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.
Parks and Recreation
Season 5, Episode 4: Sex Education
Posted by Sage
Oh, Tommy Edamame. I felt for you in this one. We all did.
In this week’s episode, Tom Haverford had an unfortunate brush with the law. It turns out that live-tweeting your drive isn’t the safest way to get from point A to point B, and Big T gets into an accident. For the last two nights, I’ve been having nightmares about the punishment handed down to him by the judge, that crafty bastard.
One week tech blackout.
Be real: you and me would tumble down the same spiral of panic and despair when faced with that prospect. Tom deals with his grief in some creative, though perhaps not so effective ways. A paper iPhone won’t respond to a thumb swipe, and spying on Jerry’s internet use is just depressing. (“Oh my god, Jerry, when you check your email you go to AltaVista and type, ‘Please go to yahoo.com’?!”) Who better to help a tech-addict through withdrawl than consummate outdoorsman and old-school manly man, Ron? He whisks Tom away to his cabin in the woods for some good ol’ fashioned wood chopping and sage advice. All seems to be going well, but Ron doesn’t realize that Tom’s seemingly sincere acknowledgement of his problem is just a speech he memorized from Intervention. The other shoe drops when Tom borrows Ron’s car under false steak pretenses and crashes again. While tweeting. On a burner phone. Like he’s Marlo friggin’ Stanfield.
Then Parks serves some realness. Ron is determined to get to the bottom of Tom’s addiction and asks him why he constantly needs distraction. Tom’s answer? “The truth is – I spend a lot of time looking at screens because recently, a lot of stuff in my real life isn’t going so great.” Welcome to the internet, headquarters of, well, that. Ron decides not to turn Tom in to the judge and prolong his sentence, but does give him some Papa Bear advice: engage with people, and don’t use technology as a crutch. Message received loud and clear, LeRon James.
Meanwhile, Leslie and her team of Sex Avengers are out to tackle an STD epidemic in Pawnee’s senior centers. (“Good news! Lots of old people have chlamydia.” “Woo!”) The solution to this sexy problem is clear and simple: hold sex education seminars that encourage residents to use condoms and prevent the spread of disease. But where there is a clear and simple solution to a social problem, idiots will rear their ugly heads. Leslie’s first seminar is interrupted by said idiots, family values advocate Marsha Langman and her flamboyant husband Marshall, who has his own reasons for discouraging rampant heterosexual intercourse. Turns out, Pawnee has an Abstinence Only sex ed law, without an age limit. The Langmans take over the next session, entitled “It’s Great to Wait!”, to encourage a rec room full of 80 year olds to wait until marriage to get down to business. It’s delightfully ludicrous.
Leslie tries to play by the rules, but loses patience while reading from the “So You Think You Know More Than God?” pamphlet. (“The devil likes to hide in all your private nooks and crannies.”) She drops the pamphlet, picks up a banana, and expertly rolls on a condom. Lucky Ben Wyatt. The Langmans are horrified. She receives a censure from the mayor (on thick paper!) and learns that the majority of Pawneeans don’t support sex ed. Our friend Perd Hapley has her own his show, presumably to apologize for her misstep. But Leslie, that beautiful rule-breaking moth, takes a stand. Yes, we live in a democracy. Yes, our elected officials represent the will of the people. But if the people are uneducated and misinformed, that process breaks down. (“So we’re just gonna do the thing we know doesn’t work? Great plan!”) Leslie vows to continue her crusade and to work to change the minds of her not-insignificant opposition. I stand up and slow clap in my bedroom.