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 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.