“Parks and Recreation” – Leslie vs. April episode review 1

As an engagement gift, Ben gets Leslie in a room with vice presidential dreamboat Joe Biden.

★★★★★

As evidenced by “Halloween Surprise” this show is just about the most adorable art out there. With this week’s infusion of Fightin’ Joe Biden it solidified itself as criminally charming too. But the most admirable man may have been Ben Wyatt. I’m not suggesting Parks and Recreation should be billed as a feminist manifesto, but they have spun a progressive love story that should be admired. As the newly engaged couple gazes upon the White House, Leslie promises that by 2020, nay 2024, she will be living in that house and Ben will be the first First Gentleman. And in response he expresses only glee with a “That sounds kinda great, actually.” Even in these radical times where women’s birth control rains from the sky Ben would still be the exception.

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Most men, I don’t think, can stomach letting their wife or partner provide for them, let alone run their country. I think it speaks volumes about our collective consciousness that we nominated and then elected a biracial man before a white woman, one who was already second banana to her husband to boot! So for Ben to give a ringing endorsement for his fiancee to run for office should be celebrated even if it’s accomplished only in a fictitious world. Again, I don’t want Parks to be a platform for political agenda of either party, but I’m encouraged that a show would show a shade of masculinity that is desirable even when he takes a back seat.

Now that I’ve hopped off my soapbox, let’s fawn over how fabulous Amy Poehler was when Leslie met her humungous crush—our recently reelected vice president. I won’t deny that Joe Biden’s pearly whites were remarkable, but I always thought it was nutty that Leslie would go weak at the knees for him. But boy, did she sell me on not only being starstruck, but being overwhelmed with desire. Ben watching awkwardly as she leans in for just a second to kiss him is priceless. He’s man enough to realize that even in the presence of her hunk, he’s still the one she’s chosen. And while her arousal was palpable, and he was mildly disturbed by her behavior, he never sweated. The giggling and hyperventilating had me stunned as I watched this master at work. Where Leslie ends and Amy begins I lost sight of in that scene. Below I’ll share my favorite snippets from their interaction, but let me just say that Biden was a trooper for playing along and while he’ll always be the goofy sidekick to my main man Obama, I respect him immensely.

Once we all collected ourselves after that steamy cold open (paradox noted) we see Leslie getting emotional, but this time over April’s dedication to a dog park project. Leslie takes pictures of her next to her presentation slides like a proud momma, and asks her to pose like she’s thinking of all the female role models in her life. The fondness is short-lived though, as April tells Leslie that her proposal is to put her dog park in Lot 48, the space behind Ann’s apartment. That lot has been Leslie’s baby since the beginning of the show, so Leslie instantly discourages April’s initiative. She calls the sacred “dibs” and it sparks a rivalry of passion and ironic detachment.

Andy is still preparing for his police exam in a subplot I was the least enthusiastic about. I think giving all the juvenile characters a chance to grow up and discover their respective purposes is a fine track, but it seems like they have been going to the idiotic well less than the innocent, endearing well. Here he’s clearly inept at solving the mystery of his missing computer and I disliked laughing at Andy as opposed to with him. These writers are devilishly clever though, so the playing with language was still enjoyable. Also any chance for Donna, and by proxy Retta, to make a pop culture, Twitter-style reference like “I took my talents to South Beach” is something I will always sign off on.

The subplot I’m most pleased with is Tom’s most mature business venture yet. And any chance to pair him with Ben is a huge bonus as well. Impressed by his business plan, Ben agrees to help him with the math side. He’s determined to help Tom avoid an Entertainment 720-type fiasco. Tom laments that it is too bad they didn’t see it coming, and Ben’s face is beyond priceless. If there was ever a Hall of Fame dedicated to sarcastic facial expressions, Adam Scott would be first ballot. His reactions amplify literally every joke delivered in his vicinity.

Leslie in her quest to impede April’s efforts shows her an industrial waste cleanup site that might be suitable for the dog park. After all, there’s already a dog there! Ann’s trauma over seeing that mongrel chew up a doll that she had as a child was particularly funny. April doesn’t back down and forcing Leslie to beg. When she says she’ll do anything if it means April won’t bring her plan before city council, April tests that. Will she chop off her toe? Shave her head? Have sex with Jerry? No on all counts. The sadistic April says she tried to be reasonable and goes forward with her project.

In desperation, Leslie storms into Ron’s office for advice, creating a hypothetical thorn in her side named Ricky Jordache in public works. In Ron’s experience, whenever he wants to slow down someone—*cough, cough* Leslie—who is stubborn about accomplishing something, he would distract them with busy work or a meal at J.J’s. For example, he once gave her the task of drafting a topsoil brochure that she later called “Mulch Ado About Nothing.” May I profess my love for the writers once again? A Lebron James crack, and a Shakespeare shoutout by mid-episode? Take me, I’m yours.

But how does Leslie distract a girl who only likes things ironically? She goes to April’s friend Orin’s show, Human Farm. You know, your standard live art show where humans dress as animals in a petting zoo. So frightening.

Ben and Tom start shopping Rent-A-Swag to local businesspeople. First stop, of course, was Sweetums. While Mrs. Newport likes this idea better than Snail Mail (his escargot delivery service), the budget is tight lately due to a molasses vat explosion that has become a slow-moving PR nightmare that is gradually flooding surrounding homes. Who knew molasses puns were so delightful! To rub salt in Tom’s wound, Lady Newport offers Ben a job running their nonprofit wing after watching how efficiently he ran Leslie’s campaign.

Back at Human Farm, Leslie feigns engagement when April knows she’s just diverting her attention. April has already snuck behind Leslie’s back to secure Councilman Jamm’s endorsement (douchey orthodontist guy if you didn’t recall). After April storms off, Orin does his freaky thing and moos like a cow. Confused, Leslie asks if he’s supposed to be a sheep. Orin’s eerie hipster reply is, “No. You are.” Seriously, you have to appreciate the bit players on this show. It’s already a stuff ensemble with equally talented actors all sharing the spotlight. And then you have a reservoir of supporting characters that seems to go as deep as the unfilled pit in Ann’s backyard. Parks has the luxury of being so confident in itself that any added dimension fits seamlessly, and you buy every zany personality that pops up because Pawnee’s identity as a breeding ground for the eccentric and colorful is so firmly established.

Ben and Tom’s next stop is Pawnee public access show Small Business Today. The host is excited about the prospects, but he wants to see how the business pans out before doing a story about them. Ben steals the focus again from the “shorter Indian Ryan Gosling” when he offers a gig as a correspondent on his upcoming political chat show. He’s a fan of his work on the Congressional campaign. Tommy is flabbergasted at how hot a commodity Ben is, comparing him to the guy from The King’s Speech before he was fixed. The host says viewers love “authenticity” so his anxiety on live TV would be refreshing. So while Tom’s swagger is squashed for the time being, Ben’s eyes are opened to possibility. Boring isn’t his inevitability. At episode’s end he quits his accountant job AGAIN realizing that his life could still take many different directions. Marrying Leslie doesn’t means settling for stability, even if a health plan, 401k and benefits does sound cozy.

Andy’s investigation takes him from Donna to Jerry to Chris, who is alarmed that the missing computer he’s been searching was actually stolen. When an officer arrives, he writes out a report while Andy is gung-ho about launching a full-scale investigation. Like one of the weathered Baltimore cops from The Wire he sulks as he tells Andy, “This is the job.” Chris suggests that Andy take the open position of part-time security guard at city hall to test his dedication for being a cop. The angle about law enforcement not being as glamorous as Andy believes was the most intriguing to me, and it could lend itself to a lot of comedic potential watching Burt Macklin slouch at a desk. Maybe he’ll find his calling while he’s waiting for crime to arrive. There’s also the danger that they hit the reset button and Andy tries on a different hat, but I believe they’re setting Andy off on an arc like April’s last season where he becomes more than the butt of a joke.

Councilman Jamm psyches out April at the council meeting and proposes to sell the lot to Paunch Burger. He deploys his jackass catch phrase, “You just got Jammed,” which the twelve year-old in me found disturbingly sexual. Ron reprimands Leslie and April for not treating their coworkers with respect. His message is undercut though when Jerry pokes his head in to ask how the dog park is going and is shouted at to leave. The accent mark on this tremendous comedy timing is how Jerry seems willing to accept all this abuse like it’s routine. He’s the Meg from Family Guy of the parks department and this running gag prompted me to pause my DVR so I could regain my composure.

Ann expedites a reconciliation and both Leslie and April admit they were being selfish (though I gotta say, it was mostly Leslie on this one) and nearsighted in their goals. April’s “I don’t want to do this in front of her” was a sweet touch. A delicious Ann diss and surrogate mother-daughter affection. Now empowered by their female friendship they team up for a “dick move.” Jamm gets Knoped, Ludgated and Perkinsed when they transplant kids and puppies onto his extravagantly large lawn. After realizing that he won’t find peace without a gentleladies’ agreement, they settle for an arrangement where in 90 days they will put all their plans up to a vote—winner takes all. It’s a quiet, democratic end, and truthfully Congress could learn from their ability to scheme and yet still compromise as the fiscal cliff looms.

This was a nearly perfect episode because the laughs were so equally spread out. I don’t think thirty seconds went by without me suppressing laughter to I could transcribe the quote. And while the structure was fluid, I think it’s telling that Ben’s subplot was finished after the credits. They stuffed this turkey so that you wouldn’t be able to devour every scrumptious character within 22 minutes. If I could, I would give this episode 4.75 stars because it was the TV-equivalent of hitting a bomb to the warning track only to have it snatched away by an outstanding centerfielder. So, in the generous spirit of Leslie, I’ve rounded up. Basking in the glow of the classic that was Ben’s beautiful proposal two episodes ago, it’d be hard for any show to shine. It’s an enviably high ceiling they’ve hit, but they have been known to burst through it. Like April for Leslie, Parks’ potential can often produce tears. You watch the thing you love surprise you and you’re overcome with pride. This week, it felt instead like a relentless tickling—I couldn’t stop laughing, even when I wanted to. And when this show excels, that dizzying feeling lingers even after you’ve caught your breath.

L.O.L.Ls: Laugh Out Loud Lines

- Leslie: “You’re…my…my name just came out of your mouth.”

- Leslie: “Oh, Mr. Vice President, I’m deeply flattered, but there’s no way I could take over Madame Secretary Clinton’s position.” Joe Biden: “I’m confident you could do that job or any other…” Leslie: “Okay!”

- Leslie: “You don’t let anything happen to him, you understand? He is precious cargo!”

- Ben: “Just call me Bond—municipal Bond…Yeah that joke killed at the accounting firm.”

- Ben: “Your mission statement made sense, and you didn’t use one R. Kelly lyric.”

- Ann: “This seems like the kinda place a ska band would go to shoot heroin.”

- Leslie: “He’s smart and beautiful, and I think of him in many ways as a daughter, but that would be crazy because he’s a man and his name is Ricky.”

- Leslie: Those were distraction waffles? I thought they were friendship waffles?” Ron: “Breakfast food can serve may purposes.”

- Andy: “I can never tell when people are lying to me. Hopefully that doesn’t come up in my police work.”

- Leslie: “I love this show!” April: “What’s your favorite part?” Leslie: “The heavy-handedness!”

- Andy: “Don’t play stupid and handsome with me!”

- Tom, talking about Ben’s job: “If it was remotely interesting, there’d be a show on A&E about it. They have a show about storage unit auctions!”