A few weeks back, Leonard Pierce was covering this show for TV Club and made note that the Fred Armisen episode lacked the strength of Parks & Rec's supporting cast. Tonight we saw the other end of the spectrum. Even though every single cast member played some part of the action, "Hunting Trip" lacked the character focus that made episodes like "Ron And Tammy" and "Kaboom" such successes—a few guys get their screen time, a few others help, and the rest sit out. If "Sister City" is the example of an episode not playing to the show's solid cast, "Hunting Trip" is an example of putting too many eggs in one basket.
Tonight P&R decided to forego Green Week on NBC and went with an episode surrounding a bunch of animal killing. It's a hunting trip that Ron, Mark, and even Jerry get in on every year—a chance for the guys to bond. And where there are guys bonding in government, there's Leslie wanting a piece of the pie. Not only that, but she convinces Ron to let herself, "Tom, and the rest of the girls" go along, which includes Donna and, for some reason, Ann, despite her not working there. Meanwhile, back at the office, April is trying to place a call for Leslie and finds herself on hold; bored, she bonds with the only other guy in the office she knows, Andy.
April gave us so little in season one, so episodes like "Miss Pawnee Pageant" were a delight; we get to see a completely different side to her usually distant composure, and by different I mean "any." And tonight's the same. After a game of Marco Polo and practicing spit-takes with Andy, it becomes clear she's starting to like the guy—or at least feel sorry for him. So she starts flirting, and even directly offers to give him a hickey under the guise of making Ann jealous. Andy's too enamored with acting child-like to much notice: lyrics to the hold music like "so suck on my butt"; "I've lived in Pawnee my whole life… that is a fact" being the worst spit-take inducer in history. Watching April pine after this big goofball was equal parts sweet and tragic, but mostly it made me glad she's around.
Throwing together two characters who haven't interacted much worked well in that B-story, and it just exposed what a mess the A-story was. Leslie and Ron are the centerpiece, especially after she realizes that Ron likes to be the best at hunting and feels legitimately threatened by Leslie's quail-shooting prowess. Jerry got a few nice moments—after all, this is the only time he's not constantly made fun of, and it's a chance for him to assert his manhood away from his wife and three daughters by drinking what appears to be cider. And Tom's inability to realize you're not supposed to swallow "chew" got me excited for some emasculating humor on his behalf. But no one else got to do much. Mark, one of the central characters going in, had barely any lines, and though it was funny to watch Donna freak out about her car, I'd just have well had her sit this one out. Same with Ann: Sure, it's great there was a nurse around when Ron's head was grazed with the bullet, but that seems like a plot point that could have easily been solved a different way (more minor a wound or something), and her other contributions to the episode consisted of just a general encouragement of Leslie, as per usual. I kind of wish I could trade Donna and Ann for more Tom and Mark screen time.
I still thought the episode was great, just not up to the unusually high standards of recent episodes. Ron listening to turkey calls in his office, then fake-realizing, "This isn't rap?"; Ron downing the entire glass of scotch in one fell swoop; Leslie's whole "I'm a weak, frail woman" song-and-dance with the park ranger, which I've gotta imagine came partially out of improv on Amy Poehler's behalf. It's just that when the best parts of an episode consist of short-lived gags, there's at least some room to grow.
- Did anyone catch that first moment? So apparently Andy has a story/joke that involves lifting up his apron from over his crotch and saying "and I'm like, whaaaaat?" Hmm…
- "Man on man on man action." Ron's reaction shot was pretty great too.