The characters on Parks & Rec have always put up with Tom Haverford’s shenanigans. Which is amazing, because if you think about it, he really could be one of the most obnoxious characters on TV comedies. He forces his coworkers to endure his over-the-top promotional antics and invites them to douchey club openings—and as evidenced in “Meet N Greet” (and earlier places), he makes every thing about himself. If Tom weren’t so damn fragile and so obviously overcompensating for poor self-esteem, he’d be barely tolerable. But there’s a frailty to the already-frail guy, and it’s a testament to Aziz Ansari’s acting ability that he can amp up the silliness without losing his footing on the character’s more grounded elements.
They don’t come out often, and it’s fitting that Tom would break down in “Meet N Greet.” Ever since Tom brought Ben in to look at his books, I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop on Entertainment 720. Certainly the company cannot sustain its give-away-an-iPad-to-everyone price of doing business, and that’s using the term “business” loosely as the company still hadn’t figured out what it actually does. The closest person the company has ever had to a client is Leslie Knope, who hires Tom in tonight’s episode to prepare her for a meeting with prominent Pawnee businessmen (like the guy who makes rubber nipples, and the terrible salad lady). Leslie isn’t one to talk about herself—except, apparently, in the privacy of the confessionals—so Tom not only walks her through some talking points, but infuses the meeting with a lot of attention-grabbing visuals and pizzazz.
What we don’t know at the time, though, is that Tom is desperate. He’d just heard from Jean-Ralphio that Entertainment 720 is broke, so Leslie’s meeting is his last chance to get new clients before the entire company goes under. That desperation creeps into the meeting, which becomes all about Tom, Entertainment 720, and to a lesser extent the hot ladies who sign you up for their mailing list—and to an even lesser extent, Leslie Knope. There are posters, rugs, and cakes all over the meeting room with Tom’s face, and it’s distracting Leslie; the only way she can find to get her message out to the owners of, say, the fried dough stand and mobile phone emporium is to make fun of the salad lady yet again, an endless well of amusement. (Wasn’t that the cooking lady from an earlier season?) She’s furious at Tom, and even though he later reveals that there’s a reason for his actions, Leslie is still worried about her chances now that the meeting has been ruined.
What I love about Tom, though, is that even though he’s overconfident as a defense mechanism, he’s actually pretty socially gifted. His overcompensation is merely out of fear, not a lack of ability. So he’s able to right the situation—get Leslie another meeting with the rubber nipple guy—and make a campaign video that accurately captures Leslie’s essence, better than anyone else could. Tom’s not just some guy who flounders around and rides on coattails (though he’s quite good at it); his path in Pawnee is totally justified.
“Meet N Greet” gave Tom a wonderful character story, but I can’t really say the same for the rest of the ensemble. Let’s talk about Ann again, who I know I’ve harped on for a few episodes. Tonight, she doesn’t even appear in the episode until Ron calls attention to her at Andy/April’s Halloween party (the other storyline this week). Dressed as what Ron perceives to be a beanbag, she’s offered a chance to accompany Ron as he fixes things around the apartment as a belated wedding gift. And much like a beanbag, her character has become needlessly moldable and not all that comfortable; not surprising, she takes to Ron’s craftsmanship and is eager just to be involved and talking like a real handyman. Given a lack of direction with Ann’s character, the show has turned her into a chameleon, playing off whatever characters she’s sharing a scene with any given week. I hope they figure her out soon, because the jokes they’re writing for her, like the fact that she doesn’t really know any handyman terms and is just making them up, aren’t landing without any sense of who she really is.
And maybe I’m alone here, but I’m starting to feel like Chris is dangerously close to the edge. Any weirder and he’d probably become unlikable, and any tamer and I suppose the writers would stop having fun with him. Tonight continues the story of his courtship with Jerry’s daughter and Chris’ desire to creepily fill Jerry in on every little detail of what’s happening in their lives. Jerry’s trying to play it cool (despite Chris and his uncanny ability to text without looking at his phone LIKE A SERIAL KILLER WOULD), but when his daughter shows up and grinds all up on the microchip, he loses his cool. He’d never confront Chris of course, but he’s clearly peeved—and that’s saying something, considering how often the show turns him into a punching bag who quietly seethes. It’s cool that the writers have figured out what makes the most unflappable guy in the office totally lose his cool, but I think next they need to find a way to reign in the Chris-crazy while keeping his utter goofiness intact.
As far as characters are concerned, it doesn’t get much more standard than the Andy/April/Ben storyline this week, which I liked in how traditionally Parks & Rec it was. Basically, Andy and April spend the entire cold open describing how awesome their Halloween party is going to be, and apparently they’re more eager to tell the “camera crew” than their own roommate. Ben doesn’t care so much that he has to stay in his room and work at night, he merely would have wanted a heads-up—a basic courtesy of any roommate situation, especially one in which the roommates also have to work together. (Plus, Ben is technically April’s boss.) But he’s the kind of guy who would never express his anger, only bottle it up in one of his square ties. But Andy, who grew up in a family of brothers, decides tonight is the night that Ben is going to let it all out, because Andy, if nothing else, is not shy about sharing his feelings. So he attempts to provoke Ben (once he emerges from his bedroom that is), grabbing him in a headlock and dragging him around the party, hoping at some point he’ll snap. And not only does he keep Ben in this headlock for a while, but he keeps Ben in the headlock while he does boring things like eat chips and get another drink. Ben finally snaps—in a pretty wussy way—and he knocks Andy in the nose, breaking the blood capsule and the actual nose.
At the hospital, the nurse asks if they’re friends. “We’re not friends,” Andy says, “We’re brothers.” No one sums things up in the biggest, most important way quite like Andy Dwyer. He’s one character I’m thrilled to have around.
- “Get at me!”
- Fitting that Chris loves Sherlock Holmes, considering Holmes was probably pretty nuts.
- That weird kid from the last party is back. Loved the quick shot of him in the background of the fight.
- “Entertainment 720 has been a fixture of the community since June.”
- “They have albacore tuna with crispy onions?”
- “Peter Gabriel leaves Genesis.”