Is it me, or is Parks and Recreation taking a “shampoo” approach lately with Leslie Knope? Lather, rinse, repeat. I enjoyed this episode a ton. There was a tremendous amount of quotable material, but I wonder if the writers have stuck themselves in a rut. Or, maybe, they’re comfortable with this new format. I feel it might be squandering the show’s potential.
Last season, when they went serial with Leslie’s campaign for city council it added gravity to the solid foundation of touching relationships they’ve so meticulously built. Now that she is an elected official, each week is a procedural about how Leslie will deal with the conflict between her values and her obligation to operate within a political system. It’s an astute point, and one that’s artfully done since it doesn’t feel like a lecture or political punditry, but a hangout sesh with my buds. However, I found myself wanting more old people sex jokes and less delaying of the inevitable. Unless Leslie’s censure carries repercussions, next week we’ll just hit the rest button, and she’ll learn her lesson all over again.
Skepticism aside, there was a lot to be delighted by since Perd Hapley got to make plenty of silly transitions, Ron was woodsy, Tom detoxes from technology after a tweeting accident, and Andy was disturbed/tickled that old people are getting it on.
Tom is sitting before a judge because he crashed into a fire hydrant while texting…excuse me, tweeting. The subtle reference to a lesser-known M. Night Shymalan movie—#Unbreakable, #WhatisMrGlassuptothesedays?, #whynosequel?—sealed this subplot early on as a winner. His sentence for his reckless driving is a week without technology, and this is seen as downright cruel to him.
At the parks department, Leslie assembles her team of “sex avengers” because some old people are bumping uglies without protection and spreading STDs like wildfire. Ann, as a representative of the health department is especially perturbed, and Leslie, Andy and Donna test her ability to coach these geriatrics on healthy sex practices. Leslie pretends to be a woman who “hasn’t had her monthly since LBJ,” Donna wonders if there’s edible lube, and Andy’s fake old timer has run over his testes with a “jazzy scooter.” Andy also appears concerned with his own issue of longer pubic hair. And while STDs aren’t a laughing matter, since it’s the elderly, it’s kinda cute. It’s less charming once you hear these gum-less mouths spouting off about multiple partners and soft, mushy bananas that point sharply left. Andy expresses our own impulses perfectly—his laugh is a combination of disgust and uncontrollable giggling.
Tom is struggling mightily with technology withdrawals. He constructs a makeshift Pintrest board and even makes an iPhone out of a notepad. Worst of all, he was 90 minutes late because he got lost without GPS. Ron’s remedy is a retreat to his cabin—so far removed from society electricians aren’t aware there’s a structure. Some time out in the fresh air, with no screens around to tempt him and he’ll be purified.
The C-plot surrounds our introduction to the candidate whose campaign Ben works for: David Murray of Ohio. What at first seems unremarkable, was actually the most well-executed political joke the show has done. Murray, after cordially introducing himself to Ben and thanking him for his efforts, plops himself in a cubicle and stares at the wall. April suspects he’s a robot, and Ben rationalizes it as him deep in thought. When he strikes a conversation with him though, he uses the same exact phrases. Later his handler confirms, he’s robotic and he loves it. It’s a multi-dimensional joke. Not only does it play off our fears that politicians are inhuman, but it shows that on the flip side, the best candidates are the ones that can turn it on for a stump speech, and just keep their mouth shut until instructed. Ben’s incredulous response to the political theater is also priceless—an effective use of the ancillary story.
Marcia Langman and Marcus Bachmann stand-in Marshall Langman interject at Leslie’s town hall informational meeting to reinforce the conservative stances of the Society for Family Stability and Blabbity Blah—only abstinence should be taught in terms of sex education. While Ann thought the law applied only to children, the ordinance says it’s city-wide. As I mentioned, these two are an apparent parody of the Bachmanns. Marshall, like Michelle’s husband, exhibits “gay tendencies” that he seems to overcompensate with an unrelenting and puritanical view of sex.
The Langmans take their outrage to Perd Hapley’s talk show where we learn that 85% of Pawneeans support the abstinence only education, and that Perd calls his fans “Perd-verts”—NBC, I beg you to make a T-shirt that says “I’m a proud Perd-vert.” I will buy it, and wear it often. Cross my heart.
Tom, while enjoying the chopping wood, is still dependent upon his internet-accesible devices. The second he gets a splinter his reaction is to check WebMD. Ron suggests he purge himself of his electronic desires by talking through his habits. Tom spends the entire day discussing how he checks all his social networking sites, the wonders of Wikpedia (did you know Ray J was Snoop Dogg’s cousin?), racist Emojis and his defunct podcast with Jean-Ralphio called “Nacho Average Podcast”—clearly, they talk about nachos. After tolerating his rambling as he fished, hunted, and made a fire, Ron pleads for Tom to stop. He’s an addict, and there’s some pathological reason he’s so hooked on looking at screens. Tom, thinking he’s an expert on his affliction from watching all the episode of “Intervention,” admits his he has harmed his loved ones and recommends he go out and buy celebratory steaks. Upon returning he slams Ron’s car into a tree while tweeting on a phone he bought cheap at Best Buy: “Tommy Edamame is back on the grid! Tell everyone to light me up with their digis, gotta load ’em into my burner.” Ron is furious at his transgression.
Leslie’s forced to uphold the law, and that means aligning with the Langman’s nonsense rhetoric. Ann is disappointed at Leslie not acting like herself, but Leslie fires a shot back about how Ann’s guilty of the same. For most of the episode she’s wearing some cowboy getup. Rashida Jones is adorable, so it’s almost a non-issue, but Leslie presents her point solidly. Ann dressed in flannel when she dated Andy, and spandex for Chris—I was a big fan of this period. Her fashion tends to coordinate with the boyfriends she has. Ann’s fuming, but not on her comeback game.
When Leslie starts delivering the messages about abstinence, the fiery old folks aren’t receptive. After reading off Marcia’s pamphlet, she goes rogue and passes out condoms to all the turned-on elderly. She incurs a censure as a result, and apologizes on air with Perd Hapley. She says she is sorry…wait for it…for the antiquated laws of this city. While she may not have the backing of a large voting contingency, she’ll fight tirelessly to change their minds. Perd goes on a tangent about how he is no longer allowed at Pier One, and it just solidifies all that is right with this universe.
The resolution to the Tom issue is not delicate, but it gives Ron the opportunity to be stern yet paternal, which is a good look on Nick Offerman. Tom says he spends his time looking at screens to distract from examining his dismal life. This is a standard psychological deduction about out entire generation. I suspect they are in part mocking the perception of the intellectual community overanalyzing our internet age, but I bet there’s a hint of self-awareness, too. Being a “punishment that fits the crime” kinda guy, Ron drops a Auto Repair Manual from ’82 on Tom’s desk. He’ll read it cover-to-cover and use his newly acquired knowledge to fix the damage he inflicted on his car. Ron uses the opportunity to emphasize his principles about eye contact—don’t look at your phone when speaking to another man—and he steers him toward Leslie if he needs to talk. After all, “she lives for that.”
Undeterred from headlines like “Loosely Grope,” Leslie is fired up and shares with Ben that she’s gonna chug Red Bulls and draft up a bill that night. Ben smiles adoringly, as always. That Adam Scott knows how to play doting boyfriend, man. As I mentioned, this cycle where Leslie is cynical about how her idealism will fit into an arena where status quo reigns supreme, feels defeated by the consequences of going against the grain, then ultimately acts as an individual, not coerced by public perception, is beginning to feel like a thing. We’re only four episodes in though, so I’ll reserve judgement. I will be weary during the coming weeks. And while Tom isn’t the go-to character for strong B-stories because he is a pretty one-joke character—he’s trendy, and usually a vehicle for pop culture references—Mike Schur and the gang know they have the luxury of utilizing a number of pairings, and the Ron/Tom coupling is just unorthodox enough to work. Ron can hardly bear Tom’s frivolous and effeminate interests, but he sees the gentle-hearted fellow underneath that doesn’t deserve to be beat down by the world around him.
Aziz Ansari is a stellar comedic flamethrower to have in your bullpen though, and given the chance, he delivers his lines with the pizzaz that distinguishes his standup. And by pulling Perd and Marcia out of the vault, it reminds us how deep the Pawnee bench is. Like many other iconic TV towns, Pawnee has characters in every pocket that can add to the allure of what might be deemed a dump by those who don’t know better. And isn’t that the central appeal of Parks and Recreation? It’s a world where we feel like afterwards, we know and feel better.
L.O.L.Ls: Laugh Out Loud Lines
– Tom: “Gotta pass this lady on the ejerkj…that’s when I hit the fire hydrant. Sorry, allegedly hit the fire hydrant.”
– Leslie: “A cowboy hat from your cowboyfriend. That makes him sound like he’s a cow.”
– Leslie: “Good news. Lots of old people have chlamydia.”
– Ann: “Seniors are pretty ornery.” Andy: “Actually, I think it’s pronounced horny.”
– Chris: “Ann Perkins, your expertise is thrilling. And frankly, almost arousing.”
– Andy: “I did eat all the bananas. So you can’t play with those.”
– Leslie, reading from Marcia’s book: “Chapter Three: There’s a Party in My Pants and No One is Invited.”
– Marshall: “Girl, you look like Annie Oakley and Pippi Longstocking has a baby and I love it!”
– Leslie, reading from Marcia’s book, again: “The devil likes to hide in all our private nooks and crannies. And if you open up too wide he might get out or in.”
– Perd Hapley: “Strong words from a woman trying to pin a piece of paper on her blazer.”