed in DC last summer, including a scene that would address the other possible election outcome. Thankfully, it wasn’t needed. Forward, bitches.
Amy, Adam, and the Vice President just kill this scene. Leslie is endearingly unhinged; Ben is appropriately horrified at her invading Joe’s personal space; and Mr. Biden is flattered and good-naturedly weirded out at the same time. It’s a beautiful, hilarious moment of wish fulfillment for fans, on our beloved Leslie’s behalf. I love the quote that opens this recap, because it lends so much more meaning to a PR-generating cameo. The President also recently revealed that his family watches Parks and Recreation together. Call me a sucker, but I’m comforted that the White House shares our admiration for this character and the values of this show. *Cue “America the Beautiful,” as I shed a single, patriotic tear.*
Back in Pawnee, Leslie proudly watches April give a presentation on the town’s need for a new dog park. She’s beaming, armed with a camera to capture her protege’s newfound motivation. (“Can you say ‘per capita’ again? I want to take a picture of you saying ‘per capita.'”) She and Ben (and Chris and Ron) have nurtured April’s very, very latent potential, so Leslie rightly feels responsible for her development as an adult and public servant. She’s over the moon until April proposes the dog park site: Lot 48, the infamous pit behind Ann’s house. Uh oh.
For years, Leslie has tried unsuccessfully to turn the cursed Lot 48 into a park. And if Leslie Knope can’t do it, ain’t nobody can. She won’t support April’s plan, even though it may be the one that finally turns the space into something useful. Leslie’s ego, like the rest of her life, exists in her work. We get the feeling that she kinda liked being the only competent person in Pawnee government. She was the hero. Now, under her influence, her coworkers and friends are working harder and caring more. Where does that leave Leslie ? April’s adoption of Lot 48 brings her identity crisis to a head.
Heeding some Swanson advice, Leslie attempts to distract April, first with a visit to Orin’s art show (disturbingly reminiscent of a Bosch painting), then by touring other possible sites for the park (which also sort of look like Bosch paintings, but with more radioactive sewage.) April sees straight through the scheme, and tells Leslie she’ll present her plan to at the council meeting with the support of Councilman Jamm. Leslie tries to warn April that Jamm is unreliable, but April doesn’t want to hear anything else from her. During her presentation, Leslie states that public opinion is clearly against the proposition (“I just heard one hag booing.”), and Jamm pulls his double cross. He thinks parks are useless, but hears that Paunch Burger is looking for a new location. April just got Jammed.
Ron and Ann stage an April/Leslie intervention. With Ann’s mediation, Leslie acknowledges that she hasn’t been a great mentor to April lately; and April apologizes for writing off all of Leslie’s advice in anger. And also, they love each other. Ugh, moments with these two always slay me.
April, Leslie and Ann join forces to fight the real enemy: Councilman Jamm. Leslie’s responsible for the “dick move” that gets him to back down on his dirty tricks. They invite all the park-less kids and dogs in his neighborhood to his play on his lawn. I get the feeling Jamm isn’t a big fan of either. Jamm lays out a peace treaty: in 90 days, they’ll put their various plans before the council and up to a vote. Fair and square. Now, get that hula hoop off my car.
Now that he has his start-up cash from Ron, Tom is taking the next steps with Rent-a-Swag. He smartly asks Ben to check out the business plan. Ben is impressed. Tom offers to cut him in, but Ben is just in to help a friend. Since being back in Pawnee, he’s accepted a position at the same accounting firm he quit in Season 4. He’s getting married and needs a stable, boring job where everyone gets his jokes (“Bond…Municipal Bond.”) Ben sets up a few meetings for Tom to try to partner Rent-a-Swag with other businesses and get some local exposure. Every single meeting results in a “no” to Tom, but a job offer for Ben. Tom’s certainly grown since Entertainment 720 bit it, but he hasn’t had to deal with much rejection yet with this idea. He’s nearly ready to chuck it all when Ben tells him to be patient. If he’s passionate about the idea and sticks with it, great things will happen.
Ben shows up for his first day at Tilton and Randomski (ha), and his boss could not be more thrilled to have him back. He must be a local celebrity, especially to Pawnee math geeks. (By the way, how amazing is John Balma as Barney?) Ben gets one look at his name plate and quits…again. Even though they haven’t shared a scene throughout this whole episode, Leslie is still the driving force behind his decision. She wants him to do something he loves, and now he knows that, even in Pawnee, he has options. Ben Wyatt could be the CFO of Rent-A-Swag or the Executive Director of the Sweetums Foundation. Sky’s the limit for the future First Gentlemen. But still, let’s hope that gorgeous house is paid off.
Parks and Recreation
Season 5, Episode 6: Ben’s Parents
– Posted by Sage
Everything is Jean Ralphio and nothing hurts.
As I predicted in my “Halloween Surprise” recap, Tom’s decision to let Jean Ralphio in on Rent-A-Swag (high-end clothing rentals for middle schoolers) ended up being a lot more fun for us than it was for him. Unlike Tom, Jean Ralphio learned absolutely nothing from the dramatic rise and fall of Entertainment 720. After the business partners’ first presentation plan is shot down by April, Tom takes her abrupt advice and embarks on a redesign. This idea has a good chance of working, and he’s not going to squander the opportunity. April has been Ron’s gatekeeper for long enough to know what he wants – no lights, no making it rain, no stupid, made-up words he won’t understand. While Tom tries to focus in on a tighter, more professional approach, Jean Ralphio buzzes around him – an overgrown, be-scarfed, hyperactive child. To Tom’s credit, his reluctance to cut JR loose stems from his ideals of loyalty and friendship. They’re partners. But since Jean Ralphio flat out tells Tom that he couldn’t be less invested in the project, Tom can move forward solo and guilt-free.
Ron couldn’t have been less psyched to see Jean Ralphio at Ben and Leslie’s engagement party, despite the latter’s sick free association skills. While Ron certainly never wants to socialize with the man, he’s mostly disappointed that Tom would share his idea with someone so lacking in work ethic and, let’s face it, smarts. In giving Jean Ralphio the ax, Tom becomes a “serious person” in Ron’s eyes. He can make decisions that aren’t entirely based on instant gratification. Or, in his words, “Sometimes, you gotta work a little, so you can ball a lot.” Ron in 60 Seconds doesn’t even need to see a presentation. Tom has his start-up money. And with that, little Tommy Timberlake is all groweds up.
And acting like a grown up has very little to do with age. There’s no better evidence of this theory than the episode’s namesakes: Ben’s parents. Ben and Leslie are reveling in their new engagement and planning a party to celebrate. A party to which they’ll invite their families. Ben can see the thunder cloud on the horizon, threatening to rain cynicism and awkwardness all over their parade. He tries to warn Leslie that his parents have not been able to treat each other civilly since their divorce 30 years ago. “If there’s anyone who can bring my parents together,” he says to her, tenderly, “it’s no one.” Leslie, eternal optimist, has never met a lost cause she couldn’t fix. Her plan includes a Wyatt/Knope unity quilt, with each square signifying a member of their growing family. What could possibly go wrong?
The first of the Wyatts to arrive is Julia, Ben’s mom (Glenne Headly). Leslie swiftly gets a Chardonnay into her hand as she chats with the formidable and always welcomed Marlene Griggs-Knope. This shaky peace is broken with the arrival of Ben’s dad Stephen (Jonathan Banks, aka Mike Ehrmantraut from television’s Breaking Bad) and, dun dun duuuun: his girlfriend Ulani. From there, the Wyatt family reunion spirals into a flurry of name-calling and snide remarks, leaving Ben dismayed and Leslie and Marlene incredulous. Ben’s thought of an exit strategy, however, which is probably a level of preparedness adult children of divorce need to develop. Leslie ignores his pleas to jump into the waiting cab (P.S. Love that Pawnee has yellow cabs.), and decides to unleash her secret weapon. She’s successfully used a quilt to end epic fights three times: once in junior high, once in relation to a Donna/Jerry parking lot feud that I hope we hear more about someday, and the third time? “Right f**king now.”
Ben’s parents have sunk so low in their pettiness that they only regard Leslie’s project to find fault and more reasons to scream at each other. Stephen is offended that there’s no square for Ulani; Julia resorts to vandalism to remove the square Leslie throws together for her replacement. And Ulani is pregnant. And none of them will go to the wedding. Finally, Leslie accepts defeat. A woman after my own heart, she packs up all the brownies and four bottles of wine and tries to convince Ben to run away with her. But Ben’s had it with being the grown up in his family. His parents have forced him and Leslie to spend their entire engagement party trying to keep them from strangling one another. He’s not going to let them ruin their wedding too. He and Leslie rejoin the party to take a stand, but not after a rejuvenating backseat makeout sesh. Beslie inform Julia, Ulani, and Stephen that they will all go to the wedding, they won’t make a scene, and they will tell the happy couple that they had a great time. The chastisement is more effective than any appeasement strategy. Ben can’t fix his parents, but he can tell them that he expects them to act like adults. More importantly, Leslie doesn’t hold Ben’s insane family against him. She rightly believes that his parents’ toxic relationship hasn’t a thing to do with her future happiness. Unless Ben goes crazy in his old age. But she’s got her eyes peeled for that. They’re so perfect.
Parks and Recreation
Season 4, Episode 8: Smallest Park
-Posted by Sage
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.
Parks and Recreation
Season 5, Episode 5: Halloween Surprise, Director’s Cut
– Posted by Sage
Every day of our lives, we all make sacrifices to get us to where we know we need to be. Most of them are so tiny, we hardly notice them. We forgo an hour of extra sleep to make it to the gym. We’re nice to people we don’t particularly care for, because we want them to treat us well. This episode of Parks was about sacrifices that are not so tiny and the moment when we decide to give up things we want for the things we want more. Ron trades in his treasured peace and quiet for a real shot with Diane and her family. Ann gives up the comfort she finds in dependency to live a fuller life on her own. And Ben and Leslie…well, I’ll get to them.
Ron is still seeing single mom Diane (Lucy Lawless). She’s, like, the perfect Ron Swanson girlfriend: pretty, chill, and maybe secretly a warrior princess. She stops by the Parks department with her two adorable, wound-up daughters to invite Ron to come trick-or-treating with them. Andy can’t think of a better way to spend an evening, so he begs an invite too and demands that they go at primo candy time.
All is going relatively well on Halloween night, until Diane is called away on a “Vice-Principal Emergency,” leaving Ron and aspiring officer Dwyer alone with two little princesses. And one of their tiaras breaks. Fact of life: Sisters who are this close in age have to have THE EXACT SAME THINGS. If there isn’t two of everything, there will be no end to the tantrums. Problem-solver Ron knows how to fix this though – he breaks the other tiara. Now no one has one! Equality restored. Commence conniption. Even cool Diane gets a little riled when her crying children are returned to her. Ron doesn’t know how to apologize or doesn’t think he needs to. He’s almost ready to accept the end of something promising, just because the presence of her kids will complicate his life. April sees straight through the stoic Swanson face (“Oh my god, you are so sad.”) and suggests he make an effort to smooth things over. He shows up to Diane’s house with make-nice gifts (flowers, candy, grout cleaner), confesses his obvious unfamiliarity with tiny humans, and promises to work on it. Then he offers to teach them how to saw.
Now, on to the Surprise portion of “Halloween Surprise.” Spoilers beyond the cut. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.