The funny thing about Parks & Recreation is that, as it keeps evolving and finding new roles for its characters, the format of the show has stayed largely the same. The writers will do drastic things like give Leslie Knope a new job and set of responsibilities, or move Ben and April off to Washington for a while, but when the show is consistently funny (as it was tonight), you barely notice the difference. In one scene, Chris is chastising Leslie for defying an antiquated abstinence education law, and then he acknowledges that Leslie is technically his boss now. That has to be addressed, because everybody’s dynamics are pretty much exactly the same as they always are.
There’s nothing wrong with that per se, although I did feel a little underwhelmed by the first couple episodes of Parks this season. I applaud its attempts at larger plots and serial storytelling that’s not just rooted in will-they-won’t-they relationships (which are usually the only kinds of serial stories comedies will tell). But this is still a show that thrives on jokes and character interplay more than dense plotting.
For example, I don’t know how much I really care about Ben’s career as a campaign manager. This was the first time I thoroughly enjoyed his segment of the episode this season, because it was the first piece of Washington satire with originality to it. Not that the concept of a politician being robotic and inhuman is particularly original. But I loved the way Ben’s Congressman employer was presented, reciting corny small talk and then just going to a room and sitting until he’s asked to recite his stump speech again. To a tired political operative, he’s ideal, a no-drama toy that turns on with the touch of a button. To Ben and April, he’s terrifying and undeniably hilarious, although Ben can’t help but find fault with April’s contention that he wants to eat babies. “Why would a robot need to consume organic matter?”
Leslie’s latest local political conundrum tackled a hot-button issue with relative care and good humor, although a lot of the “old people having sex” jokes were a little old hat (Andy’s horrified/thrilled reaction to all the dirty talk was the best thing about that). So far, Leslie’s political stories have come across a little pat—she seems to learn a valuable lesson about being herself every week these days—but there was enough funny stuff on the edges to make it work.
Any episode with this much Perd Hapley can’t be that bad, for example. He’s one of those recurring characters who can make the most meaningless, transitional sentences completely hilarious. Calling his fans “Perd-verts” was inspired, but his digression on Pier One was probably the highlight this week. “An establishment I’m no longer allowed inside” is funny enough on the page, but his delivery just crushes it every time.
I also liked the reappearance of Marcia Langman, this time accompanied by her swishy husband Marshall (Todd Sherry, a real veteran of this kind of role), an obvious spoof of Michelle Bachmann’s husband, about whom many a joke has been made about overcompensating. One of the best thing about Parks & Recreation is its growing, Springfield-esque ensemble of recurring characters, and while Marcia’s Church Lady prissiness is a little on the nose, it’s nice to have her as an occasional foil for Leslie.
Tom being robbed of his screentime was probably the best showcase for Aziz Ansari in a long time on this show. Tom can be very funny, but he’s certainly the most one-note Parks character, and he seems to provoke the same reaction from pretty much everyone else on the show (tired bemusement). So while his screen ban (and woodland retreat with Ron) was perfectly in keeping with the usual tropes, it was also creepily plausible that it’d have such a major impact on him. I don’t know what I would do without my screens (although I probably could find my way to the office).
It was also a perfect use of Ron, who has been puttering about a bit since Leslie is not in the office anymore. He’s such a deliberately passive character that there are only so many times the writers can have him acting out or getting strangely energetic about something while still keeping things remotely plausible. So here, he was able to be completely stoic, yet still a good friend in a Swanson sort of way.
“Sex Education” wasn’t really doing anything special. Outside of Ann’s realization that she gloms onto the lifestyles of the men she’s dating, there wasn’t any particularly significant moment. But the jokes hit more often than not, none of the plots felt draggy, and at one point, April introduced herself to someone as “April Blart, Mall Cop.” That’s a win in my book.
- Tom tweeted during a driving accident, and slipped in a vintage M. Night Shyamalan reference. “Just hit a fire hydrant, but I survived. #Unbreakable #What’sMrGlassuptothesedays #Whynosequel”
- Andy needs his own sex advice. “Do pubic hairs get longer the older you get? Because that’s happening to me, what do I do?”
- When Jerry checks his email, he goes to AltaVista and types “please go to yahoo.com.”
- Ron invites Tom to the solace of his cabin. “The electric company is not even aware there’s a structure there.”
- Tom gets a splinter and asks Ron to check WebMD on a phone. “Something with 4G, there’s no time for the Edge network!”
- Perd can set up stats like nobody. “There are some statistics that I want to share with you now, and they are numbers.”
- Ben’s robot routine at the end of the episode was golden. “Terrific. Hey, I’m hungry. Let’s go eat some batteries, I mean human food!”