I'm a sucker for sentimentality, which is why I probably liked "I'm Leslie Knope", the season four premiere of Parks & Recreation, a lot more than most people will. I'm talking, of course, about the final series of scenes in tonight's episode. Leslie was approached at the end of season three about running for city council, and she jumped at the opportunity knowing full well that she's dating Ben, her boss, and that continuing that relationship would create a scandal. She tries to put off the break-up as long as possible, but when she finally confronts Ben, it turns out he knew the whole time. He even made Leslie a special "Knope 2012" pin to show how much he supported her decision to run for office, even at the expense of their relationship. Then he makes things easier on her by telling her, "It's not you, it's me," and calling her bad names. This entire conversation, by the way, happens while both Leslie and Ben are on the verge of tears.
It's a decision Leslie doubts throughout "I'm Leslie Knope," mostly because Ann is more than happy to play devil's advocate. "Why can't you just keep sneaking around?" she offers, to which Leslie only shakes her head and teases Ann for being so naive. Leslie is a notorious rule-follower; it'd be impossible for her to continue her relationship knowing it could tarnish not just her name, but Ben's too. The fact that Ben was fully supportive of Leslie's ambition only proves just how perfect he is for her, and Leslie's inability to talk to Ben—blabbering on about the "whiz palace" and such—is even more heart-breaking. (I told you I'm a sucker for sentimentality.)
Leslie's not the only person with any doubts. Ever since Tom Haverford left the parks department to open Entertainment 720—a company that has yet to actually do anything other than put their logo on things (which actually they don't do yet, but they might start soon)—he's been hounding Andy to join him. "Follow your dreams," Tom says, which introduces a whole new set of problems for Andy. Not only is he conflicted about leaving his job as a shoe shine-ist to work at a start-up, but he's not even quite sure what his dream truly is (other than to be the world's greatest rock star, which could be 3-5 years from now!). Thank goodness he has April, who's sarcastic edge has softened every season until it's basically nonexistent nowadays. She's happy to help her husband consider his options, but winds up volunteering Andy for the position of Leslie Knope's assistant. Andy doesn't even care that the job wasn't part of his original thinking. He's just so happy to have someone else make decisions for him. If he wasn't so lovable, he'd be the neediest boyfriend/husband of all time. And maybe he is anyways.
Doubt also makes its way over to Ron Swanson, though not at first. When last we checked, Tammy 1 had arrived at the parks department, and Ron was fleeing. Now we get to see the specifics of that flee: Ron picks up an emergency backpack he'd stashed in an air conditioning vent, declares that he's about to use the 228 personal days he's accrued over the years, and runs like he heard Charles Mulligan's opened back up for one more day. He's absolutely sure that running away from his problems is the right thing to do, so much so that when Leslie arrives at his remote log cabin, a now-gloriously bearded Ron lets her in under the condition that she not speak of Tammy 1, or even her own woes. When Ron commits to something, he commits.
Leslie does get Ron to come back to the department, and she does it by asking for his advice. The relationship between Ron and Leslie has come a long way. I can't imagine a scenario where Ron would ever be eager to listen to Leslie during season one, let alone give her advice, let alone have that advice move him so much that it'd warm his heart and he'd change his mind. "I'm Ron Swanson, and you're Leslie Fucking Knope," he says—and in that moment, any trace of animosity was banished forever. Leslie may not have coffee privileges, but she has gained entry to Ron's most sacred of places: His heart. Yeah, it pained me as much to write that sentence as it probably pained you to read it.
Speaking of pain, "I'm Leslie Knope" also featured, quite prominently, the penises of many government employees. Joe, notable sewage employee and Sarah Lawrence alum, sent a picture of his penis to everyone who works for the Pawnee government. At first people think it's an accident, but when Chris and Ben confront Joe, they learn that he did it on purpose. ("There's an old saying in our department: 'If you have a nice drain pipe, you sure as hell better show it off.'") It turns out that this isolated dick pic is just the beginning. Ann notices something wrong in that photo, and thinks whoever sent it might have the mumps. When word gets out about her diagnosis, every willing man sends Ann a picture of their junk. "Your inbox is literally filled with penises," Chris points out, always the astute one.
I wasn't wild about this plot simply because it felt tacked on to the excellent Leslie storyline—plus Parks & Rec isn't really my source for ripped-from-the-headlines comedy. But the more gravely Chris treated the situation, the more I enjoyed it. When the first photo goes out, he tells the parks department how sorry he is they had to see that. "If I could go back in time and cut your eyeballs out, I would," he says. (Also great: Andy's inability to realize someone would do that on purpose—"What a crazy accident!") I suppose it was all a way of telling the audience that Jerry has an enormous penis—because since the writers have crapped on the guy enough times, they had to give him something.
My God, I'm writing about Jerry's penis. I'm so excited this show is back.
- Perd Hapley was in top form tonight. Two amazing lines: "I don't know what you mean, but it had the cadence of a joke." And the line of the night, possibly the show: "There you have it…where it is the thing Leslie Knope just said…about this situation."
- "Black print, black background." Also: "Fireplace bellows!"
- "I really wanna shoot a shotgun right now." "Fishing it is."
- "You're not my boss." "What did you just say to me?"
- Leslie and Ben sure do make out a lot. I'm not surprised their relationship is PG-rated—or maybe Leslie's just unable to say the words "slept together."
- Next week: Patricia Clarkson! It's a great episode.