Back in season two, “Parks and Recreation” was a rising star, not a comedy powerhouse. The first season elicited lukewarm feelings from viewers, and season two began to build an elaborate world where three-dimensional, imperfect yet endearing people existed. It felt like small-town America because it was hilariously inept in so many ways, but the people were just darling. When Louis C.K hitched his wagon to this runaway train to fandom he had not yet aired his avant-garde take on single fatherhood and the pathetic nature of life alone at 40, “Louie.” He was but a mildly chubby, balding red head with a penchant for speaking mechanically.
Now, after the critical community has kissed his ass en masse (myself included) for his daring perspective and auteur-iffic ambition on FX’s “Louie,” a zany yet grounded show based on his real life as a middle-aged, recently divorced standup comic; and Parks and Recreation has solidified itself as the sitcom of the moment (for those who find Modern Family’s novelty has totally worn off and doesn’t see what all these award shows do). This sort of episode contains the transformative quality of an event. We view C.K not as a guest star, but as a genius gracing us with his presence.
Both the writers, and Louie himself, exceeded expectations this week. They allotted him the parameters wherein he could run amuck; and Louie, although a gigantic scene-chomper for those who know his catalogue, blends in with Amy Poehler and Adam Scott to render the most magnificent portrait of cringe-worthy awkwardness one could fathom. And the horrifying yet hilarious part is it could happen to you. Well, if your friend was either a desperate, emotionally stunted cop or a victim of policophobia (perhaps your friend is both and is a walking paradox).
LesBen meets with Pawnee Police Chief Trumple who is retiring, so Leslie can publicize his endorsement before his replacement is sworn in. P&R blows my mind again with its affinity for continuity. Recalling Ben’s fear of policemen from early in season three, where in his nervousness he pontificates on the culinary enigma of the calzone and is thereby dubbed “Calzone Boy.” Here it’s much more transparent, wearing his intimidation on his sleeve. Leslie asks for the chief’s blessing and he invites her to attend his retirement party where he’ll make his decision. In his gratitude, Ben signs off with the caveat that cops are such heroes, “Some more than others….Oh god here it comes—” Just as he regurgitates the words “9/11,” Leslie stops him. Ben so often serves as the voice of reason and straight man of the relationship, it was refreshing to see him play looney, insecure and scattered. In the police department hallway Leslie catches the eye of Dave Sanderson (Louis C.K) who has returned from Pawnee to attend the chief’s party. Leslie blurts out that he should come to dinner with her and Ben to catch up. Immediately regretting the decision, Ben voices his acceptance, wanting to give Leslie what she needs, as always.
Tom, riding high from his date with Ann, refuses to be discreet, or in anyway downplay the situation. Ann flat out voices her embarrassment and is disgusted by his pet names (some of which include: Cookie Tush, Winnie the Boo and Annie Get Your Boo). In direct opposition to her wish that he keep their date a secret, the whole department is notified. Andy is tasked with recording Leslie’s campaign theme song, and his artistic vision (something like “We are the World,” but with more social impact) requires the rest of the group to sing backup. Double Time Studios, where they will record their track, is the same facility where Duke Silver, Ron Swanson’s jazz saxophonist persona, records. Due to his relatively legendary work, memorabilia hangs all over the premises.
As we know, Ron is a private man, who wishes to withhold any information about himself that is unnecessary to divulge. What he does with his social life is not for his employees to know. April, however, knows about him because her parents are huge fans. He assigns her with the task of covering up or destroying any Duke paraphernalia, or distracting anyone from seeing his picture. This obviously lends itself to some side-splitting physical comedy. My favorite of which is when Andy drinks a mug full of honey (he finds the tea part gross) with Duke’s, er, mug embossed on it. Panicked, April throws the mug onto the floor claiming she was channeling her rock and roll spirit. Andy gets the rare opportunity in this episode to be in his element. However, he is still dim-witted and naive Andy, so his ability to reign in and articulate his artistic vision culminates in his frustration, banging his head on the floor with the hope inspiration will come.
Dinner is deliciously awkward at the onset; they start by subtly competing with flattering remarks when the subject of her campaign comes up. Dave assures that he can procure the chief’s endorsement, and Ben uses the restroom. During that brief interlude, Dave alerts Leslie that he is still in love with her and would like a moment alone to win her over. Of course, LesBen are totally perfect for each other, so Leslie dances around his request all night. He sneakily excuses himself for some air, but Leslie won’t bite. When he leaves the table, Leslie informs Ben of the situation. Dave comes back and in his honorable and gentlemanly way, he asks Ben directly to speak with his girlfriend. The resulting exchange between the three of them had me red in the face with laughter as they try to determine who will talk with whom and in what order, each trying to assert their own selfish motivations. In some way or another, we have all been in this scenario where egos lock horns and none of the parties are willing to back down and sacrifice their emotional needs. Thankfully, the personalities on this show make the proceedings more humorous than contentious, and the underlying tension never escalates beyond an ants-in-your-pants tickle. It helps that when Dave and Ben finally do confront one another it culminates goofily with Dave handcuffing Ben to a urinal. You can’t get anxious or mad when literal bathroom humor is employed.
Unrelenting and immune to Ann’s refusals, Tom beats the dead horse and professes his desire for Ann in front of all their present friends. He also consults his “playbook,” a romantic stratagem consisting of cliches from movies. His idea to wait for her in the rain backfires, giving him the sniffles while he becomes soaked, thinking Ann would be in awe of his romantic gesture. When Tom finally levels with her, claiming he has no more gimmicks, he brings out his secret weapon: an improvised song filled with melodic apologies and a plea that she appease him with a second date. In the end, his persistence at the very least wears her down to earn him another opportunity to win her over more genuinely. Chances are he will sabotage himself again, but by entertaining the possibility they have a shot they infuse some conflict without creating uncharacteristic drama that would sacrifice the tone of the show. Ron channels the Duke for Andy, laying down a killer sax solo while he sent him off to clear his head, mixing in more of his vocals too, realizing the full potential of “Catch Your Dream.” April’s diligence (including hitting Jerry over the head with a cymbal when he remarks how alike Duke appearance’s is to Ron’s) also ensured that no one else determined his secret identity. I felt it was odd that they didn’t mention Tom was actually the first person from the department to discover his alter ego back in season two, but since Haverford was so preoccupied with his “boo,” I’ll allow it.
Ben calls Leslie’s cell to inform her of his lavatory imprisonment and she chastises David mildly for acting so crazed. At the retirement party, Ben secures Leslie’s endorsement by outlining her long-term plan to sustain higher pensions and benefits (in comparison, Bobby Newport would just give them short-term monetary fixes). Of course, he reverts to his phobia on a couple occasions (using contrived phrasings or letting every officer to cut ahead of him in line for the restroom), but it weaves in nicely with his typical “in the zone” moments where he is talking numbers and his social anxieties are discarded. Dave later apologizes, explaining his behavior with the sweet revelation that “she makes him crazy.” He acknowledges that as long as she is safe and happy that is all that matters. He can’t resist insulting Ben, calling him “shrimpy,” but through his over-calculated word choice, sincerity surfaces.
Oddly, Chris gets little to do here. His face conveyed he was sad when he confirmed with Tom that Ann and he had been on a date. He is fragile after breaking up with Millicent, but does he still have legimate feelings for Ann, or is he just in regret mode about all his past relationships? His one laugh worthy moment comes when Andy asks him to sing for him and he butchers “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” The microchip could not sing his way out of a paper bag and his paraphrasing of the song’s gist would make many fans of American’s pastime cry sacrilege. If not for the added dimension of Ron’s secrecy around Duke Silver, the Andy plot would have been stale for me. As mentioned, I like allowing Andy the chance to prove his competencies, but since a campaign song feels so trivial I wasn’t actively rooting for him to come through.
And in a way, Ron’s help, though a demonstration of his affection for Andy (which he continually downplays), invalidates Andy’s efforts, taking away his spotlight. Obviously, I’m a devoted Ron F. Swanson fan, but the inconsequential nature of that story is hard to ignore. It was a nice visit from the “mature woman swooner” still, so I dug it nonetheless. Emphasizing Tom could also have proven problematic for the episode’s likability since the essence of the character is his bordering the line of insufferable tool and fun to be around, but the wrap-up where his urgency finally strikes a chord with Ann, hit the exact note they intended and made an absurd, potentially superfluous pairing seem plausible, if not for just a moment so that the doubt can seep into our minds and hook us.
Louis C.K largely negated this unimportance in the best way possible. As mentioned, his execution of this character deserves considerable props. He plays up the normal droll of his speech so that he comes off evermore blue collar and well-intentioned. His diction is deliberate (though often grammatically unsound, likely from trying too hard), but his hesitation to say exactly how he feels, for me, resonated more than any poetic delivery could have, and added to the believability that Leslie cared for him once, and why his approval of Ben would mean something. Though by the ridiculously high standards “Parks” has earned and then some, this was not an exemplary episode, the return of Louis C.K transcended its relegation as a standalone novelty, and became a pivotal moment for the series. It was a perfect storm of nostalgia and relevance that justified bringing Dave back, and validated the cult legend’s presence beyond just his demand as a insanely respected performer and artist of the moment. For reaffirming Leslie’s commitment to Ben and the campaign, revisiting the show’s roots with Louis’ Dave and the groovy tunes of Duke Silver, I can commend the approach overall, disregarding the less engaging material. I will happily endorse “Parks” as a candidate for the most charming depiction of human irrationality and the goodness it can provoke. The state of this union is an A-.
L.O.L.Ls: Laugh Out Loud Lines:
– “I’m not afraid of cops. I have no reason to be. I never break any laws…because I’m deathly afraid of cops.”
– “Leslie is a female person…with whom I was involved. We had a ‘romantical’ involvement.”
– “God, that was hot nonsense.”
– “He’s a gorgeous genius, people. Don’t questions his methods.”
– “You look like I could use some company.”
– “I don’t wanna brag, but I have a ton of experience with women being mad at me.”
– “I never thought I would say this about you, son, but you may be over-thinking this.”
– “I still have feelings for Leslie, in a womanly fashion, and I believe she feels the same for me, in a manly way.”
– Ben speaking to two officers who have conflicting interests about whether he should drink or not (he shouldn’t drive intoxicated, but it’s a celebration): “Please, just tell me what to do!”
– “The four sweetest words in the English language: ‘You wore me down.'”