There’s this clip that’s been speedboating around the Internet for the last few days. I’m sure you’ve seen it. Patton Oswalt, the guest on the first of two great Parks And Recreation episodes, improvises a monologue about the upcoming Star Wars sequels, as directed by JJ Abrams. It’s part of a filibuster, in “Article Two” when Leslie decides to remove some outdated rules from the town charter. For nearly nine minutes, Oswalt demonstrates his supreme command of the nerd universes of Star Wars, Marvel, and other miscellany. “He is the king of the Internet!” hailed everyone.
I love that clip. But not just because it’s Patton Oswalt, not just because he’s completely owning the mythology of beloved nerd kingdoms, and not just because it’s a feat of unbridled excellence. No, I love it because it captures everything I’ve grown to like about Parks. It’s reassuring for me to see Oswalt, completely bereft of all irony, sharing his joy with the world. There is absolutely no cynicism in his voice nor in his actions, and he’s doing nothing to smooth out the sharp edges of what makes him a dynamic and fascinating human being. He’s putting it all out there, confidently, without fear of judgment.
The clip cycled a few days before these back-to-back episode aired, and they set the tone for the purity of what we were about to see. Both “Article Two” and “Jerry’s Retirement” are about how hard it can be to find friends in adulthood—real friends—and they do so in a way that seems relatable and grounded in truth. Because sitcom people who try to find friends are usually portrayed as sad desperate losers who are clearly missing something, like Ted in the first few episodes of How I Met Your Mother when he wouldn’t fucking shut up about not finding the woman he was going to marry. No character on either episode of Parks is devoid of meaning. They’re perfectly content with how things are; they just want more people to share it with.
Depression can feel like a black hole void, but not even Garth Blundon, Oswalt’s character, shows any sign of being this way. Sure, even by Pawnee standards, he is a weirdo, but he fully embraces all his idiosyncrasies. Is he the only guy in full Tea Party Day garb? You betcha. Can he play with an old timey hoop like a school boy on a cobblestone road? Fo sho. Does he have a seemingly robust home soap-making hobby? Call Tyler Durden, because yes. Directed by Amy Poehler herself, “Article Two” makes him out to be the hero, and throws a veritable parade in his honor when Leslie agrees to live in an old timey house with him as a competition—if she loses, she keeps the laws in the books that please Garth so. It’s a very improv-spirited thing to do, so no surprises that Poehler had a deft hand in this one.
There are celebrations aplenty. Leslie is not one to shy away from anniversaries, and so both Ben and Ann—and surprisingly the mail lady—are on the hunt for the perfect breakfast-themed gift: a waffle iron from JJ’s on eBay. For a brief moment, they’re caught up trying to please this demanding woman, and there’s a heated bidding war between Tall Tyrion Lannister and Future Mrs. Tiger Woods. But they lose to the pawn shop guy, who has a bunch of cash, a box full of guns, a crush on Ann Perkins, and apparently the means to get a whole bunch of nitrous. There’s nothing particularly compelling or salient about Ben and Ann’s inevitable alliance (and concession of more friend time to Leslie, the woman who was once named “employee of the fortnight”), but it’s yet another example of two relatively decent and complete people making new friends. FRIENDS!
Or, in the case of April, UNMAKING FRIENDS! Two men enter, one ME leaves! In her new role as head of Animal Control, she’s forced to take Chris’ management training seminar, CTMTS. Ron will have none of that, though. He loves when people do nothing. In fact, he’ll work all night if it means nothing gets done. So he storms right into Chris’ office, and finds himself mandated by his employer to participate in CTMTS himself. Thus begins another feud: Which is more motivating, the Traeger touchy-feely good times niceties, or the Swanson withholding method? They test their theories on Jerry, only to realize they’ve both been played by April, who stole 20 bucks from Chris and ate pizza with Andy. She needs nothing, wants nothing, and should never change. Her unabashed embrace of the dark side is so damn endearing.
“Jerry’s Retirement” continues the friendship trend with Parks’ least endearing character, at least according to every single other character on the show. It’s Jerry’s last day, and in fitting Jerry form, he didn’t tell anyone because he didn’t want to bother them (though he did rarely have a few outbursts). It also happens to be Leslie’s day off, and Ben has quite the schedule planned. Mac and cheese pizza. Other things, I’d imagine.
Nobody likes Jerry, but not to the point where they won’t begrudgingly be nice to him on his last day. So Leslie embarks on a journey to give him everything he’s always wanted to do when he was a fresh-faced 40-years-younger guy with lofty ambitions of public service and to not be written up scathingly by Leslie Knope. She attempts to take him to the executive dining hall and to meet the former mayor, both DOA, one figuratively and one literally. Then they get him a cake and he lights his sleeve on fire. At least he has a huge penis.
And a smoking hot family. Leslie returns the next day to apologize for being overzealous with her planning, and Jerry’s entire family insists on having her in for breakfast. They notice her waffle-shaped purse, see, and the fact that she only talks about breakfast always. Then they sing a weird breakfast song, and I marvel at Parks’ ability to make somebody as grating as Jerry so damn… comfortable. He knows exactly how good he has it—the legacy of his job isn’t all the times he screwed up, it’s the fact that he left by five every day and spent time raising his daughters. There are only four pages in the scrapbook of his professional life, but he has hundreds of photos from family vacations to Muncie. It’s jarring for Leslie, who values professional accomplishment almost above all else, to see somebody place so much stock in their home life, but this is the side of Jerry he always keeps to himself. See, he doesn’t want to bother anyone.
And because nobody knows back at the office, there’s a heated war as to who will be the new office “Jerry,” so to speak—the person everyone can mock. They don’t realize that Jerry doesn’t really care, and not even Andy’s goofy gullibility and obliviousness can tip their hat. He can never be Jerry, but Jerry can never be the “Jerry”-type figure they imagine, always tripping over himself and dropping burritos into creeks. So, the race is on, and Tom immediately fails to pronounce one word and is now branded as the new Jerry. Tom is Jerry. Those cartoonists could have never predicted this, though they strangely did predict Tom’s fur underwear.
There’s a natural order to Parks that simply cannot be upset. Just as everyone is living a fulfilled life, the office cannot be anything shy of predictable. It was hard enough when Chris and Ben joined the ranks, and that only worked because Ben and Leslie fell in love and Chris has the resting heart rate of a 100 year old tortoise. Oh, and he is now engaging in an off-again, on-again relationship with Ann, his Fallopian Princess. Everyone has to be talking to or hanging around with somebody else, so it’s no surprise that Ann’s quest for a baby brings her back into Chris’ arms, or that Jerry is asked to come back a few days a week to trip over chairs. Parks And Recreation is a vision of what it’s like to be content when you’re a well-rounded person—a very welcome respite, at least for me.
- Congrats to Harris Wittels for filling the cup all the way to the top.