Despite the holiday cheer infestation that has victimized us all (particularly in department stores where I feel assaulted by horrible Christmas songs), as a critic I feel pressure to maintain cynicism even if my impulses to give and love painfully are overwhelming me. Thankfully, this episode of “Parks and Recreation,” has allowed me to put my guard down. I can feel free to hug a reindeer and jingle some bells because for the second straight week my adoration has been earned.
We begin where last week left us with Leslie’s existential crisis. What will she do with nothing to do during her two week suspension? What will Ben do for employment? Well, in the open we see Leslie breaking in to the Parks and Rec office to snag her flashdrive. She claims it is not for work-related reasons…only so she can oversee the Parks department while she is gone. Huh? Chris doesn’t buy her excuse either. He asks nicely and she hands him nasal spray. Then they try and negotiate and exchange and Leslie runs off with the flashdrive. Chris runs after her in his ridiculous “Bumbleflex” jogging suit (made from synthetic beeswax). Ben is seeking employment in the private sector, and is initially encouraged by his prospects. Though, Leslie pinpoints that he is more “excited” by the security of being “an accountant for an accounting firm,” than he is with the position itself.
Back at the office, our favorite co-workers are thrilled with the per usual, stellar gifts Leslie got them. All of the gifts were gems in terms of writing. These guys know their characters as if they were family. Andy got a gold record for his band, Mouserat, selling over 100 copies in Pawnee; For April, she commandeered a painting of her finally slaying The Black Eyed Peas; Donna got a zebra-print with “You Can Get It” in rhinestones on the back; Tom, in place of tickets to the “Watch the Throne” tour, (which I actually saw, and got to high-five Jay-Z as he came through the tunnel…no big deal) was given a pocket watch, hollowed out with “Baller Time” inscribed and a tiny gold throne. And the most hilarious gift of all, she had automatic doors that close with the push of a button installed in Ron’s office overnight. Typically, he is furious that she would get him something so special, and Ron’s rough exterior breaks as he holds back the tears. Oh, and not to be forgotten, because Leslie “gets him,” she gives Jerry, socks.
That sequence of gifts would have made my night. We get a memorable joke/moment from each character within five minutes of the episode. Thankfully, it only got better. Leslie, in her manic restlessness, receives the suggestion from Ben that she can work for the town as a citizen activist. For her, this means rallying some new troops to her cause and organizing PCP (Parks Committee of Pawnee). They harass Chris by calling incessantly and following him on his jogging route, and they show up to the town hall meeting run by Donna and Jerry, totally sabotaging it. Eventually, Leslie ends up back in Chris’ office with a list of demands, as well as his Christmas gift. Leslie’s unique combination of impossible work ethic and extreme selflessness has been utilized in the past, but here it feels seamless attached to not only the holiday season, but also when to her recent extraction from the biggest outlet for her “Can’t stop, won’t stop” attitude.
The gang (spearheaded by RON!) decides to show their gratitude for Leslie by putting together a thoughtful gift of their own. Ron suggests building a wooden model of the Parks department, Leslie’s favorite place in the world, and then Ann chimes in with the idea of a gingerbread house of the park department. Ron, of course, feels defeated, insisting amidst the jubilation that “wood model is better.” Being a good sport, he attempts to construct the gingerbread house and repeatedly crushing the cookie in his hands out of impatience. When Andy shows him up with his frosting skills, Ron quits. But damn, if I didn’t appreciate the effort from my favorite Pawnee man.
But oddly enough, my favorite aspect of this episode filled with love, collaboration and general merriment was when the consequences of last week’s verdict revealed themselves. Leslie’s campaign advisers foresaw a dip in in her poll numbers, but because of the perceived “sex scandal,” she saw a catastrophic decline to 1%. Or as Leslie articulates it, “last milkshake sip levels.” Leslie, expectedly, remains determined, but the veteran campaigners decided she is a lost cause, a concept lost on Leslie. Ben, however, has a epiphany about being okay without a job, realizing that he is happy in the state of uncertainty because it means he hasn’t yet found that great job he was meant for. Showing these two grow without each other, as well as together, is precisely how the show can keep this couple relevant while not obstructing the core relationship of this Parks staff that is so integral to the pathos and the humor the show has spent four seasons building.
These new stakes present themselves just long enough to cause concern, but when Chris gifts Leslie her ID a week early, effectively revoking her suspension, she walks in to her familiar workplace overwhelmed by the effort of her employees, astounded by the gingerbread replica, and then nearly floored by the most heartwarming gesture of all, announcing their commitment to running the Leslie Knope 2012 campaign. As each character, described their position on the campaign staff (Tom as “swagger coach,” Ron as “what ever else you damn well need”) my smile grew wider. It certainly isn’t a requirement for a comedy to create an entirely likable ensemble to achieve comedic success, but damn, if it doesn’t make me tune in every week, thrilled to see what this team (both the Parks and Rec characters and the show’s writing staff) accomplishes together. For, pumping some much needed Christmas spirit into my veins, through genuine caring and kindness, and not some hokey, commercialized version of what “Christmas really means” I give “Citizen Knope” the gift of credit where credit is due, an A.
LO.L.Ls (Laugh Out Loud Lines):
– “Well, I’ll calc-u-later.”
– Ben, after Leslie creates the gross blend sal-gar (salt and sugar): “You’re putting an awful lot of sal-gar on your pasta” “That’s just sugar.”
– Leslie addressing her group, PCP: “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose” GAHHHH, “Friday Night Lights” reference!
– Donna: “I spray painted the M&Ms silver.” Ann: “Oh, okay, those are poisonous now.” Andy (clearly with silver paint in his lips): “Well, yeah, duh, I didn’t eat them.” Ann: “Andy, go throw up.” Andy: “I didn’t” Ann: “Seriously, go throw up.” Andy: “Okay.”
– Leslie after giving Chris his present: “My pleasure…see you in Hell!”
– “Like Kim tells me, you gotta do what you love…then she ripped the hair from my b-hole”
– “I’m now starting a group, LSD, the Leslie Sorry Division.”
– “I cannot build a gingerbread house, and that would bother me if I was an 8 year-old girl.”
– The entire last sequence during the end credits with Jean Ralphio, Tom’s former business partner, working as a temp at the accounting firm Ben rejects was AMAZING. Seriously, that guaranteed the A for me. If I had to pick one line…
Jean-Ralphio: “You wanna talk spreadsheets, let’s talk about spreading on my sheets, because I will rock your wor—” Accountant: “You’re fired!” “Yeah, I figured, so I should just go out the way I came in?”
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