Tonight’s Parks and Recreation might be the cutest episode in television history. Obviously, that’s hyperbolic, but I haven’t awwwwwwed or laughed so loud it rattled the rafters like that in so long. What makes this show so significant too, compared to other adorable sitcoms, is that it doesn’t reach for stock sentimentality. All of the unbearable cuteness is character-based—derived from deep longing, gradual development and genuine relationships.
Now, let’s collectively squeal about how amazing that last scene was! GAH! Every beat was sappy as hell and yet absolutely authentic. From Ben qualifying his love as “ridiculous,” to Leslie asking him to pause his proposal in order to make sure she completely captured not only her surroundings but the perfection of the moment, to Leslie cutting him off at “Will you” to blurt out “Yes!” and Ben breaking from their passionate kiss to ask, “Marry me?” to Leslie’s reply, “Oh yeah, duh!” was the stuff of legend. Honestly, this scene should be preserved in the pantheon of all-time television moments—move over “Who shot J.R?”—but I suppose it will only be reserved for a reverential cult status. I can’t decided if I’m okay with that. It’s certainly not just that Mike Schur is still waiting dreadfully for word that he’ll get another season. And it defies logic that more people don’t watch and adore this show. But such is the free marketplace, where good ideas go to shine preciously before they dull. So, like Leslie, let’s take a moment to reflect on the perfection of this moment, to acknowledge the transcendence of this creative team that was able to capture the wonder of two people dedicating themselves to each other.
There’s still a lot left to love about this episode too. Every character had their moment of brilliance. Let’s begin with the already legendary Ron Swanson. Diane drops by his office with the kids and while he seems quite smitten, his affection is overshadowed by his contempt for the incredible loudness of her children. Andy exacerbates the situation by chasing them around the room. Ron, and Andy, have volunteered to join them for trick-or-treating. Ron isn’t thrilled. At least he realizes that sacrifice—or the less harsh sounding “compromise”— is essential to making a relationship work. Perhaps he wasn’t aware to what extent his privacy cocoon would be cracked.
Leslie and Ann look at a house that LesBen is considering leasing out. It’s damn gorgeous (see above). It’s spacious enough, too, that you envision little Wyatts crawling all over. Although, it does lack a trampoline room, which disappoints Leslie. She’s overwhelmed with joy that her future is unfolding as she’d dreamed, and when she declares she’ll take it, Ann joins in her in a celebratory dance to the “Party Rock Anthem” instrumental. As expected, Rashida Jones and Amy Poehler’s moves are darling.
Chris comes into the parks department with a consecutive sessions award his therapist gave him (a.k.a he begged for while sobbing). He’s also there to announce that Pawnee will have a scary movie night showing Death Canoe 4: Murder at Blood Lake. Donna, a huge fan of the series, is so excited she watches the first three in preparation and vows to live-tweet the festivities. This has an added layer of humor because the actress Retta has become Twitter-famous for her live-tweets of TV shows.
Congressman Murray has an insurmountable lead over his opponent who has run out of money. Ben dismisses April early because of this, but not before she congratulates herself on a job well done. Ben trying to assure the rest of his employees that he is affirming all of them was great. While I’m glad they’re back home, I hope that dynamic isn’t neglected. Jen Barkley (Kathryn Haan) offers another campaign to Ben, a gubernatorial candidate in Florida.
Meanwhile, Diane gets a call that some kids are pooping on the soccer field and Andy again volunteers to help without consulting Ron. Swanson’s baby-sitting skills are lacking to say the least. When one of the girls says she needs to use a bathroom, he freezes and says, “I have no idea what to do about that.” Later, when one daughter breaks the other’s tiara, he simply breaks the second tiara so they will be equal. While logical, the girls begin to bawl and Ron sufficiently traumatizes the pretend princesses.
At the scary movie screening, Leslie is dressed as Rosie the Riveter. As soon as I saw her costume I said, “Perfect,” to myself. I mean, what else would she be? After Ben tells her that he might be wrapped up in another campaign even farther away, Ann suggests they scare Tom as he’s leaving the bathroom to cheer her up. Jerry exits instead and he clutches his chest and starts a procession of poots, if you will. After he is able to alert the ladies of his symptoms, Tom finally comes out and rags on Jerry for his incessant farting before Ann sets him straight, telling him Jerry is having a heart attack. Again, it can’t be emphasized enough how deft these writers are at further fleshing out their characters. Of course Jerry would be spooked into a heart attack. Of course his infarction would turn into another in a litany of reasons to tease him. Props to the sound editors/mixers too. Even his farts sound sad.
At the hospital, Tom is still poking fun at Jerry’s “excessive flatulence.” Jerry takes this incident to be a wakeup call. He needs to do more to ensure he has a future with his family. Leslie turns her own insecurity into a cause to rally around, as she often does. She comes up with the sweetest idea ever—a garage sale fundraiser to pay for his medical bills. Gosh, is there anywhere on Earth where people treat each other kinder? Pawnee, can you please be real? Also, you gotta clap for Parks’ ability to insert a subtle jab at Republicans. Apparently, the Pawnee municipal employee health care plan is kinda crappy. How crappy you ask? One time Leslie sprained her wrist and they deemed having a wrist to be a pre-existing condition.
At the garage sale, “Jerry’s Kids’ Dad,” (even when doing something nice for him, he’s still the punching bag), the writers use this as yet another occasion for other character-based jokes related to their belongings. Ann is selling all the items she bought that correspond with her exes’ personalties—a joke carried over from last week. Leslie is auctioning off Perd Hapley’s autobiography The Thing About Me Is…I’m Perd Hapley. And Tom is selling a jacket for more than it’s worth because he added a scorpion onto it to look like the one from Drive. Diane drops by to apologize to Ron for her loud voicemail that she left him in frustration over his baby-sitting catastrophe. She asks if Ron has anything to say and all he responds with is, “You look nice today.” She storms in when he takes too long to answer if he feels bad. April points out that he’s blowing it and says he’s sad that he disappointed her, no matter how much he tires to hide it.
In her anger over hearing that the gubernatorial candidate wants him to personally run his campaign, Leslie offers up a night with Ann for auction. Ann is quite concerned until a handsome man bids and says “What the hell.” Then a creepy, tatted old man starts going back and forth with the handsome fellow until the creepy dude hits $1000. When Leslie asks what he would “do to her” he says she could watch him do belly flops in his backyard mudpit, have some Thai food, then take a nitrous and see what happens. Ann, smartly, runs away.
Tom, after a mother expresses resistance to buying expensive clothing for her growing boy comes up with possibly his best business model ever—though the rest have been awful. “Rent-A-Swag” is a service where he rents out high-end clothing to teens, tweens and everything-in-between. I think that might actually work!
Leslie is distraught when she informs Jerry that his “future is cancelled.” They only raised $1200—I’m guessing “Good Table” didn’t sell. Jerry then drops a pearl of wisdom that is both ham-handed and, once again (I feel like a broken record, adorable. “You can’t plan your future…as long as the people I love are a part of it, I’ll be just fine.” It’s a tender moment that is undercut when Jerry extends the offer to Leslie to stay and “watch his stories,” tempting her with strawberry Jello night. She replies, “No, your life is so sad.” But in actuality, his life is okay. He’s content because he is loved. Whether he gets a beach house, or never rises from his station of city employee is immaterial. And it’s a lesson Leslie has been grappling with since the start—the tug of war between ambition and happiness.
Back in Washington, Jen Barkley says he doesn’t have much to consider—just “feelings and girlfriend.” She sees him at his most happiest managing a campaign, and he admits she’s damn convincing. But you get the impression Leslie is never far from his mind. And that while this is his element, he is always going to be missing something wonderful without Leslie there.
Ron redeems himself with the romantic gesture of coming to her door with flowers, chocolate and grout cleaner (he saw she needed it). Diane reminds him that her kids are “nonnegotiable.” Ron concedes that he has “been alone most of his life, by choice,” so all this is new, a family. He wants to give it a try though. Ron is a character so wrapped up in his masculine, self-sufficient and rugged identity that he forgets the most manly thing you can do is open up. While he could live in a cabin, isolated from the world, content like Jerry to settle, he would be wussing out from taking the risk of finding something special like what LesBen have. So he is giving it a shot. He even makes the bold move of taking the girls out trick-or-treating on November 8th, demanding any and all candy leftover in the neighborhood houses—calcium chews and tubes of cookie dough! Swanson will always be one of the most mythic and delightful characters, and that will only increase if he is able to love completely, and healthfully, which seems possible with Diane. It’s a relationship slow-cooking, like on a rotisserie. And Ron knows how to make delicious meat, so I have faith.
And we circle back to the elegance of that ending. I didn’t cry, but only because I was smiling so wide. I’m rooting for those kids. While they are fictional, they are by no means fake. They have infectious personalities, great drive, and an undying affection for one another that would make you gag if you saw it in reality. But here it makes your heart swell, because it’s almost too sweet to take. This whole community, while “ridiculous” like Ben’s love for Leslie, is just the right kind of blend between relentlessly silly and seriously passionate. Some of them may have unfathomable beliefs, stubbornness that causes a scene, and they often leave reason behind and resort to emotionally-charged decision making, but maybe that’s not at all a negative. Maybe they’re the true humans, and we’re robots, too desensitized by tragedy and practicality to care too much. Parks and Rec reminds me it’s okay to let my heart do the talking every once and a while. And that some of the greatest truths don’t come from fact-checking, but feeling.
L.O.L.Ls: Laugh Out Loud Lines
- Diane: “Hey, am I interrupting something important?” Ron: “Impossible, I work for the government.”
- Leslie: “He would move into my place, but it’s a scary nightmare hoarder nest. His words. And Ann’s. And the official report filed by the health department.”
- Donna (about Death Canoe 4): “Seriously? That’s the best one. Hope no one minds if I live-tweet this bitch!”
- Chris (about his therapist): “He’s very wise, I see him fives times a week. He holds my life in his hand like a fragile little bird.”
- Jen Barkley (about April): “Woo, that’s an exit. Gone, but not forgotten! Who was that? I’m kidding.”
- Jen: “Let’s talk about what you’re gonna do next.” Ben: “Oh, I was gonna get a chicken parm and watch Blade Runner.”
- Donna: “In the fifth one, the canoe’s actually the hero. Crazy twist.”
- Tom: “I just wanna hear the doctor say Jerry had a “fart-attack.” Is that too much to ask?”
- Ron (about Diane’s girls): “If the kids ever came over to my place, I’d have to take a full week off work just to undo all the alarms and trip-wires.”
- Leslie (auctioning off Ann): “Just dinner and dancing, nothing sexual, unless she’s into that. But no she’s not. Nothing fresh, don’t even try it. But you never know, right? No, Don’t try anything, but you know, give it a shot.”