Tonight's Parks & Rec broke a lot of cardinal sitcom rules. There was a misunderstanding at the center of the plot, but not only did we not see it, the misunderstanding happened a week ago. Characters broke down in "Indianapolis," and it was not flattering or sugar-coated in any way. And there were moments of genuine confusion that were not at all funny, but nonetheless important.
Parks & Rec consistently plays by its own rules. Even though Ann Perkins has been a character on the show for a very long time, she hasn't diverged much from her role as the voice of reason. Sitcom law would dictate she stay the course, but "Indianapolis" finds her making one of the biggest slip-ups we've been privy to. Leslie is headed to Indianapolis to receive an accreditation for her work in reviving the Harvest Festival; before she leaves, Ann pulls Leslie aside, asking her to keep an eye on Chris. Ever since Ann spoke to Chris about their future as a couple, Chris has been distant, and she got really weird when Ann suggested she visit Chris in the biiiiig city. Leslie, or should I say Angela Lansbury (but mostly because of the haircut), is on the case.
When you're looking for something hard enough, you'll find it. Basic. And it doesn't hurt things that Chris shaves with a woman's razor—to get the shin bones just right—and won a pink swimming cap in a breast cancer triathlon two years ago (came in fourth!). Leslie sees this as undeniable proof that Chris's mom/youthful grandma isn't visiting and summons Ann to reap vengeance on her cheating boyfriend. Only Chris wasn't cheating. In fact, he broke up with Ann a week ago.
The cut to commercial right after we figure this out is very unsettling. Other than some lunatic scenario, there seems to be no way to explain what this actually means and how it transpired. But if there's a writing team out there that knows its characters better than Parks & Rec knows these guys, I've yet to see them. The explanation follows that Chris is such an upbeat person that he dumped Ann in a way that made her feel even better than before they started the conversation. And Ann—sweet, innocent Ann—has never been dumped before, so she wasn't picking up on the signs that things were ending. Even the really obvious ones. Her world comes crashing down unlike it ever has before, and in that moment, Ann's character defies all the expectations heaped on her from two previous seasons.
The rest of the episode was deeply reminiscent of all good Parks & Recs, which is definitely not a bad thing. April and Andy are now full-on dating, but it doesn't change the way they behave around each other. When visiting the Snake Hole for the release of Feinstein's new cologne line Allergic, they find themselves without cash to buy drinks and decide to scheme as many free things out of the bar environment as they can. It's the kind of trickery they'd have done were they not dating, but this time, it's preceded by April saying something to the effect of, "You don't have to buy me things; I just like being around you," to Andy. April has really come out of her shell. A full season ago, she definitely wasn't the kind of person who'd look on as a grown man rolled over a tiny table to return money to the tip jar all secret agent-like, and smile. She'd have been dreadfully embarrassed. Being with Andy has brought out her playful side, but the writers have kept some things intact: Her idea of getting "free" things at the bar is conning drunk dudes out of hundreds of dollars. (She and Andy do give back the money, though, which was a nice touch.)
But what I've come to look forward to in any Parks & Rec episode is all the commotion coming from the sides. Ron Swanson's plight for the perfect steak contained a photo album of all the steaks he's eaten from his favorite restaurant (as well as proof he's never aged), a bunch of silly little temper tantrums, and the best closing line of all time: "You may have thought you heard me say I wanted a lot of bacon and eggs, but what I said was: 'Give me all the bacon and eggs you have.'" Ben and Tom's plight to show Dennis Feinstein the glory that is Tommy Fresh gave us a rare moment of Ben stepping up to the plate, as well as the knowledge that Feinstein's cologne has a way of tricking girls into having sex. Plus: Any TV show that finds a place for Rafi from The League is fine by me.
While "Indianapolis" didn't click in the way "Ron & Tammy: Part 2" did, it was one of the finest in this first season three batch and a solid showcase for all the characters, minus Jerry. I can smell Parks & Rec's dreams. And it smells like side boob.
- "Treasure chests full of scarves"
- "Skywriting isn't always positive."