I’m surprised this hasn’t come up before. Ron Swanson is as staunchly anti-government as they come. Leslie is very, very much pro-government. They could face off in a presidential election and people would believe they hated each other. Yet they’ve become friends despite their fundamental differences. Parks And Recreation demonstrated that, politics aside, everyone’s just trying to make somebody happy; and Leslie’s ability to make Ron happy warmed his secret jazz heart.
On the business side, at first Ron’s feelings about government manifested themselves through apathy, and later he put them aside to help Leslie and be a good friend. But he was still extremely apathetic, and now has decided, once and for all, to take a stand. That’s the biggest surprise in “Bailout,” and also the most salient example of how the writers, having been given a second life of sorts with the show, are enjoyably stirring the pot until it boils over—just because.
Things have largely settled down in Leslie’s personal life, so she’s back to work and now concerned that a local video store, run by Jason Schwartzman’s Dennis, is in danger of going under. Always the advocate for the little guy, Leslie proposes the government siphon a few bucks towards the Pawnee Videodome and save this fledgling business. One catch: Dennis has to serve up a few more mainstream films and stop with all the depressing shit (Orin would feel right at home—also is there a society of Pawnee film hipsters I was unaware of?). She faces steep competition in the council meeting when Ron, in a shocking twist, actually comes to the meeting—no, he’s not lost—and voices his concerns about government bailouts. Now everyone wants a piece, and Leslie has to put out a much larger fire. Morris shows himself out.
Things chug right along, and soon Leslie and Ron both get what they want: Leslie’s bailout comes through, and Ron is able to sit back and enjoy the delicious irony of Leslie’s efforts turning the Videodome into a porn shop. It feels like a huge deal in the moment, but in the end, it’s just another day in Pawnee. Little things are what make up all our lives, and we can choose to give them whatever weight we want. TV operates best when those little things become SUPER IMPORTANT, of course, but sometimes little things have to remain little. That’s kind of a prerequisite for being an adult, and those on Parks are learning that little by little.
There’s some nice crossover with the other stories this week. With the appearance of Mona Lisa Saperstein—Jean-Ralphio’s twin sister played by Jenny Slate—Tom is stressing because he’s not happy with her work ethic but lacks the balls to fire her. Chris, having been asked by Ann to donate his sperm, is wrestling with what it might be like to sire a child, even if he’s not directly responsible for raising him or her. Ben’s the practical one, so he suggests Chris take on Tom as a surrogate, to practice what he might say to a moldable mind. And Tom’s as moldable, and susceptible, as they come. So Chris and Tom sit down (next to each other on a humongous couch—one of the best sight gags this show’s ever done) and Chris spells it out: Tom shouldn’t be afraid to speak his mind to Mona Lisa. He’s a man, and he deserves respect. Tom turns this around on Mona Lisa, turning her on in the process and somehow beginning to date her despite Jean-Ralphio’s warning that she’s the woooooooooooooorst! Chris is baffled. Wasn’t his advice good advice? Well, yes. Tom’s happy. Mona Lisa’s not that bad. She’s cute, and Tom has fun with her. It’s the little things, he says.
This shrug-and-a-smile is essentially what happens between April and Ann. April is applying to veterinary school, and wants Ann to give her a good recommendation, which Ann will do only if April has to be her friend for a week—a fate worse than being Ann’s slave. It’s torturous for a while, but of course we’ve seen time after time that whatever bad blood was between them has started to turn less sour. Especially when they’re singing “Time After Time” with Donna. And though the week ends with a good recommendation and an abrupt friendship termination, all the little moments they shared are filed away, and it was not all for naught.
“Bailout” isn’t the craziest or most ambitious episode of Parks to date, but I found it unexpectedly sweet precisely because of all these little moments. After the grand wedding a few weeks back, and the terror that was Councilman Jamm, it’s nice to see a return to the small-time drama that plagues Pawnee, even if Lights, Camera, Perd is no more. It goes to show that Parks is the kind of sitcom that slowly finds it way onto your DVR until it’s a must-watch, and after five seasons it’s got this kind of gradual sentimentality down to a science. Where else could the nuances of saying “Ann Perkins!” vs “Ann Perkins!” be one of the funniest jokes of the night? Or the fact that Jerry has rarely ever spoken longer than a sentence and just utterly fails to do so? Thanks to the little things this show is too big to fail. Or, nail, as the case may be.